It Only Works if it is Connected!
Updated: Aug 17, 2018
This summer my family and I were on an epic road trip. We travelled for 26 days over 5000km from our home in Sherwood Park Alberta and went as far as northern California. We pulled our trailer and camped at some amazing places along the way. While I was driving I was lucky to have my 7 and 6 year old daughters commenting on my speed and skills on the highway! They would sing, complete journal entries of the cool things they saw on our trip, and if we had a longer drive, we would let them watch a DVD on this old portable player. I recall one particular day on our trip when the girls were setting it up and had it playing, when my youngest, Adelynn, declared that her headphones weren’t working. I asked her if it was plugged in. She check the cord and said, “nope”. I replied, “well, it only works if it is connected!!” She never replied but got her mom to help her plug it in and then it was quiet for the next hour or so. Kalay and I listened to one of my sports podcasts and the girls were enjoying their show. But that line stuck with me, and my mind wandered back to my career as an educator and leader - It only works if it is connected.
Connection is key, in many situations it may be what is most important. Without those headphones actually being connected with the DVD player, Adelynn could see the show, but she wouldn’t hear anything; she wouldn’t be able to fully understand what was going on. She would only get a small part of what was happening. That is so true in our places of employment too isn’t it? When were are connected to our colleagues, and our leaders, we are able to maximize our abilities and grow in our skills. We can go through the motions, we can be sitting there with headphones on, but without connection we are limited in the experience.
When I think about my own career as a teacher, waiter, daycamp leader, and I reflect on all the different managers, principals, supervisors I have had over the years, it is clear to me that my most positive work place experiences were most often when I had a positive connection with my leaders. Furthermore, I performed better as an employee when I felt my supervisor was approachable and open to connecting with me, a supervisor who recognized me for the person I am, trusted me to meet my work commitments, empowered me to grow in my skills and celebrated my efforts. What is interesting when I think about this is that my job is really irrelevant to how I felt about work. As a bus boy at 17 years old, I had a manager who was awesome - celebrated my table setting and clearing speed, talked with me about being a waiter in the future, joked around with me a little, and trusted me to do my job well - and I really liked going to work because of it! That was a very positive experience. I can also recall being a teacher and having an administrator, who’s approach was as an authoritative manager who didn’t take the time to connect with me. He was aggressive and I responded by giving some push back, and by being passive aggressive. And I am certain that my work suffered as a consequence. It is funny how when I was teaching in an amazing school with awesome colleagues, and fantastic students I remember being a more negative experience than when I was a bus boy at Tony Romas - but that is just a great example of the importance of connection.
What does this connection thing mean anyway, and if it is so important for the leadership of any organization, why does it feel like it is often undervalued in the world of work? Throughout my journey as an educator and a leader I have been considering many questions such as these and I think there a few answers out there. I think some of it has to do with our own experiences, our comfort levels and strengths, and our egos. There are histories within organizations and the people that make up the organizations that also come into play. I am hoping to take some time to explore these themes and ideas throughout this blog.
I have been doing some reading on this topic and I came across a great article (https://smarttribesinstitute.com/how-to-propel-employee-engagement-to-skyrocketing-levels/). The author uses the acronym SBM to refer to the three specifics that are critical for employees to have to perform their best at work - Safety, Belonging and Mattering. I think that these three are a perfect fit for connection. Safety is first because without it the other two can’t exist. And this refers to feeling safe - to express ideas, to have conversations, to seek out supports, to be vulnerable - and when this can be achieved, feeling safe will lead to trust. And once trust has been created in a relationship - belonging and mattering can come next. All of this is achieved with connection - see people for who they are, taking time to understand them, finding opportunities to connect and build a relationship. For anyone who leads other people at work, nothing is more important.
Connection is why our family was on our road trip. Not the DVD player analogy, but with each other. The 26 days we spent on the road, on hiking trails, beaches, restaurants, aquariums, amusement parks, swimming pools and in our little trailer, we were connecting. During our trip, my wife and I, and our girls created new inside jokes, silly phrases, and we shared lots of laughs. When we had a vehicle mishap and ended up without a car for 3 days, we connected even more, supporting each other with the stress that comes with feeling stranded so far from home. We played together - at the parks, at our campsite, in the water, and at the campfires. Although we enjoyed our road trip, our ultimate goal wasn’t to see the Redwoods (although they are amazing), our ultimate goals was to connect as a family. That is what summers holidays are for after all!!!! For leaders, the formula for connecting with employees is the exact same, create time and opportunity for connections… or you could just take your staff on a road trip!
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