On Leadership and The Force of Connection

Connect With People

“If knowledge traps are the cholesterol of organizations, then the force of connection that fosters relationship excellence is the statin drug that breaks up knowledge traps, restores knowledge flow, and keeps the environment healthy.” ~ Michael Lee Stallard

An Eye-Opening Story

There’s a story about a manager who bumped into one of her former employees in the grocery store. The former employee gave her the cold shoulder.

“What’s the matter, Phyllis? We used to get along so well when you worked for me!” the manager asked quite puzzled.

“Well, to be quite frank, I was only nice because I worked for you. I’ve never liked you. You’re a conceited, power-hungry, hypocrite who never listens to what anyone else has to say! And now that I don’t work for you anymore, I don’t have to be nice!” the former employee exclaimed as she stormed off.

Relationship Excellence

“What does relationship excellence have to do with employee engagement? Plenty!

And depending on where you lead, the term employee engagement may be substituted with other terms.

  • If you teach, you might call it school spirit or classroom morale.
  • In the military it is called esprit de corps.
  • If you lead in a church, you might call it fellowship.
  • In your personal relationships, it may be what I call your state of being.

No matter what term works for where you lead, employee engagement is not about some New Age, feel-good fad.

Employee engagement and the force of connection

In fact, research has closely tied employee engagement to our innate need to connect and belong as a species – relationship excellence or the force of connection. In a recent Webinar, Most Admired Companies: Boosting Employee Engagement, experts Mark and Bonita Thompson presented some interesting findings from a survey they conducted of over one-thousand employees.

They teased out the engaged employees from the sample – the kind of employees we wish all of ours were – and wanted to know what these ‘best’ employees were looking for in a leader.  Of the eight most admired traits, seven of them were relationship-oriented (indicated with *).

Getting Engaged

8 traits engaged workers want from their leaders:

  • Ambitious and Hardworking
  • Cooperative*
  • Supportive and Helpful*
  • Honest*
  • Straight-forward and Clear*
  • Familyteam-focused*
  • Loyal*
  • Fun-loving and Playful about the work*

Build Relationships

The well-respected 2011 BlessingWhite report made four recommendations to managers to foster employee engagement.  One of them was to build relationships.  They wrote, “The more employees feel they know their managers as people, the more engaged they’re likely to be.”

In a 2002 review of the Gallup studies on employee engagement, it was interesting to find that seven of the twelve items defining and measuring employee engagement were directly tied to relationships.

Connecting with others, especially the boss, correlated to lower turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and increased productivity and profits.

Force of Connection

7 employee engagement items that use the force of connection:

  • Opportunities to do what I do best
  • Recognition and Praise
  • Cares about me
  • Encourages Development
  • Opinions count
  • Committed
  • Opportunities to Learn and Grow

“Please allow me to point out again that these were all correlated to lower turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and increased productivity and profits.

The force of connection – our relationship excellence – not only makes sense from a psychological and spiritual perspective, but from a business one, as well.

Effects of Stress on Employee Engagement

In his recent L2L post, Leaders: 4 Ways to Improve Your Ability to Learn, Denis McLaughlin revealed how stress impacts our ability to learn.

Stress can also have a severe impact on your employee’s engagement.

Michael Stallard points out in the Spring 2012 edition of Training Industry Quarterly that neuroscientific research has established that as stress rises; cortisol levels rise. When cortisol levels rise, people tend to behave in reactionary or rash ways.

They simply don’t think clearly and rely on ‘fight or flight’ responses to protect themselves.If relationships with the boss or fellow workers are causing stress, employees will be less productive and less engaged with their work.

In an excellent connection between criticism, stress, and employee engagement, Gary Cohen wrote in his latest L2L post:

“More often, it leads to worse performance, motivation, and engagement.”

However, when stress levels are lower, so too are cortisol levels. When cortisol levels are lower, people tend to stay calm, rational, and think more clearly.

Use the Force of Connection

The feeling of being connected to those around us – of being part of a safe and meaningful team led by a boss with relationship excellence – boosts dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin levels.

This helps make team members feel more

  • Energized
  • Confident
  • Trusting
  • Engaged
  • Connected

These types of employees are 20% more productive than the average employee is and are healthier and actually live longer!

When relationships flourish and are healthy at work, everybody wins.

People want to give their best effort and become more loyal and productive, turnover drops, customer satisfaction rises, and profits increase! When we feel needed, do fulfilling and meaningful work, and have a great relationship with our boss (teacher, choir leader, coach, etc.), we love our work – and this is true for those we lead, too!

“Take time every day to use the force of connection!”

How do you foster relationship excellence for yourself?  For your direct reports and team? How do you foster employee engagement? What techniques or strategies can you share?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Alan Mikolaj
Alan Mikolaj is Author and Lecturer at A Travel Guide to Leadership Training

He helps clients become happier, more successful, and to become the better leaders
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Image Sources: glassgiant.com

9 responses to “On Leadership and The Force of Connection

  1. A very timely and helpful piece. Thanks for posting it and reminding us of how important it is to see employees as people and to respect everyone in the way we practice leadership. Your comments remind me that leadership is about being and not doing and about obligations to serve others and not entitlements. Thanks for the learnings… Doug


  2. Thank you for your comments, Doug! I especially like “leadership is about being…” and hope we can continue to not only live that but pass it on to others, as well!


  3. Alan, so wonderful that you said this; “…employee engagement is not about some New Age, feel-good fad.” As I read I was reminded of Loehr and Swartz’s book, “The Power of Full Engagement” and something that Stephen M.R. Covey said in “The Speed of Trust.” When Trust goes up, Speed goes up, and Cost goes down. Keep on encouraging for full engagement! Thanks, Jeff


    • Thank you for your wonderful comments, Jeff! I will check out Loehr and Swartz’s book and I am a big fan Dr. Covey’s. I have an entire chapter devoted to trust in my latest book. You keep adding to my reading list. 🙂 It’s amazing how it all interconnects!

      At the time I read your comments, I was standing in yet another long, slow line/queue at WalMart and facing what seemed liked the permanently disengaged. Although there was little I could do about the long line, it is amazing how quickly a warm smile, a positive observation, and some authentic (but light) conversation can begin to turn negativity and disengagement around in someone.


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