Effective leadership hinges on one simple idea: to move a group of people to action, you have to connect with them. Leadership born from anything other than connection is temporary at best. For a leader’s influence to endure in such a way that it is clear that their former followers carry on his legacy because they choose to do so is a remarkable gift. And it is a gift given only to those leaders who manage to make the personal connection.
I’m still working on that connection. In some cases, I’ve made it. In others, it still eludes me. Do cultural differences make it more difficult? Sure. The truth, though, is that the difficulty has more to do with the personality of the leader than anything else. It is a test of one’s adaptability to quickly create new connections with different personalities. In my situation, I have learned that it is the same on either side of the Atlantic. It comes down to me. What am I willing to do, as a human being, to push myself to meet the challenge? What’s my strategy for passing the test?
Simple: swallow hard and do the work.
With the connections made and nurtured over time, the possibilities begin to multiply. What can one person accomplish with a healthy and robust network of personal connections? The simple answer is “anything.” But to get from here to there, the individuals have to align behind a compelling vision of what tomorrow can bring. The story we want to sell to the outside world is crafted within the safety of the network. This is how communication becomes a tool of great power.
Confident, authentic communication from a confident, authentic leader can move anyone. I think often of the Dalai Lama and how this simple Buddhist monk can move tens of thousands of strangers to not only support his cause but embrace the spirit of his teachings. The Dalai Lama accomplishes two very important things at once: he champions the cause of his people in Tibet and he spreads a message of peace based in spirituality, not religion, to the wider world. He will work one audience, delivering both messages at once. I have experienced his powerful talks firsthand, sitting alongside an American seeking spiritual teaching and a Tibetan-in-exile seeking hope for the future. At the center sat the Dalai Lama, speaking one set of words but delivering two distinct messages. This is the finest example of the power of masterful communication that I have ever witnessed.
Our goals in leadership will most likely be far less ambitious than world peace and Tibetan freedom, but the process of connecting and communicating the story are essentially the same. First, expend the energy to create the connections. Nurture those connections. Then, tell your story to the connected. They will help you carry the message forward once they reach the threshold of engagement. Getting beyond interest and into engagement is a matter of messaging.
I am privileged to call him Friend.
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For more on this 21st Century Leadership Skill … Skill 2