The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship-Building Skills Every Leader Needs Now has just been released!
We will be posting links to some of my most recent interviews, but in the meantime here’s a compilation of some of the questions and answers thus far.
Q: You’re known as a thought leader in Creativity and Innovation, so why have you written a book about relationships?
A: My primary emphasis has been on teaching people the mindset and skills of creative thinking. It’s relatively easy to teach people how to generate new ideas. The hard part is getting support for those ideas and overcoming resistance to innovation and change. This demands skill in building relationships, and it often means managing conflict.
Many of my clients are champions of innovative change in companies, schools, non-profits and government agencies, and they seek help in overcoming resistance to new ideas. Whether you are championing innovation and positive change in your organization, trying to negotiate a fair deal with a collaborator, or dealing with a dispute with your spouse or child, your success and fulfillment will be a function of your ability to apply the art of connection.
Q: You are involved with the Conscious Capitalism movement. Please explain.
A: For almost 40 years I’ve worked with corporations, helping them become more creative, innovative and human-centered. This work is part of a growing movement toward sustainable, conscious capitalism. Business leaders are recognizing that they will be more successful and profitable if they care for all their stakeholders including the community, environment, workers etc. They make the world better by the way they do business, and the world responds by making them more profitable. This isn’t touchy-feely idealism; it’s practical, evidence-based reality. One of the core tenets of Conscious Capitalism is: “Create partner relationships that are truly mutually beneficial.” This book is designed to develop the relationship-building skills needed to make that ideal real.
Q: You have a whole chapter focusing on the notion that “Emotions Are Contagious”. Please explain.
A: This is ancient wisdom validated by contemporary science. More than two thousand years ago the Greek playwright Euripides noted “Every man is like the company he keeps.” More recently, computational social science (N. Christakis, et.al.), has demonstrated that our emotions are contagious, for better or worse, affecting everything from our weight and alcohol consumption to our sleep patterns and general happiness.
Computational social science validates Euripides assertion. If, for example, most of the people you interact with are alcoholic, obese, or depressed, then you are more susceptible to those conditions, but if those people are healthy, happy, and fit, then you are more likely to be so too.
Emotional contagion is mediated through mirror neurons. As neuroscientist and physician Marco Iacoboni, author of Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others, explains: “Insights into mirror neurons may help us ameliorate a range of mental-health challenges such as narcissistic personality disorder…” Iacoboni adds, “I believe the art of connection is essential for anyone in a position of leadership, and it’s also important for pretty much anyone who wants better relationships. Just as athletes train themselves in their sport, you can develop your ability to connect with others.” (Iacoboni and Michael Gelb offer a compelling seminar together.)
Q: Vulnerability is a hot topic – is it a weakness or a power?
A: In her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown argues that “vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” The V-word word has become popular, but it’s not the best term.
Derived from the Latin vulnerare, “to wound”, synonyms include “weak, helpless, defenseless, sitting duck, and sucker.” More helpful words to express this quality include: accessible, approachable, open, present, receptive…
When we are open and accessible, it’s much easier for others to connect with us. For example, at a recent seminar for construction managers in New York, the group engaged in a discussion about the importance of seeking input from work crews on job sites. Joe, a veteran senior project manager, asked, “Won’t my people think I’m weak if I ask for their ideas?” This led to a passionate discussion in which many of the younger participants shared their belief that when a boss asks for their contributions, they feel respected and included. As a result, they see this as a sign of strength. This is a big change in the world of work!
Q: You write that contemporary leaders need to be able to communicate like therapists? Are you joking?
A: It’s a serious point framed amusingly. In the 1970s managers were just managers. In the 1980s managers were asked to learn how to be leaders, something that has become more important every decade since. In the first decade of the new millennium, managers were also asked to develop the skill of coaches. Now if you lead in any kind of organization, in addition to knowing how to be a coach, it really helps if you can think and speak like a psychotherapist. The same thing is true for parents and spouses. (I first learned how to speak like a therapist from my mom, Joan, who worked for years at the Passaic County Mental Health Clinic.)
Q: You write “The Art of Connection is the secret of health, happiness and leadership.” How do we know that’s true?
A: Psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School Robert Waldinger is the current director of the world’s longest-running social science study. For more than 77 years they’ve followed a group of 724 men, measuring the factors that most influence their mental and physical health. Waldinger and his three predecessors all found that most younger men believe that money, power, achievement, and fame are the keys to success and happiness. That’s certainly the impression one gets from contemporary media, advertising, video games, and reality television. But the results of the study are undeniably clear: the most important factor in a happy and healthy life is a positive sense of connection with others.
Waldinger’s conclusions are supported and extended by many other studies. The sense of positive social connectedness yields many research-validated benefits. It:
• strengthens immune function and reduces inflammation.
• prevents dementia, diabetes, and many other ailments.
• promotes longevity.
Q: You state, “The current climate of disrespectful speech may be doing as much harm to our country as the disregard for the planet’s climate.” Can you please explain?
A: We know from decades of research that rudeness, incivility and verbal abuse are not only unpleasant but profoundly destructive. This is a national “teachable moment.” Prof Christine Porath of Georgetown University surveyed more than fourteen thousand people from a wide range of organizations, and found that those who tolerate incivility suffer greater turnover and have trouble attracting and retaining the best people; they are less creative and innovative, lose customers and weaken their brand. Porath sums it up: “Incivility is expensive.”
Q: In a world where people are more dependent than ever on electronic communication, is your book relevant?
A. It’s not just relevant, it’s urgent and critical. Children are growing up learning communication skills from Siri and Alexa. But, successful leaders in different walks of life need to be skilled at intelligent conversation-they connect, listen, and empathize. These relationship building abilities are more relevant and valuable now than ever before.
Comments about The Art of Connection and Michael Gelb:
A Masterpiece! Gelb teaches the skills we all need to bridge the gap between the highest ideals of conscious business and the reality of its practice. In the process, he illuminates a soul enlivening, transformational approach to deepening all our relationships. An absolute must-read for aspiring conscious leaders.
~ Raj Sisodia, FW Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business at Babson College author of Conscious Capitalism
I love Michael’s wonderful new book. It is filled with simple yet profound practices that support us in cultivating deep relationships at work and in our personal lives — the secret to a life of meaning and joy.
~ Eileen Fisher, founder and president of EILEEN FISHER Inc.