Author and Consultant Michael Lee Stallard

Is there a “best” team and organizational culture? Countless books, podcasts, webinars and workshops offer do’s and don’ts on leading people and how to win at work. The sheer volume of opinions and approaches available reinforces that over the last hundred years of scientific inquiry there has not been a consensus on the definitions of, or a general theoretical model for, leadership or organizational culture.

In recent years, however, two trends have emerged. The first is that scholars are finding organizations are comprised of a complex web of intricate relationships best captured by theories of complexity. The second trend is that effective leaders foster positive relationships and care about people. “Connection” is cited as an emerging general theory of leadership and organizational culture that integrates these trends, according to The Connection Value Chain: Impact of Connection Culture and Employee Motivation on Perceived Team Performance, a recently published doctoral dissertation by Jon Rugg, PhD.

Applying a “one size fits all” culture isn’t realistic in today’s increasingly diverse and global working world. That said, I believe organizations that have sustainable high performance will have a common foundation to their culture – elements that enable them to be their best.

Connection Is the X-factor

Team and organizational cultures can be viewed as either emotionally connecting people or emotionally isolating them. Why do leaders need to care whether or not an employee feels connected? Research has found that social connection is a primal human need that appears to improve the cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems’ performance. Viewed from the opposite side, research has shown that lacking sufficient connection is associated with poorer cognitive performance, impaired executive control and self-regulation, lower levels of self-rated physical health, substance abuse, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation. Given these findings, it should be no surprise that greater loneliness in the workplace has been found to result in poorer task, team role and relational performance. Employees who feel regularly left out, lonely or out of the loop are not going to be able to do their best work and may not wish to.

In the research my colleagues and I conducted we found that isolation typically results from excessive control behaviors, or by excessive busyness and indifference to the human need for connection. Cultures that connect people (which we have termed “connection cultures”) are best for individual well-being and for helping organizations thrive. Specifically, cultures that intentionally connect people to their work, their colleagues and the organization as a whole convey several performance advantages upon organizations including higher employee engagement, tighter strategic alignment, better decisions, higher rate of innovation and greater agility to cope with faster changes taking place today. These benefits combine to provide a significant performance and competitive advantage.

Today’s Connection Deficit

Media have reported on the current loneliness epidemic, including in the workplace. And what about the many people don’t think of themselves as lonely and yet the demands of work and task-oriented activities such as time in front of screens have crowded out time for meaningful relationships? That was my experience, earlier in my career. Today’s connection deficit is a risk to individuals and organizations, especially those with cultures of control or indifference. Leaders would be wise not to ignore it. 

Over the coming decade the workforce may become even more disconnected. Consider that research on adolescents, the next wave of incoming employees, has found they spend more time interacting with electronic devices and less time interacting with each other. Furthermore, artificial intelligence may diminish people’s ability to connect as an unintended consequence of spending more time interacting with machines.

What Leaders Can Do

To boost connection, leaders first need to develop a connection mindset throughout their organization. This means that people at all levels recognize and appreciate that human connection is a necessity and a lack of connection is unhealthy and can sabotage success. Second, people need to learn the attitudes, uses of language, and behaviors that are connecting. Some of these are universal and others will be shaped by local customs and the organization’s vision, mission and values. Training, mentoring and coaching are valuable in moving from an aspirational to an actual culture of connection.

Our memorable formula to help leaders create a connection culture is Vision + Value + Voice. Simply stated, leaders connect people when they communicate a Vision that inspires and unites people, Value people as human beings and not just means to an end, and give people a Voice to express their opinions and ideas.

Alan Mulally at Ford

A leader who created a connection culture is Alan Mulally. When he arrived at Ford Motor Company in 2006 to be CEO, sales, market share and profits were declining as its culture of infighting drove Ford to the verge of bankruptcy. Here are a few of the ways that he put the power of connection to work as he led the turnaround.

He reminded employees of the inspiring Vision put forth by founder Henry Ford of “opening the highways for all mankind.” Mulally described Ford’s contribution to society as giving people “freedom of mobility [to] access opportunities for growth.”

Mulally boosted Value in the Ford culture when he said leaders need to care about and value people in order to connect with them. He often used the phrases “One Ford” and “working together always works.” In meetings, he prohibited people from using humor at the expense of others.

