Courageous Leadership Episode 2: Courage to Connect [Video]
Leaders’ ability to connect with their people is becoming increasingly important in these times of rapid change and uncertainty. It impacts engagement, performance, wellness and resilience.
Today’s leaders need to have the ability to connect meaningfully with their people. The same people who are being disrupted are the very ones who will solve problems and innovate, to bring the team and organisation forward.
Leaders’ ability to connect is increasingly important today as organisations endeavor to innovate and enhance performance.
Wen-Wei: There is so much research being focused on the area of engagement right now: Engagement that helps to get the best out of people, drive innovation and performance.
Calvin: But why is it important to build that sort of connection at a deeper level? Can't we just build the connection at a professional, working level?
Why is it important to build that sort of connection at a deeper level?
Wen-Wei: In a time like this, when people are worried about business survival and continuity and things like that, niceties can go out the window. Managers may be tempted to just focus and buckle down. Get the work done.
But here's the question that I want to pose in return. If a manager ramps up the pressure, drive staff harder, how would staff respond? I mean, they would probably do what the manager demands, but only what the manager demands.
In contrast, when you're able to engage the team, share needs and challenges, and invite their best ideas, creativity and resources, what could that achieve? The whole workforce would be collectively thinking with you. Maybe then you would be able to come up with a different, better response.
Now, it's such a complex, uncertain environment. Decision-making at a time like this, nothing is certain. But what is certain is that the manager doesn't have all the answers.
What is certain is that the manager doesn't have all the answers.
There's too much information, too many things to consider before we (leaders) choose a response. And that's where we really need the diversity of perspectives, in order to have a better shot of finding the right way forward. But if there isn't that safety and trust that you spoke about earlier on, when people are just playing it safe, we are missing out on that richness of collective thinking. Insights are limited.
We really need the diversity of perspectives, in order to have a better shot of finding the right way forward.
More than ever, connecting is especially important. That is what's taking us to the heart of what we mean by courage to connect. Leaders need to build psychological safety— freedom for people to speak openly, without fear of reprisal, without second-guessing what the other person actually means. You could have competence and reliability. However, if people don't feel safe with you, then they wouldn't offer their best ideas.
When we are all together, we see and hear each other. We get away with abrupt, direct communication. However, in a virtual environment, without the benefit of those water-cooler chats, we may miss the intents and the dynamics. We start to misinterpret. But we fail to realize how significant those ad-hoc meetings and conversations are until it starts to show up in unexpected effects.
Like Stephen Covey said, we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, but others by their behaviours.
Calvin: I think this area is particularly challenging in our current situation. A lot of companies are still working from home. So this thing about water cooler conversations, bumping into each other, having casual chats, the 10-second check-in, it's not happening.
Wen-Wei: One, it takes intentionality. But two, it's not just the casual, social chit-chat. That's the starting point that builds rapport, the freedom to just talk. But ultimately, it's what's happening behind the scenes for the person, because there is so much we don't realize happening in the home environment.
60% of people are reporting higher levels of anxiety today compared to pre-COVID. I think many managers fear to go into this area because a lot of us are such problem-solvers at heart, and it comes from a good place. If you share a problem with me, I really want to help you. However, how do I solve all these personal issues? I dare not ask the question in case it is something that I cannot handle.
That is where courage comes from—the courage to dare to ask these questions. However, you also need to have the courage to accept that you don't need to have all the answers.
Listening, then, is the solution.
You don't need to have the solution, and that's such a balm for the soul. Having someone truly hear where I'm coming from, my needs, my fears, without judgment.
When leaders muster the courage to venture into this, they see the relationships deepen as a result.
Calvin: I can't agree with you more, because when people are truly listened to, they feel understood. They feel cared for in that process. There is that deep connection that happens between people because of that.