By Susan Sportsman, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN
Those of us who have worked in an environment that lifts us up, encouraging our commitment to the mission of the organization and the people we work with, know how fortunate we were to be in such a situation. When we are lucky enough to be a part of this type of organization, our work may not be easy, but it seems worth the effort we put into it. We recognize that leadership throughout the organization strongly influences the work environment, but what do leaders in this type of organization do to stimulate our commitment?
Our literature review regarding Courageous Leadership suggests that one characteristic, Connectivity, may be responsible for the pleasure we take in our work. Courageous leaders develop genuine connections with their teams, their peers, and their superiors. As courageous leaders, how can we develop the skill of connectivity?
Connectivity in organizations is fostered by open-mindedness, the ability to give and receive information, being in tune with others, and having the capacity for open communication. All of these characteristics are admirable, but how can they be encouraged in the organizations in which we work? Five factors are likely to be present in a connected organization:
- A Sense of Purpose and Direction in which all employees have input and stakeholders, including those served by the organization, are supportive.
- Trustworthiness is demonstrated by a strong ethical code and standards of trust which support all organizational policies and procedures. In addition, the organization rewards employees who demonstrate trustworthy behaviors.
- Sharing Authority and Delegating Decision-Making provide employees with the opportunity to be engaged in organizational decision-making. Instead of a strict command and control leadership process, employees are given appropriate information, coaching, and support so that they will be prepared to participate in some level of organizational decision-making.
- Developing and Supporting Organizational Teams and giving them actual delegated authority in decision-making may not only improve productivity, but also provide groups with an opportunity for a shared, sustained effort to achieve a common goal.
- Emphasizing Agility encourages effective responses in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. Taking calculated risks and accepting failure as a path to continued improvement become much easier. This mindset of leadership will encourage others throughout the organization to experiment with different solutions to difficult problems without fear of reprisal from failure (Inscape Consulting, 2019).
Our world is all about creating connections (and ultimately, relationships) to gain social and/or professional standing or to create opportunities for ourselves and others. This focus plays out in all organizations through a series of networks created for information- and knowledge-sharing, implementing actions, and providing support to employees. The strength of these networks is directly related to the quality of their connection; the higher the quality of the connections, the stronger, more agile and adaptive the organization can be (“A Positive Leader,” 2017).
How can each of us develop high quality connections?
Mase (2011) suggested that the process of connectivity can be described as Connect-Engage-Act. When we take the initiative to reach out to connect with others in the work environment, we engage them in our plans. These interactions, particularly if they are ongoing, create healthy connections, strong enough to withstand the strain of conflict and opposition within a group. Building strong, healthy connections with others promotes openness, empathy, compassion, and the integration of differences which ultimately leads to trust. This type of connection allows the group to engage with each other to move toward action.
Stephens, Heaphy, and Dutton (2011) described a model which identifies a path for developing high quality connections. As demonstrated in Figure 1, an effective connection must engage the recipients in a way that demonstrates that the initiator values their work. The initiator must be willing to help the recipient to be successful in identified tasks as part of building trust. Finally, the initiator must connect in way that makes the interaction pleasant and fun.
Figure 1: Path for Developing High Quality Connections
Adapted from Stephens, Heaphy, and Dutton (2011)
A Mindset of Connectivity in Leaders
Courageous leaders must cultivate a Mindset of Connectivity by recognizing that a significant component of the role of the leader is to connect with others (employees, stakeholders, and competitors) in order to develop high quality relationships. Despite the fact that most of us have an opportunity for leadership because of our abilities to “do” something well, as leaders we must shift our emphasis to empowering others to be successful. Trapp (2015) suggests that leaders can cultivate this mindset in themselves and others when they consistently communicate a meaningful vision in a way that others understand, value their team members, and give them a voice in the decision-making and operation of the task at hand. Kuligowski (2019) emphasizes the need for trust in the team and its members, suggesting that leaders can avoid micromanagement by focusing on specific outcomes through periodic communication, rather than being involved in every detail.
Face to Face and Online Connectivity
When we consider connectivity, we often imagine face-to-face interaction as the major strategy to develop relationships. However, in today’s work, much of our interaction is telephonic, online, or through social media. In fact, some of us never see those we work with, except through Zoom, Skype, or other internet services. How does this affect the development of connectivity?
Connections among leaders and team members on a 24/7 basis seems to be the hallmark of today’s organization. This ongoing connectivity provides an opportunity for leaders (and others) to give feedback “on the go,” making it possible to collaborate with workers across time zones. However, this always-connected approach can also lead to burnout for everyone. Always being available may result in stretching oneself too thin, doing more damage than is good for individuals and the entire organization. The state of being constantly plugged-in may result in “hurry sickness,” which is the constant need to accomplish more, be faster, and multitask even when there is no apparent need to do so. “Hurry sickness” can cause leaders to get caught up in minutiae to the detriment of the organization, rather than standing back and taking in the bigger picture.
Despite the potential negative effects of online connections, Kolb and others (2009) analyzed the connection between and among working adults enrolled in business graduate education and found that online connectivity may actually amplify and leverage face-to-face connectivity. This suggests that when an online environment is available, leaders and developing leaders should learn to use it effectively, being present in that format no matter how advanced their face-to-face skills might be.
Connectivity, one of the ten characteristics of Courageous Leadership, is critical to developing and strengthening the organizational networks in order to move the organization toward its goals. Leaders at all levels of the organization must develop the willingness—and skill—to reach out to internal and external contacts as a strategy for success.
Kolb, D, Prussia, G., and Francoeur, J. (2009) Connectivity and leadership: The Influence of online activity on closeness and effectiveness. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. http://jlo.sagepub.com/content/15/4/342 Accessed February 2021.
Kulgowski, K. (2019) Six leadership weaknesses and how to fix them. Business News Daily. https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7047-leadership-improvement.html. Accessed February 2021.
Mase, C. (2011) Connectivity. Blog: Leadership. October 6. https://managementhelp.org/blogs/leadership/2011/10/06/connectivity/ Accessed February 2021.
Stephens, J., Heaphy, E., Dutton, J. (2011) High Quality Connections. Draft of Chapter for the Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259780637_High-quality_Connections . Accessed February 2021.
Trapp, R. (2015) Why successful leadership depends on Connections. Leadership Strategies. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2015/05/26/why-successful-leadership-depends-on-connections/#25de4a5822ba. Accessed February 2021.
______ (2019) Five factors that define connectivity in both leadership and business. Inscape. https://www.inscapeconsulting.com/2019/06/five-factors-that-define-connectivity-in-both-leadership-and-business/. Accessed February 2021
_____ (2017, April 6). A positive leader: The hub of connection. Positive and Mindful Leader. Serrano 99 Management Consulting Limited. https://www.positivemindfulleader.com/a-positive-leader-the-hub-of-connectivity/. Accessed February 2021.
This article is one in a series on the components of Courageous Leadership. For more information, visit our Courageous Leadership web page.