Mulally increased the element of Voice by seeking people’s ideas and opinions, considering them and acting on the best ideas. A primary vehicle for this was the weekly Business Plan Review (BPR) meeting that was attended in person or by teleconference by the global leadership team as well as all business and functional leaders. 

When Mulally announced his retirement in May 2014, he had led Ford to 19 consecutive profitable quarters and rising market share in North America. Connection was not only good for the individual employees of Ford, it was good for the bottom line. Senior leaders who want their organizations to reach their potential are intentional about developing and sustaining cultures of connection that promote superior organizational outcomes. The net benefit amounts to better employee and organizational performance.

About Michael Lee Stallard

Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of E Pluribus Partners and Connection Culture Group, is a thought leader and speaker on how effective leaders boost human connection in team and organizational cultures to improve the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He is the author of “Connection Culture” and “Fired Up or Burned Out.”

Author Jan Ferri-Reed

Our fast-paced world is presenting leaders with increased demands. Recruiting the best and brightest employees to help your organization respond to the challenges is still crucial, but you can’t wait for new employees to figure things out on their own.

In today’s job market, the most heavily recruited new hires are Millennials and Gen Z. Many Millennial job candidates were stymied by the great recession of 2008, and as the economy has recovered, these candidates are now ready to embark on the “dream” careers into which they have invested so much time and student loan debt. Gen Z comes to the workplace with similar expectations as their generational predecessors. So orienting Gen Y and Z within the company takes even more non-traditional approaches and creative strategies. 

This 80-million strong Millennial generation and 61-million Gen Z generation have a few things in common that need to be leveraged in our onboarding programs – technological savvy, a “work to live” high efficiency mentality, hunger for feedback, collaborative approaches, a high level of self-confidence and philanthropic outlook, to name a few.

It may have been passable to gather new employees into a meeting room and briefly relay onboarding information. Today, however, organizations thrive when they implement robust onboarding programs that quickly bring new employees up to speed as follows.

Plan it together 

It may seem counter-intuitive to established employees, but one of the most effective ways to fully engage younger employees is to involve them in planning their own onboarding. Give them options for acquiring information, let them plan the order and sequence of their onboarding program, assign them to interview key existing employees or ask them to prepare a report on a specific topic related to their onboarding experience. 

Make it visual, playful and
data-intensive with infographics

The younger generation prefers to absorb information – and a lot of it – from technology and word pictures and graphics.

Keep it brief 

Millennials and Gen Z prefer sending and receiving information through short text, sound bites and capsule summaries like Snapchat. Keep presentations focused in small bites with flash and short videos in order to retain attention. 

Automate it 

Whether the goal is to introduce new employees to organizational structure and functions or to impart corporate culture, there are technologies that can make the process easier and more effective. Consider using Facebook, Twitter, micro-learning apps, new employee blogs or chat rooms, online video conferences, facetime, etc. 

Make it interactive 

Younger people are used to kinesthetic learning via hands-on activities and projects. The more active and interactive your presentations are, the more impact they will have including simulations, project assignments and virtual problem-solving. 

“Group” it 

Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to working in teams. Giving them learning projects to tackle as a team is a great way to engage and maximize their learning opportunities. 

Connect it 

No matter what the subject, information from company history to policies and procedures should be directly relevant. Make sure you help them make the connection to their present jobs or to preparation for future ones. 

In addition to the above strategies, consider placing your new employees in brief, temporary assignments within other departments. Cross-training and orienting will both promote better understanding among new employees and build a base for future teamwork and collaboration. And don’t forget about community involvement to build leadership and team skills in partnership with non-profit organizations in your area.

It may also be useful to assign each new employee a transitional mentor to help him or her learn about the organization in a less formal environment. The transitional mentor can be a knowledgeable veteran employee, or even a new employee with enough experience in the company to fill the role.

Extend the on-boarding process throughout the year and involve recent hires in the design and delivery of future on-boarding programs to capture lessons learned or things they wished they would have known. Employees who are onboarded the right way have longer staying power with your organization. You are engaging them right from the start which should contribute to higher engagement scores in the longer term not to mention the increased productivity and satisfaction that you and they will gain as a result.

