Written by Felicity Dwyer
An important leadership skill is an ability to connect with others. Leaders need to be able to communicate at all levels both internally and externally and to inspire other people. Research shows that leaders who are both visionary and empathic are likely to be the most successful.
In my book “Crafting Connection”, I identify three intertwining dimensions at which we connect. Mastering all three will help you communicate with authenticity and impact.
The first dimension is Connecting Within. This refers to your ability to connect with different aspects of yourself. The second dimension, Connecting With, focuses on relationships with others. The third dimension is Connecting Beyond. This focuses on your connections within the wider networks and communities, to which you belong.
In this article, I’m sharing one idea from each of these dimensions, with some practical actions that you can take.
- Develop your leadership presence
When I’m facilitating leadership development, one of the areas we explore is that of leadership presence.
Some may think of leadership presence as a kind of special power or gravitas that only charismatic leaders have. But what it truly means is the ability of a leader to connect with the present moment… Here. Now. And this ability can be developed.
The presence I’m talking about has a vibrancy. It feels alive. It offers you the ability to slow down and appreciate the moment. It helps you to connect with yourself and to access your own intuition. And, crucially, it helps you to really see and take in another person.
Feeling that someone is fully there with us, at the moment, allows for a sense of connection. In contrast, think about what it’s like to be with someone who is distracted and not listening to you. The message that this is likely to convey is: ‘you don’t matter to me now’.
One of the quickest ways to access presence is through physical sensation. Take a moment to feel your feet on the floor, feel the temperature of the air on your skin, and allow yourself to become aware of your breathing, for a few breaths. Now, see if you can take in what you are seeing and hearing around you, whilst keeping a small portion of your attention on a physical sensation that anchors you in the present.
Practice maintaining this sense of present-moment awareness when you’re with others. Staying anchored in the present can help you listen, observe, and engage with others, moment by moment. When I’m giving a presentation, for example, I reconnect from time to time with the feeling of my feet on the floor. This gives me a solid base from which to connect with others in the room, without losing my sense of self.
- Connect through storytelling and inviting engagement
Leaders need to be able to tell stories that connect with the listener. You’re likely to draw on different language and anecdotes when relating with senior stakeholders or clients than you would with your team.
To give an example, when you’re speaking with employees about the track record or future of the business, make sure you relate this directly to their work. Make it easy for people to see their efforts reflected in the past successes, or future vision, of the organization.
Keep your stories short and allow time and space for people to reflect on their own roles. For example, you could share a case study of how an employee contributed to a company’s success. And then invite people to share their own success stories with a partner or small group. It’s much more engaging if you can encourage people to connect in a positive way with their own stories, and with each other. This will have more impact than talking to people for too long.
Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Imagine the difference between sharing a lot of dry statistics, versus sharing a story with emotional resonance.
And it’s also essential that your stories are grounded in truth and backed up with relevant data. As a leader, it’s important not to manipulate emotion at the expense of facts, as this is a quick way to damage trust and break the connection. Instead, ask how you engage people’s minds AND hearts. One way to do this is to keep presentations of information quite short, and then invite questions around the detail. That way, you’re connecting with what people want and need to hear from you.
- Extend your network for different perspectives
Leaders need to be able to connect with different parts of the organization, and beyond it. And the best leaders will look for diversity in their connections. They’ll be open to different perspectives, and willing to think about the wider impact of their business decisions.
Networking within your professional field and sector is important, to learn from good practice and share with your peers. And so too is making connections with professionals in different roles and sectors. This can expose you to new ideas, open-up opportunities, and encourage creative thinking.
Take a strategic look at the current networks and communities of which you’re a part. Where do you feel you’re receiving and adding value? Is there anything missing in your network? Are there any connections that feel stale, and that you could let go of?
The joy of connection
These three dimensions are interlinked. Connecting with yourself, others, and the wider community will help you to become a more powerful leader. Developing at all three levels is an ongoing process, and there are many tools and approaches that can help. These include reading, seminars, networking, coaching, and peer group learning. A joy of developing these skills is that you’re likely to see positive effects in your personal life as well as your career.
About the Author:
Felicity Dwyer has twenty years of experience as a facilitator, trainer, coach, and speaker, working with leaders and managers. She teaches accredited leadership development programs for two leading industry bodies in the UK. Dwyer is particularly interested in helping leaders and teams to connect and communicate, so that people feel heard and understood. She is the author of “Crafting Connection: Transform how you communicate with yourself and others.”