Leadership is more complicated than you might think and for the most part our conscious awareness of what’s happening is minimal. We may choose to follow or be frustrated by our leaders, yet how often do you step back and think about what makes a good leader great? Or for that matter, why we are frustrated with our job? There are many factors in play that impact how our brains consciously and unconsciously respond to the leaders and followers around us.
After reviewing many resources for this class, a few key topics consistently rise to the surface. Relationships and trust. Google defined relationships as “the way in which two or more concepts, objects or people are connected or the state of being connected…[how] people or organizations regard and behave toward each other.”
It’s really about the connections you have with the people around you. Dr. Henry Cloud (2013) explained “relationships change brain chemistry” (Boundaries for Leaders, p. 82). As a leader, it’s important to consider how your leadership impacts people’s executive functioning. Cloud asserted that we must lead in ways that match our brain’s executive functioning processes. We must be able to focus our attention on connections, inhibit distractions and use our working memory to remember and build on relevant information. (p. 27 & 83). As Cloud explained, connections foster unity and help the brain become more effective (p. 84). When was the last time you considered how the brain functions when you planned a meeting?
So how are you building connections within your team?
People notice, if you only show up when you need something and Cloud (2013) shared many stories highlighting the effects of attempting to carry forward a sound plan without a healthy culture (p. 84-85). Steven M.R. Covey (2006) echoed similar assertions when he repeatedly stated when”trust goes up, speed will also go up and costs will go down” (Speed of Trust, p. 13).
So how do you foster a culture of connections? I’m reminded of a book I read a few years ago called “TouchPoints” by Dougals Conant and Mette Norgaard. Their premise… every interaction you have with someone is an opportunity to foster the relationship in a positive or negative way. The smallest moments build the connections and shape your relationships. Do the best you can to make those moments count.
Daniel, McCalla and Schwier (2002) noted the value of social capital within face to face and virtual communities. Social capital is “a stock of active connections among people: the trust, mutual understanding, and shared values and behaviours that bind people as members of human networks and communities” (p. 1). The more social capital an individual has linked to within a community, the more potential benefits that are possible. Daniel, Schwier and McCalla (2003) cited Putnam’s work reminding that social capital is “an attribute of an individual in a social context” (p. 5). It’s always the individual’s choice to access their connections; moreover, social capital is not a commodity to be passed from one person to the next unless you you are dealing with the reputation of a brand or larger company. Then people would expect the new owners to uphold the brand’s track record. Individual social capital is built upon the connections one has within a community (p.5).
It’s an interesting concept well worth your consideration. Daniel, Schwier and McCalla (2003) observed several potential benefits including: enabling community members to more easily solve problems; increased cooperation; a united group allowed for more efficient forward movement toward a goal; increased trust fostered increased interactions which in turn led to more positive daily business interactions; increased socially accepted behaviour; upheld social norms; increased knowledge sharing; and bridging of cultural differences (p. 3). Daniel et. al. (2003) even noted social capital related success in both education and business settings (p.4).
As with anything, a strong community of practice is vulnerable to the negatives of social capital. It depends which type of influence a strong, cohesive group chooses to exert on its members. Entry into a strong community of practice may be more difficult for outside members as opposed to those already linked to the group. It all depends on how each unique community of practice chooses to interact with the norms of society as a whole (p. 4).
As a leader, what can you do?
Daniel, McCalla and Schwier (2002) noted the importance of creating space for social interactions to occur. Each interaction then has the opportunity to build trust. The second factor considered the time needed for social capital to develop. Community members need the space and time to develop trust building social capital (p.2).
Dr. Henry Cloud (2013) offered 5 aspects to consider when attempting to foster stronger connections.
1. Look for opportunities to create meaningful connections
– Cloud (2013) advocated for different meetings rather than more meetings.
– Meetings that have a purpose of uniting the team toward a common goal create the social context trusting interactions; moreover, regular, purposeful meetings build in the time to enhance social capital (Daniel, McCalla & Schwier, 2002, p.2).
Cloud highlighted the value of asking three questions:
~ How did we do today on working together?
~ Did we do what we said we were going to do?
~ Did we live out our team operating values?
(Boundaries for Leaders, 2013, p. 87)
— If you didn’t do those things, then figure out what you can do to more forward.
2. You have to be on the same page.
– Your team has to be working toward the same goal and it can be as simple as beginning with a clear agenda or agreed upon objective. You have to define your purpose (Boundaries for Leaders – Cloud, 2013, p. 90).
– Daniel, McCalla & Schwier (2002) explained that both virtual and face to face communities share a common language which they use “to negotiate meaning, understand each other and build common vocabulary around their interests and goals” (p. 1). Without a shared history and common language, a group runs the risk of miscommunication. As a leader, you have to keep people on the same page.
3. Be aware
– Be aware of the different perspectives on your team as Cloud pointed out, everyone “need[s] to know and operate from the same set of facts and realities” (p. 91). If you aren’t all on the same page, people are going to begin to feel disconnected which in turn begins to fragment your team. Listen to the different perspectives, deal with the differences and move forward so everyone is aware of what’s happening and why.
4. It’s more than what you say, it’s how your body says it
– Cloud (2013) again reminded that as a leader your body language sets a tone for the team. There needs to be a consistency between what you say and the non verbal signals you are sending (p. 91).
5. The stories we tell ourselves matter
– Cloud (2013) noted that “the human brain likes to organize experiences into a story…The more you attend to keeping the relevant narrative alive, the more connections you will create” (p. 92). Safir (2015) explained in her article, “The Power of Story in School Transformation” that paying attention to people’s stories will build connections and in turn help you construct a new narrative for your team.
Safir noted 3 types of stories:
- Your Story – sharing your experiences shows vulnerability and models social-emotional experiences. Just think about how you connect when you hear someone else’ story. (Brene Brown – Daring Greatly is a great read on this topic)
- The stories of others – truly listening to other’s stories develops trust and connections
- The organizational story “Organizations carry their own core memories” (para. 8)
(As summarized in an earlier blog post).
The idea, as Safir explained, is called storientation – paying attention to and actively listening to other’s stories (para. 4 & 5). It turns out that stories are powerful connectors. Even Carmine Gallo dedicated a chapter to the value of stories in his book “Talk Like TED.” In 9 Public-Speaking Lessons from the World’s Greatest TED Talks, Gallo shared how brain scans confirmed that “stories stimulate and engage the human brain, helping the speaker connect with the audience” (p. 2).
If you want people to make a connection, share a story. If you want people to make a difference,
“make a place for people to see where they are in the story, what it means for them and what role they can play in moving the story forward”
(Boundaries for Leaders – Cloud, 2013, p. 92).
As Covey stated, “Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust” (p. 40); moreover, “how you go about achieving results is as important as the results themselves, because when you establish trust, you increase your ability to get results the next time. And there’s always a next time” (Speed of Trust, 2006, p.40).
Connections matter. How are you building connections?
- Boundaries for Leaders – Dr. Henry Cloud
- Speed of Trust – Stephen M. R. Covey
- TouchPoints– Dougals Conant and Mette Norgaard
- The Power of Story in School Transformation – Shane Safir
- Daniel, B. K., McCalla, G., & Schwier, R. A. (2002). A Process Model for Building Social Capital in Virtual Learning Communities. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers in Education (Vol. December 0, p. 574). Washington, DC: IEEE Computer Society. Retrieved from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=839212
- Daniel, B. K., Schwier, R. A., & McCalla, G. (2003). Social capital in virtual learning communities and distributed communities of practice. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 29(3), 113–139. Retrieved from http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/viewArticle/85
- Talk Like TED – Carmine Gallo