4 Practices to Tap Your Superpower of Human Connection

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By Michael Lee Stallard

It’s encouraging to see more leaders identify human connection as a primary factor contributing to their organization’s sustained success.  Fortune magazine recently recognized Theo Epstein, President, Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball and the Cubs organization, as #1 on its world’s greatest leaders list. Last year the Cubs won the World Series and broke the franchise’s 108-year World Series title drought, the longest in professional sports.

According to Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated writer and author of The Cubs Way:

“Theo Epstein, once known as the number-crunching wizard who broke the championship curse of the Boston Red Sox, built [the Cubs] with an emphasis on people who would create the right ethos. The story of the Cubs’ championship would not just be about 2016. It would be timeless. It would also be about the power of human connection—teammates to teammates, teammates to fans, generation to generation.”

Previously I’ve written about Cubs manager Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs’ culture of connection. In a future article I will present a detailed description of the Cubs’ culture based on Verducci’s observations in The Cubs Way.

For now I’d like to focus on a pattern I’m seeing. As I read through Fortune’s world’s greatest leaders list, it jumped out at me that a number of the top leaders recognized are intentional connectors who create cultures of connection.

For example, note that the #3 rated leader is Pope Francis who is well known for being intentional about connecting with people and, I believe, is working to create a culture of connection in the Catholic Church.

The #4 rated leader is Melinda Gates who is without doubt an intentional connector. I highly recommend watching Ms. Gates’ outstanding commencement speech at Duke University, her alma mater, in which she describes the importance of connection to thrive in life.

In many fields, leaders and thought leaders are discovering the superpower of connection.  Consider healthcare. Kate Otto, author of Everyday Ambassador and co-founder of the organization Everyday Ambassador, recently wrote an outstanding article published in Clinical Correlations: The New York University Langone Online Journal of Medicine. Ms. Otto makes the case that the scientific research shows how damaging chronic loneliness is to health so physicians should be looking for signs of it in their patients.  She recommends that physicians on the front lines of medicine inquire about a patient’s state of social connection by asking questions such as “Do you live alone? Who will visit you here in the hospital? With whom do you share your private worries and fears? How much of your week do you spend with other people?” She goes on to recommend developing therapeutic relationships that include empathizing with patients.

Are You Tapping Your Superpower?

I frequently note that Matthew Lieberman, the University of California at Los Angeles neuroscientist and author of Social, describes connection as a superpower that makes you smarter, happier and more productive. This raises the question: Are you tapping into your superpower of connection?

Research confirms that most people are not. The former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, said the most common illness today is a lack of connection. This is unlikely to change, given current trends and the rise of social media and remote work. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, recently wrote about research that showed social media was making us lonelier. The rise of remote work is contributing to loneliness too.

Is Your Team and Organization Tapping Its Superpower?

Connection is also a superpower for teams and organizations because it boosts employee engagement, strategic alignment, productivity and innovation. Most teams and organizations are not tapping into their superpower of connection. Gallup research shows two-thirds of American workers don’t feel connected at work.

In their Harvard Business Review article on creating a positive workplace culture, Stanford’s Emma Seppala and University of Michigan’s Kim Cameron recommend four connection-producing practices that boost performance of a team or organization:

  1. foster social connections
  2. show empathy
  3. go out of your way to help, and
  4. encourage people to talk to you, especially about their problems.

These are just a few ways to connect. My colleagues and I have previously recommended each of these plus many additional practices which are also described in our book, Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work, and free e-book, 100 Ways to Connect.

About connection, professors Seppela and Cameron write:

“A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. For example, people get sick less often, recover twice as fast from surgery, experience less depression, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, display more mental acuity, and perform better on the job. Conversely, research by Sarah Pressman at the University of California, Irvine, found that the probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers, but a whopping 70% higher for people with poor social relationships. Toxic, stress-filled workplaces affect social relationships and, consequently, life expectancy.”

Your Mindset: Connection Is an Extraordinary Opportunity

Although the decline of connection in modern society may seem depressing to some, I want you to see it as an opportunity. By increasing connection in your life and the lives of your family, friends and colleagues, you will thrive and improve the lives of those around you. By promoting connection in your organization, you will be boosting its performance and contribution to society.

To get the conversation started on the importance of boosting connection in your organization and how to go about it, I invite you and your colleagues to join my colleague Todd Hall, chief scientist at E Pluribus Partners, and me on a webcast titled “Employee Engagement: Using Your Vision, Value and Voice,” on May 24 from 2:00-3:00 pm EDT.  You can find details and signup information here.

Mark this day, connect more with others and watch what happens.  I promise that over time, you will see that connection affects much more than the bottom line. As you experience greater peace, hope and joy that comes from having an abundance of connection in your life, you will have discover wealth of even greater value.

Michael Lee Stallard, Todd W. Hall, and HRDQ-U are hosting a webinar May 24th at 2pm ET. Save your seat here!

Michael Lee Stallard is President of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training and consulting firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut, and a co-founder of ConnectionCulture.com. He speaks and teaches at a wide variety of organizations including Google, Johnson & Johnson, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, NASA, Qualcomm, Scotiabank, and the U.S. Treasury Department. Texas Christian University created the TCU Center for Connection Culture based on Michael’s work.

Todd W. Hall, Ph.D. is Chief Scientist for E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training and consulting firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut.  A research and clinical psychologist, Todd has 20+ years experience helping individuals and teams thrive.  He has been privileged to consult with start-ups, government agencies, non-profits, and for-profits, including the National Institute for Mental Health, the U.S. Army, the Salvation Army, VHA Corp., New York City Leadership Center, Moody Press, Pruvio, and numerous universities.

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