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Meaningful Connections at Work: The Stuff of Great Cultures

If you’re like me, you’re still enjoying great summertime weather right now. In fact, I shared in a recent post about an annual golf event my wife and I try to attend every summer. We connect with friends and enjoy a favorite pastime together. It’s times like these when I can’t help but reflect on why connecting with old friends and new acquaintances is so important to me.

Topics like this one merit extra attention, which is why I’m writing to you in a second installment about creating meaningful connections—not just in our personal lives—but also in our careers. It’s the stuff of great leadership and fantastic organizational cultures. It’s what makes work, and let’s be honest, our personal lives more gratifying.

Without meaningful connections at work and the enjoyment that comes with them, our personal lives become a brief safe haven on evenings and weekends. If our workplaces lack the connections we crave as social creatures, we get weary and something has to give. And that’s where the scary stats from Gallup come in about lack of employee engagement, attrition and high cost of turnover.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s begin by exploring what we can do prevent those outcomes from playing out. I began our discussion with one of the most common business activities we engage in: meaningful connections with potential customers. Today, we’re going to expand the conversation to include why creating personal connections in your culture are essential, including a leader’s role in setting the stage for meaningful connections.

We established in my first post that extensive research illustrates how meaningful connections in a person’s life has numerous positive effects on your physical health and mental wellbeing. Employees who experience these benefits not only perform better, but they stay longer and become connectors themselves, helping you build an environment capable of attracting the best employees.

Ken Lin, CEO of Credit Karma explains this phenomenon well: “In the early days of a startup, it’s easy to keep work personal. The team is small, things are moving quickly, and everyone knows everyone. When your company grows past 50 people, culture becomes something you have to work on. As CEO, you have to be vocal about it.” I agree with Lin; as a leader you have to be proactive about facilitating connections. One of the best ways you can do this is by modeling connective behavior yourself.

But, not everyone is a natural connector. Plus, business matters and deadlines can get in the way of important rapport building. For these and other reasons entrepreneur Zubin Mowlovi’s struggled with genuine relationships until he made a concerted effort to work on some specific strategies. Here are three that especially resonated with me.

You have to set the sharing bar

Sharing something personal about yourself won’t make you look unprofessional, instead it will open the lines of communication with your team. And, they will often share proportionately with how much you share. If you’d like to have a better connection with your colleagues, take the lead and they’ll follow. Authentic sharing means everyone will have the foundation on which to build a strong network and healthy culture.

Make yourself physically and mentally present

Mowlovi explains that he often used to meet his team members with a laptop in front of him, responding to emails while discussions were in progress. He realized later that the laptop was not only a physical barrier, but his attempt to multi-task diminished his ability to connect. I once received feedback that I sometimes appeared hurried, making myself seemingly unavailable. It was an insight I was grateful for and worked hard to improve upon.

Consistency is king

Do your best to convey a consistent mood in meetings. If you let an earlier mishap affect the rest of your day, this puts your team in a constant state of taking your temperature. This uncertainty detracts from relationship building and trust. Instead, try showing that you can tune out negative interruptions and maintain a positive focus on your people. This strengthens your team’s confidence in you and willingness to cultivate greater connections.

Having genuine connections outside of your organization as well as inside with your teams is a leadership competency worth keeping an eye on. The quality of your relationships will dictate not only your physical and mental wellbeing, but more importantly, will have an immeasurable effect on your personal and professional fulfillment as a leader. American writer, Clint Smith, aptly said, “This idea of shared humanity and the connections that we make with one another—that’s what, in fact, makes life worth living.”

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