Three Connections That Energize Every Great Leader

Three Connections That Energize Every Great Leader

Let’s face it, leadership is hard.

You give it everything you have, but sometimes, it feels like it’s just not enough. When that happens though, here’s what you have to tell yourself…

You’re not alone.

Or, I should say…you don’t have to be.

When I was in San Francisco to deliver a keynote, I visited the famous California Redwoods. Standing beside the tallest living things on the planet was astounding.

Some them are thousands of years old. I saw the tallest tree–tall as a 36 story building with a trunk that would take ten or twelve people to encircle. Wow!

When I returned to my hotel that night, I went online to learn more about these trees. Specifically, I wanted to know about their roots. The roots I had seen were shallow and short.

What I found surprised me.

I expected the redwoods to have deep root systems, but they don’t. Their roots only go down five or six feet…but they extend outward 100 feet. In fact, the roots of nearby trees entangle, connect, and even fuse with one another. Together, the trees anchor one another through thousands of years of storms, wind, and floods.

Think about that for a moment–the tallest living things on earth don’t get tall by themselves.

They do it together.

As a leader, your trajectory and success – especially when things get tough – depend on your connections. There are three connections I’ve found that energize every great leader.

Connection #1: Your Team

Of course, you are there to serve your team.

But a funny thing happens when you do this. You will find your team also serves you. You don’t have to problem-solve on your own. You can rely on them.

Where you need to grow, they’ll challenge you. When your team trusts you, they’ll do amazing work with you. When you lead well, your team makes you stronger.

You can bring the tough questions to them and they’ll problem solve with you. They’ll hold you accountable. Karin and I have both had team members confront us when we weren’t leading up to our own standards.

Connection #2: A Community of Peers

Leadership is challenging work. It’s not easy and it doesn’t always feel good. It can be difficult, but extremely rewarding to find a good group of colleagues who will encourage you and help you problem-solve. If you’re looking for this kind of leadership community, consider our International Leadership Cohort of people just like you who are committed achieving breakthrough results – without losing their soul.

In addition to mutual encouragement and problem-solving, you also benefit from time spent with people outside the “bubble” of your organization. You’ll see your own situations with fresh eyes and better perspective.

Connection #3: A Mentor or Coach

Who is helping you get better?
Many leaders have a series of mentors and coaches over their lifetime…but it’s your responsibility to find them.

Recently, I saw an aspiring leader sit back on a social media forum and post something like, “Hey, I really wish you’d mentor me!” It was a generic comment that felt needy and as if he were a victim, powerless to help himself.

Most mentors won’t respond to that sort of energy. You want to find people who are farther down the road, who are doing what you want to do or have the kind of influence you want to have, and then approach them with a specific and actionable request.

You might say, “I’ve noticed you are very effective at cross-departmental relationships and problem solving. I’ve been challenged in this area and have some specific questions I think you could help with. Would you be willing to mentor me in this? You’ll find that I take your suggestions seriously and put them into practice as soon as possible.”

Accept their answer. If they say yes and have a particular way they want to work, go with it, and follow through. If they say no, honor that too. The chemistry must be there for mentoring relationships to work.

There are also times you’ll want to rely on a coach. Coaches can provide targeted, objective feedback and skill-training to shorten your learning curve and help you make rapid progress with your leadership challenges.

Your Turn

Remember, just like redwoods, great leaders get to be great based on the strength of their connections to their team, to a community of colleagues, and with mentors and coaches.

Where do you need to connect?

Leave us a comment and share how you stay connected to your team, a community of leaders, and mentors & coaches who help you grow.

Why Connections Will Change Your Life

I raced for the airport parking shuttle, threw my bag on the rack and collapsed in the seat. The hectic schlep is too familiar. The stranger next to me smiled, “How’d it go?” Ugh, what’s this guy want? What ever he’s selling, I don’t need.

I’ve been on that shuttle many times texting, returning calls, trying to remember if there was anything in the fridge to cook for dinner. The last thing on my mind is connecting. But for some reason, I played along.

I opened my heart and shared:

“Actually, quite well. I work in the call center space, and connection and empathy is fundamental. I saw more of that on this trip. I think they’re getting it. I also write a leadership blog and more people are engaging. The momentum is exciting”

His connection energized my thinking. I suddenly felt better about the progress. I took a shot. “Did you make the sale?” He laughed and beamed, “sure did.” And then he went on, “but I’m worried.

I’m in healthcare and the entire landscape is changing. I’ve been in this field forever, but may need to change. I’m not sure how I’ll replicate the income and my kids are still small. It’s all I’ve known.”

I felt sudden compassion for this stranger. This fleeting connection mattered. The 7 1/2 minute conversation energized us both. No cards exchanged. No romantic intentions. No next steps. No asks. Just two tired strangers offering the gift of connection. Next week, I’ll take that shuttle again with connections on my mind.

