As command-and-control leadership gives way to “influence” leadership — the best leaders are those who know how to influence, persuade and inspire their followers — it is not surprising that the ability to build relationships is one of the key factors for leadership success. And it is equally not surprising that given all of the technology shortcuts available today, more and more people, including leaders, are losing the habit and skills of effective face-to-face contact. In his new book, The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship-Building Skills Every Leader Needs Now, author Michael Gelb explores seven core relationship-building skills that will help leaders acquire and develop their ability to connect with people.
It Begins With Humility
The first relationship-building skill, according to Gelb, is to “embrace humility.” One of the great problems with communication is what is known as “the illusion of transparency.” This means that the communicator automatically assumes that his or her message has been completely and accurately understood by those who are listening — after all, the communicator certainly understands the message, so why shouldn’t others? A humble leader, writes Gelb, minimizes misunderstandings by focusing on what others might hear, not on what he or she said.
Humble leaders are also vulnerable, which does not mean weak or helpless. Vulnerable leaders are not afraid to be open and accessible and, thus, responsive to others.
Gelb evocatively summarizes the second relationship-building skill in the phrase, “Be a glowworm.” In other words, be the leader who shines through the crowd, who draws the attention and respect of those around him or her. How did Winston Churchill lead his people through the long, dark days of World War II? The answer is through the force of his personality and the inspirational words that reached and connected to his suffering people.
Being a glowworm is possible, Gelb writes, because emotions are contagious. Although contagious emotions can, of course, lead to positive or negative consequences, the great leaders are driven by positive emotions to which their followers respond.
The third relationship-building skill is captured in a trio of imperatives, which Gelb describes as “achieving the three liberations.” To achieve the three liberations means to free yourself from 1) like and dislike (that is, the urge to be judgmental instead of just observing); 2) taking things personally; and 3) blaming and complaining.
Gelb is an adherent of personality types, and his fourth relationship-building skill, “transcend fixations,” involves recognizing your personality type and working to highlight the healthy facets of that type and moving away from its unhealthy facets — and all types have healthy and unhealthy manifestations.
Why Balance Is Key
“Balance energy exchange,” his fifth relationship-building skill, focuses on the need for relationships to be balanced between the parties. There cannot be one dominant party in a healthy relationship, Gelb writes. This requires leaders to make a deliberate attempt to maintain this balance with their followers. Two ways to maintain is to offer praise and to request feedback. This intriguing chapter also explores the “givers,” “takers” and “matchers” — the latter representing a balanced approach to relationships — first suggested by Wharton professor Adam Grant.
The last two relationship-building skills covered by Gelb are to “be a RARE listener” (that is, to be the type of listener who Receives, Appreciates, Reflects and Enquires) and to “turn friction into momentum.” The first step in turning friction into momentum is to recognize that “conflict is a normal and natural aspect of life” and that it is “essential to the creative process,” he writes.
With its practical advice supported by wonderful stories, inspiring quotes and evocative acronyms, The Art of Connection is a thoughtful and eloquent tutorial that will help leaders and future leaders become masters of this invaluable leadership art.