Human Connection and Leadership

By Mary Verstraete

Everything in leadership involves developing strong and trusting relationships.

Scott Edinger, founder of the Edinger Consulting Group in Tampa, Florida, tells the story of when he first started working in the Coopers & Lybrand consulting firm. Scott was assigned to Chris Abramson, who had an enormous scale of responsibility. Yet whenever Chris talked with him, he gave him undivided attention: “He talked with me about my goals and my development opportunities. He shared stories about life (both his and mine) outside the office. Even in our short conversations, in which he frequently was directing me do something, he injected some kind of personal remark or comment.”

Scott goes on to say, “Leadership has everything to do with how you relate to others and the quality and texture of those relationships. The higher up you go in an organization, the less important your technical skills become and the more your interpersonal skills matter. Chris Abramson excelled in one of the most important—and most misunderstood—of leadership skills in making a human connection: Emotional Connection.

“The ability to make an emotional connection is so often misunderstood because it’s not about being emotional or showing emotion. It’s about making a human connection—one person to another. Chris Abramson had the ability to connect on that level with me, with teams, with an entire office of over 600 associates—to show us how important we all were to him and that there was more to our relationship than just the job at hand.”

Let’s face it, emotion isn’t often a word you see in business books. Yet business illustrates its importance. In Gallup’s article “Customer Satisfaction Doesn’t Count,” they declare that “If you don’t make an emotional connection with customers, then satisfaction is worthless.” Their research proved that customers don’t buy strictly for rational reasons—much more important is engaging them on an emotional level. And, businesses that optimize this connection outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth.

What happens in organizations without emotional connection? Employees become disengaged from their jobs, their leaders, and the companies they work for. They have no motivation to put forth more than the minimum amount of effort required of them and no motivation to stay when better opportunities come along. Today’s leaders need to work to ensure that emotional connection is there.

What is the bottom line of this blog?

  • Emotional connection builds involvement and engagement
  • Emotional connection can determine the strength of a relationship
  • Emotional connection drives loyalty and advocacy
  • Emotional connection is an experience

People will leave a conversation experiencing an emotional connection with you or a disconnection with you.

Let’s look at three intentional actions to help forge the kind of connection Scott experienced:

  1. Put people first. This sounds simple, but unless we are intentional in making people most important, ringing phones, emails by the dozens, and tasks staring at us will be what wins our attention. When you unfailingly engage with people, you can expect engagement and loyalty.

  2. Develop your ability to engage with others. As a leader, develop the ability to reach out to others and engage them in conversation. Leaders, by definition, do their work through other people, and yet how easy it is to lose sight of that and to focus on the amount of work–the tasks, the output, the jobs to be completed. The irony is, the more you focus on the quality of your connections, the greater your quantity of output is likely to be.

  3. Listen. Really listen. Listening helps people feel important in every interaction, whether it’s a phone call, face-to-face, email or chat. Regularly listen and respond to the people around you. Take the time to understand their concerns and needs.

Connecting is a learned skill. I believe coaching skills are one of the most effective means for leaders to learn how to genuinely and authentically connect with those they lead.