Emily Marsh

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The psychology of connected leadership

July 9, 2019

Leadership today is no longer just about setting expectations and directing others to meet them. We recognise that we need to understand our own and other people’s natural tendencies, motivations and behaviour, so we can create a culture that takes these into account and allows people to flourish.

That’s why, no matter how big or small your company, leadership is the lynchpin of organisational life. It can make or break your organisation’s success. We know that someone’s experience of their manager accounts for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. We've all heard the cliche that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers, and the thing is - it's true.

This is the reality in which we live today. As the world of work has changed around us, employees have started to behave more and more like consumers - they shop around. Our employees just won’t accept poor quality leadership anymore. You, me, them – our employees want more from their work and if they aren’t happy, they will move on. Perhaps you’ve already seen it in your own retention rates – perhaps you’ve already moved on yourself.

The growth of the gig economy, people encouraging us to pivot and to sample a range of roles and experiences has paved the way for a new kind of leader, one who can meet our career needs and one for whom we build loyalty and trust. We need a ‘connected’ leader

A connected leader is someone with high levels of self-awareness, someone who comes across as human, someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable. A connected leader collaborates with their team and encourages honest dialogue and input from them in return. A connected leader is someone who will elevate people to be the best version of themselves.

This insight is not soft and fluffy, and it's not based on a rose-tinted view of the demands on today's leaders. It's all based in psychology and neuroscience research.

Trust builds bonds

Trust is determined within seconds of meeting another person – this is irrelevant of hierarchy and rank. This is why being able to create a culture of trust is so important for leaders today.

Our brains are wired to be highly aware and in tune with our environment, and especially the other human beings we share it with. Within the first few moments of meeting someone we decide to trust, our bodies release the neurochemical oxytocin, which is associated with social bonding.

When this chemical is released, it continues to build the more we interact with that person. It bonds us together and, at the same time, creates boundaries between those we are bonded to and those we are set against. This means if your team doesn’t trust you or you don’t trust them, it may turn into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation. 

As such, trust is fundamental to being an effective leader. If people don’t trust you, you're fighting a losing battle. You can have a compelling vision, a solid strategy, excellent communication skills and innovative insight, but you simply can’t be an effective leader if your team doesn’t trust you. To build trust, you need to ask questions, listen, and show gratitude.

Vulnerability is not a weakness

Another sign of being a “connected” leader is showing you are in fact human. Authenticity and vulnerability are at the heart of human connection, according to social connection expert Brené Brown: “In order for connection to happen, we need to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen”. What is it that you do in your leadership that helps people – your team – to see the real you?

Too often, we lead from a position of self-protection. We worry about our self-worth in relationships we build, and our fears of judgement, disrespect or of “being found out” run deep, even for leaders. We’ve been told time and again that showing our human side – our vulnerability - is a weakness, but it’s not.

For leaders in a modern world, working with teams across the generations, it is now quite the opposite. Vulnerability shows a strength of character, a certainty in self and leadership, it lets us lead by example, learning from our mistakes and giving permission for our employees to be human too. 

As Angela Kambouris writes, “Vulnerability is hardly a trait many leaders race to embrace, yet it can build deeper relationships and loyalty and enable people to bring their whole selves to work. One of the boldest acts of any leader is to be publicly vulnerable to your employees and by extension, to the world.”

Positive relationships reap positive results

This statement might seem obvious. Traditional command and control management styles, which leaders so often fall back on in times of stress (or because they simply know no other way) usually lead to anything but positive relationships.

When a business does not foster positive relationships between managers and employees the business can struggle. Negative cultures can easily fail to innovate or adapt to change. Where people feel a negative relationship between themselves and their managers, they will often miss out on opportunities and stumble into more risk as nobody wanted to step up or speak out.

Research shows that positive relationships between employees and managers increases activity in areas of the brain associated with an openness to new ideas and social orientation towards others. Innovation and collaboration – two of the top buzzwords for an effective leader today. 

Some of our top measures for employee satisfaction are employee engagement and commitment. Positive relationships and connected leadership create an environment in which people can connect with those around them, helping employees to feel more valued and better understood. Feeling valued and understood are two driving factors in increasing employee engagement and commitment, helping to attract and retain top talent.

How to become a connected leader

As we all know, work isn’t just about having a job to earn some money anymore. Most people need and want more than to just turn up, get their work done and go home again. They want work they find meaningful; they want to feel like they have a purpose, and they want the work that they do to be valued. So, how can we increase how connected our employees feel?

Simple things like finding out who they are in real life. What are their interests, what did they do at the weekend, and what do they find truly motivates them? Find out the challenges they are facing - at work and at home, help them to hone their skills or to develop their interests in a way that sparks joy for them. In short, treat them like human beings – human beings you’d like to stick around for a long time.

Remember to show that you are human too. Show your vulnerability, ask for help when you need it, and build bonds with people up, down and every which way around you. Honesty will breed honesty. People with managers who are willing to say out loud that they need help will build deeper, more connected relationships. These people will be better placed to rise to a challenge, taking more ownership, more responsibility, and more interest when you need them to.

To find out more about how to become a connected leader, click the image below to download our eBook.

Little book for the connected leader

Topics: Featured leadership leadership style

  

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