About Jan Ferri-Reed

Jan is a seasoned consultant and President of KEYGroup, a 32-year Pittsburgh-based education leadership, teambuilding and employment testing organization with a focus on developing leadership skills. Jan has presented a variety of keynotes, workshops, personal coaching and career coaching programs to thousands of managers and employees in a diverse range of organizations across the globe. She provides guidance, wisdom and wit to leaders who are interested in finding unique solutions to unique people problems while providing a return on investment.

THE FUTURE LEADERS THAT ALREADY WORK FOR YOU

Every year, organizations invest untold amounts of money in the relentless search for executive talent. Recruitment is big business, and many will tell you reams of tricks and tips for hiring top talent, but what if the talent already works for you? Your current employees already have the business knowledge, organizational wayfinding and corporate culture to hit the ground running for you, so why are they being overlooked? Because they sometimes don’t fit the standard experience of executive presence. Often times, they are women, minorities and introverts that don’t get the consideration they deserve.

In my corporate program, “The Invisible Leaders: How to Find Them and Let Them Shine,” I show how companies can uncover the hidden leaders in their organizations and gain a competitive advantage by leveraging high-value, underrepresented talent. Promoting from within saves time, money and recruiting costs while improving employee retention.

Start helping your hidden leaders develop their executive presence by focusing on the 3 most common traits they lack.

Confidence

  • In my trainings, I often help participants break down the components of what CEOs and senior executives say when they refer to “executive presence.” One consistent element we identify, time and again, is confidence. Leadership hopefuls are expected to speak with poise and conviction, and a self-assuredness that feels genuine and natural. Your hidden talent likely has every reason to possess such confidence but may have trouble expressing themselves with the gravitas expected. This could stem from culture, upbringing, or a quieter, more introspective nature. Make sure they get the coaching they need to think, speak and act with conviction, and they will soon be closer to the executive track.

Authority

  • Your hidden talent may also need a boost in demonstrating assertiveness and persuasive communication. Top leadership is drawn to those with strong communication skills and the ability to be prepared, concise and convincing. Ensure your untapped potential leaders are given the training and the opportunity to master these skills and deliver with conviction, even when questioned. People are sometimes uncomfortable when challenged by authority figures and may have been taught that is always better to defer to superiors, even when they are incorrect. Offer your potentials the tools to build on their own ways to be respectfully assertive and to speak with conviction.

Reputation

  • Many individuals working for you have already done a great deal of excellent, attention-worthy work, but no one knows about it! Many of us have been taught to avoid boasting and cockiness at all costs, and that understating your accomplishments is far preferable to being seen as a loudmouth or a braggart. Many are uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion and hope that their work will speak for itself. Your hidden talent will benefit both from workshops and training on respectful and positive ways to take credit for accomplishments, as well as a good deal of advocacy and reputation building you can do on their behalf. Make sure senior management knows of all the great work they’ve done to date.

If you supply the training and tools for building confidence, demonstrating convincing communication, and strengthening reputation, many otherwise overlooked individuals can assimilate executive presence into their existing competencies. Just because they don’t fit the expected characteristics out of the gate doesn’t mean they can’t develop elements of executive presence within their own style and personality. With coaching and guidance from you, your hidden talent can become shining stars of the organization.

About the author

Joel Garfinkle is a sought-after speaker and corporate trainer that has delivered more than 1000 workshops, speeches and keynote addresses. He is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, and Starbucks. He is the author of 7 books and over 300+ articles on leadership.

Joel Garfinkle will be teaching four programs for IMS in 2019. He is at IMS Los Angeles in June. In August he will be in Chicago, St. Louis and Houston.

Carol Kinsey Goman

I have been speaking on the topic of leadership presence for several years, but only lately created a program designed for women – and the question I get most often is, “Why focus on women?” My answer is, as they say in the commercial, “Because we’re worth it!”

We’re highly educated. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women make up more than 56% of college students nationwide.

We increase innovation. An economist from Carnegie Mellon found that teams that included at least one female member had a collectively higher IQ than teams that had just men.