Creating Powerful Connections

Connections aren’t just for the people we love or those we lead. You can influence small corners of the world through fleeting connections.

  • Look up
  • Open your heart
  • Trust more
  • Ask
  • Share
  • Respond

Where have you found joy in random connections? To whom can you offer that gift?

Connect, Influence, Inspire: A Growing Leaders Salute to Bill Gessert

Great leaders connect with, influence and inspire those around them. Bill Gessert, who has served as President of the International Customer Service Association since 2007, has spent his career creating forums and opportunities for leaders to connect and grow. And so, on the eve of Customer Service Week, first founded by the ICSA in 1988, I offer this Growing Leaders Salute to Bill Gessert.

Leadership and Connections

Q: How would you describe your leadership philosophy?

A: Early in my tenure as a “leader” I learned the sometimes painful lesson that as a leader, I don’t have to do EVERYTHING. That was not easy for me because I am very much a self-starter and am driven to see things get done. My philosophy of leadership has evolved to an understanding that to be truly effective, I need to rely on others their skills, abilities, ideas, and creativity. I work hard to recognize and understand what others bring to the table and then utilize their skills and abilities appropriately. Also, I believe a leader must be passionate about what they are doing. That passion is contagious and brings out the best efforts and results of others.

Q: Your leadership seems to be very much about creating connections. When and how did you realize that learning to connect was important?

Not soon enough! There is no reason to “go it alone” when there are so many people out there that know as much or more than I do. Connecting people is really one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. And when you make connections that matter, everyone benefits. When you make positive and meaningful connections, those people often return the favor at just the right time. Making connections – good ones – is a skill.

Q: How does involvement in associations help leaders to grow and develop?

A: Associations are ALL about connection. When we connect with others in our industry, people with a shared vision and goal, we are bound to learn and grow. One of the things we try to do at each conference is build time into the schedule to allow people to connect. We even include activities to help foster positive connections by helping people find their common ground with others.

The collective experience and knowledge of the “group” will always trump the individual. Associations create that “group” in a powerful way that makes everyone stronger. Leaders need to be exposed to the wide range of thoughts, ideas, emerging tools, and the thought leaders within their industry in order to develop their own skills and abilities. I’ve always felt one of the key attributes of effective leaders is remaining humble enough to keep learning. Associations, when they are working correctly, are a great source of learning opportunities.

Q: As a leader of volunteers at the ICSA, how do you encourage participation and shared leadership?

A: I think encouraging participation and spreading leadership around all begins with sharing the mission and vision of your group. Why do you exist? What do you provide that people cannot get anywhere else? What is your purpose, both today and into the future? And how are you going to get there? All of that has to be shared before people will choose to engage. This is especially true in a volunteer organization like the ICSA. We have accomplished a great deal in our 31 years of existence and it all pours out of a shared understanding of our mission and vision.

Also, from a very practical standpoint you have to recognize that people have only so much bandwidth to give to the Association’s work. It is important to not only understand that but to function out of that understanding. In other words, don’t ask someone to do something that just will not fit into the time they have to give to the Association. As a leader, it is important to talk to all your key volunteers and gain a realistic idea of how much time they have and what can be accomplished with that time.

Finally, never underestimate the power of recognition and thanks. Failure to say thanks for your time, effort, and results is the fastest way to disenfranchise a solid contributor to your team. I’ve gone back to sending hand written “thank yous” because I know how very much those have meant to me over the years. I find it more personal and sincere. It takes a bit more time (and I hate my handwriting) but the extra effort of writing those notes is always notices and deeply appreciated

Customer Service Week

Q: Can you tell me about why the ICSA felt like it was important to formalize a week to recognize customer service professionals?

A: The ICSA created National Customer Service Week for two reasons. First, as a means of celebrating the incredible efforts of front line service providers. We believe in regular and frequent recognition of the efforts of service professionals. But setting aside this one week ensures that there will be a focus on celebrating their work.

Secondly, National Customer Service Week was also created to increase the understanding and awareness of the vital role that customer service plays in building and maintaining loyal customers. The profitability of any organization is directly impacted by the quality of their service. National Customer Service Week is a time when the ICSA works to bring this fact into light and increase the awareness of the value of customer service “professionals.”

Q: What leadership lessons can be learned from the evolution of customer service week?

A: Jeanne Bliss wrote a wonderful book entitled, Chief Customer Officer. In it she shares how several outstanding and successful companies have accomplished their success in large part because someone within the organization fulfilled the role of Chief Customer Officer. A person who represents the customers in every strategic meeting and across all of the “silos” that tend to exist in organizations.