In August, our team at Wisdom Works participated in an international conference with close to 1,300 attendees. Across the various keynotes and conversations, we heard a common theme: The power of human connection.
Throughout the week, there was a palpable feeling of joy at the simple fact of being together. The conference head conveyed his emotions in a word from his native Zulu, “ubuntu” meaning “I am because we are.” Several speakers emphasized authentic connection as key to addressing the empathy deficit plaguing our modern world and having the courageous conversations we need to collectively live well on this planet (a uniquely human ability that AI can’t do for us!). And, in the highlight video concluding the conference, almost every person mentioned networking, joining together, and mutual wellbeing—the power of connection—as top takeaways from their experience.
Our desire and ability to connect with each other is deeply human. We are social beings, hardwired to bond with those around us. Polyvagal expert and therapist Deb Dana says that from birth, we have a biological need to be in connection with safe others as a basis of our physical and psychological wellbeing. It is in co-regulating in those safe, trustworthy, caregiving relationships—with other caregiving nervous systems—that we initially learn how to connect with and self-regulate ourselves. And we don’t lose that desire to connect in those life-enhancing relationships as adults.
Yet research shows that we’re failing to connect. Loneliness is increasing our health risks, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, alcoholism, and sleep deprivation, and our social isolation has been compared to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy said in a recent advisory, “Social connection—the structure, function, and quality of our relationships with others—is a critical and underappreciated contributor to individual and population health, community safety, resilience, and prosperity… Further, social connection can be a proactive approach to living a fulfilled and happy life, enhancing life satisfaction, educational attainment, and performance in the workplace, as well as contributing to more-connected communities that are healthier, safer, and more prosperous.”
Authentic connection, we believe, is a largely untapped space for leading.
Nothing of Value Happens by One Person Alone
Effective leadership is all about actively creating the conditions where people can be effective, grow, and thrive, individually and together, during the stress-free and the stress-filled times. As a leader this means you make a positive impact, in part, by building healthy connections with and between people. You understand, in a profound way, that nothing of value happens by one person alone; it happens through all the ways our creativity and efforts intertwine.
In our wellbeing leadership framework and assessment system, Be Well Lead Well Pulse®, we measure this way of leading in a set of psychometrics we call Thriving Amplified. In a recent study of leaders around the globe, we found those leaders reporting highest in their ability to empower, maximize, and grow others through work environments of collaboration and care also reported the highest scores in their mental and emotional wellbeing. These leaders knew how to facilitate authentic human connection to bring out the best of people, including themselves.
Our World is Desperate for Leaders to Facilitate Authentic Connection
We live and work during an age when collective stress, unhappiness, anger, and sadness are at record levels and daily positive experiences are diminishing worldwide. At the same time, we are investing in mental and emotional health wellbeing more than ever; the Global Wellness Institute estimates that the worldwide mental wellness industry will grow 10% per year through 2025.
Yet for all our strife and strategic investment, our world is desperate for leaders who can facilitate authentic human connection.
We’re desperate for leaders who can build work environments where people don’t just bring their lives to work, people come alive as whole human beings through positive relationships at work. We are desperate for leaders who use our shared problems, imperfections, and possibilities as avenues for unifying and elevating us, rather than dividing us. We’re desperate for leaders who can respond to the disruptive nature of our times with an inner resourcefulness, empathy, and deep emotional wellbeing—the kind of leader who knows that uplifting the best in others also uplifts themselves.
We are desperate for these leaders, but we need not anticipate them. Putting a new spin on an old saying: We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
Use the Power of Connection in How You Lead
I’m sure others have written volumes about this! So, we’ll focus on two powerful ways to begin:
- Set the tone that everyone is accountable for contributing to a psychologically safe and well environment at work. As mentioned above, we aren’t just responsible for our own nervous systems; we are responsible for the nervous systems of each other to some extent. Psychologist Carl Rogers used the inspiring notion of unconditional positive regard in his therapeutic work with clients that I believe applies. Unconditional positive regard means centering yourself, and in this case your team, in the belief that all people already have deep within them the internal resources of wellbeing, resilience, and growth. Make sure people on your team know that one of their jobs is to help amplify the wellbeing, resilience, and growth of each other so that the team can create something of value that individual members cannot create alone. This is at the heart of vibrant connection. And it isn’t just good for the organization; it creates life-enhancing employee experiences.
- Become aware of what you’re radiating. Who you are, what you say, and what you do matter, especially if you’re in a position of power. Your body language, facial expressions, and the pace and rhythm of how you move and interact with people all communicate something. Today, without changing a thing about yourself, notice yourself in action. Then ask: Am I radiating disconnection or connection? There is no right or wrong answer here; it’s an opportunity to become more aware. Just as every member of your team shapes the experience of the team, the mental and emotional wellbeing you emanate influences the sense of wellbeing and engagement of the team. If you aren’t sure of the vibe that you’re broadcasting, ask people you trust for their honest feedback. I can promise you that your family members, friends, partners, and team will be an excellent source of insight, if you’re willing to learn from them.
Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once said, “We are all connected: To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe, atomically.”
How would we lead if we really understood this idea?
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