We make organizations more profitable. The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, recently published a paper called The Case for Investing in Women detailing the huge difference that women make in the workforce. One of their findings is that in Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors, the return on invested capital jumped over 66%, return on sales went up 42%, and return on equity increased by 53%.

But here’s the rub. Leadership presence doesn’t automatically come with your education, your talent for innovation, or your business results. Instead, leadership presence is entirely subjective. It depends on how others perceive you. And it’s different for women who face external challenges when it comes to being perceived as leaders.

One of the most pervasive obstacles is Unconscious Bias. Few people would consciously think that a woman can’t be a leader. But Unconscious Bias appears in numerous studies. For example, when researchers ask both men and women to draw a picture of a leader, they’ll almost always draw a male figure.

Women also face unique internal challenges. The Impostor Syndrome is the fear of being exposed as a fraud, of feeling unworthy of your success. While both genders experience it, a female’s self-doubt is more likely to negatively impact her career when she doesn’t exhibit the self-confidence expected in a leader. For example, internal research by Hewlett-Packard found that women only apply for jobs for which they feel they are a 100% match; men apply even when they meet no more than 60% of the requirements.

To complicate matters further, women fall into verbal and nonverbal communication traps that rob them of presence. Here are three of those traps:

Trap #1 – Sending nonverbal submission signals

Sometimes it’s as simple as the tilt of your head. Tilting your head to one side is a warm (“pro-social”) signal that you are listening and involved. As such, head tilts can be very empathetic and inclusive. But they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. (Dogs tilt their heads to expose their necks, as a way to show deference to the dominant animal.)

Continue using head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern for and interest in members of your team or when you want to encourage people to expand on what they are saying. But when you need to project power and confidence — asking for a promotion or giving a presentation to the executive team or board of directors — keep your head straight up in a more neutral (and authoritative) position.

Trap #2 – Looking less than you are

Here’s how most women sit around a conference table in a business meeting: Legs are crossed, elbows into waist, hands together on lap, shoulders slightly rounded. In other words, women condense their bodies. If you find yourself in this posture, realize that it could be depleting your leadership presence by making you look less confident, less professional, and less powerful than you really are.

Confidence and authority are nonverbally demonstrated through claiming height and space. If you are sitting, you can still project power by sitting straight with both feet on the floor (which makes you look and feel “grounded”), by hooking one arm over the back of your chair, by making more open arm gestures, or by spreading out your belongings on the conference table to claim more territory.

Remember, also, that if everyone is seated, standing when you speak gives you instant status by becoming — for the moment – the tallest person in the room. And if you move around, the additional space you take up adds to that impression.

Trap #3 – Staying invisible

The head of Human Resources told me that the saddest comment he hears when executives are evaluating potential candidates for high-level positions is, “I have no idea who she is.” I think this happens with female candidates because we are more likely to adopt a “good student” mentality – in which we believe that if we just keep our heads down and do good work, that others are bound to notice and reward us.

Apparently, that’s not the case.

Research with senior leaders in Silicon Valley found that the top criterion for promotion was visibility. One savvy female executive stated it this way: “It’s not enough to be a legend in your own mind. You need to make others aware of your talents and accomplishments.”

Are the executives in your company aware of your talents and accomplishments? If not, you need to increase your visibility by volunteering for key projects, offering to give presentations, publicizing your team’s accomplishments, and taking an active part in your professional associations. You need to broaden and deepen your network and look for mentors and sponsors who will guide and help promote you. Because as gifted as you may be, your leadership presence can only be built by getting out there and letting others see you in action. 

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is the president of Kinsey Consulting Services. She’s an international keynote speaker and an authority on the impact of body language on leadership effectiveness, and her passion is helping talented women build their leadership presence. Carol’s clients include over 200 organizations in 25 countries. Her programs for women leaders have been presented at events including European Women in Technology, Amazon, Women@Google, Expedia – Global Women’s Conference, Executive Women’s Forum, Stanford University, and UNC School of Government – Engaging Women in Public Service.

Carol is a leadership blogger for Forbes and the author of twelve business books including The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead. She has been cited as an authority in media such as Industry Week, Investors’ Business Daily, CNN’s Business Unusual, PBS Marketplace, the Washington Post’s On Leadership column, MarketWatch radio, and the NBC Nightly News.