When you hear the term “connected leader”, what comes to mind? You probably envision someone sitting in a modern office, with all the newest technology and pushing all of his or her social networking apps to the max for most likes, followers and connection requests. With today’s electronic access capabilities and apps being developed literally every second, we can electronically “connect” with millions if that’s the connectivity you desire. But, does that really make you truly and authentically connected? Do those electronic connections with real people actually manifest into real relationships? Does that type of connection make you a successful connected leader?
So, in our world of 24/7 access to almost infinite stimuli that makes it difficult to turn off my brain, we can’t possibly focus on having a meaningful conversation. Virtual is convenient, but I read people so much better face to face than over the phone, text, email, InMail, instant messaging, tweets or the other numerous ways we “talk” today. Don’t get me wrong, I think we need to leverage virtual tools like Skype, Facetime or other virtual apps if we can’t have conversations with people not sitting right next to us in the same room. These other modes of communication are certainly convenient and helpful in filling in the communication gaps, but, for me, nothing beats the eye to eye conversation and connection with my team.
Real Human Connection Requires Genuine Caring, Respect and Trust
When I think of a genuinely connected leader, I actually see a very different picture. I see someone who actually has real, substantive and authentic relationships with his or her people. There is genuine care, concern and “human connection” between two human beings, both with unique perspectives, world views and wants. There is mutual respect.
Being in the same physical space, for me, somehow allows or, at least gives those who want it, an appropriate medium for much more powerful connection and, yes, even trust. We have to actually earn that trust through consistent trustworthy behavior. But, when you are able to achieve this level of trust and it is not betrayed, even human vulnerability can manifest.
When genuine trust is established, other amazing things happen. People let go of their fears. They share more openly. They let go and engage that magnificent, discretionary energy that we all possess. Then, leading people with whom you have established this level of genuine trust becomes the wonderful act of “unleashing” your people to fearlessly become their best selves. And, the performance results, both individually and collectively, are illogically fantastic! Your biggest job as this “connected leader” are to maintain that critical trust and keep the car on the road.
A Fragile State of Organizational “Being in the Zone”
I had the privilege of seeing this first hand back in the early and mid-2000s. At one glorious point in my career, our small organization had 12 of the Fortune 50 as clients. And, we served them passionately and astoundingly well with only 45 fabulous and fearless people with an unbelievable ‘can do’ spirit. It was awe-inspiring! Our people were not afraid of making mistakes or the gravity of having to serve these prestigious clients. They created amazing and innovated value for both our clients and our company through this unique period of maximum trust, maximum effort and maximum performance. Our organization became “the dance”.
This level of remarkable performance continued until a couple of years after we were acquired. However, as the acquiring company’s culture began to prevail, trust deteriorated and performance followed. It was difficult to watch something so beautiful, so amazing and significant just evaporate over time.
Deep human connectivity in organizations is rarer and more difficult to achieve and maintain today. We are all bombarded with so much information and static coming at us constantly. It’s unrelenting! And, we have to find more creative ways and opportunities to build that elusive trust I saw manifest so clearly before. We see each other less often which I think makes it harder to sustain trust. It’s also much more difficult in today’s complex, virtual management and matrixed structures.
Successful Change Management: Critical Current and Future Leadership Skill
Further, we are also required to manage tremendous amounts of change and to absorb it in shorter time periods. To manage change effectively, there must be the trust we spoke of earlier. People need to know that, as a leader, you have their backs. To be nimble to respond to change effectively, people can’t be afraid to act in unfamiliar and new situations. They have to know you’ll support them when they make mistakes. Massive and continuous change requires maximum trust in you as their leader for your people to give and be at their best. Any and all communication must be honest and transparent. Your leadership behavior must be exemplary and trustworthy for your organization to effectively navigate today.
And, we must always be aware that trust is very fragile. Real trust is built on real, transparent relationships. That’s why a truly connected leader today must leverage real and genuine connection opportunities to form those authentic relationships with their people and build the trust that leads to sustainable and exceptional performance.