Enjoy this excerpt from our new book, Healthy Leadership.
Healthy leaders create emotional bonds with their teams. We are wired to seek connections in our world. Humans are social creatures by design—and healthy leaders know and prioritize this truth.
They excel not only at connecting directly with their team members, but also at helping team members connect with one another—in healthy ways. We often hear people speak with envy about companies like Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, Southwest Airlines, Harley-Davidson, Nordstrom, The Container Store, and FedEx, to name a few.
Outsiders are constantly looking for secrets to success in these companies. One “secret” is their culture of connectedness. They intentionally create strong connections to meaning, to team, and to contributions that fulfill the human needs of purpose, belonging, and appreciation.
To illustrate the power of connections, consider an experiment conducted to study the effects of relationships on group performance. The researchers compared the performance of groups of three friends to groups of three acquaintances.
Each group was asked to follow specific instructions for building models made with Tinkertoy® pieces. The friends built an average of 9.0 models versus 2.45 models for the acquaintances. “The friends were able to challenge one another’s ideas in a constructive way,” said Karen Jehn, one of the researchers. “In the groups of acquaintances, people were almost too polite.”
One of the fastest ways to connect with others is to find common ground. This is true whether you are building a new relationship or building a bridge to mend an existing one. Consider two people who are at odds and walk away from negotiations as a lost cause. Then in walks a skilled mediator who quickly identifies a win-win solution. The contentious parties were focusing on differences while the mediator focused on commonalities.
So, what is the lesson here? Connections among teammates increase team health as measured by engagement and productivity. Sure, digital connectivity greases the wheels of high performance, but emotional connection is the engine. Another compelling study demonstrates that a feeling of connection can alter how our brains process the challenges we face.
Researchers found that if a person is looking at a hill and judging how steep it is, the simple presence of a social support (like a friend) made the hill look 10 to 20 percent less steep than if the individual were alone. You or your team’s perception of a task, goal, or project is transformed for the better when the presence of others is felt on the journey to achievement. A healthy leader makes sure his or her team is looking up that hill, not alone but together.