Creative leadership depends on how well you create emotional connections with others and your ideas. “Everyone communicates,” writes leadership guru John Maxwell, “but very few people connect.” What are the distinctions between communicating and connecting? Jon Hauser, a columnist on Inforum, says it best:

Communicating is more about listening than it is about talking. Connecting is more about understanding than it is about talking or listening. Communication is about the message. Connecting is about the relationship.

Steven Taylor, author of Leadership Art, Leadership Craft, says,

Leadership is the craft of working with other humans to get things done. In the same way that a carpenter learns to use tools and techniques to work wood into something beautiful and functional, a leader can learn to use tools and techniques to work their connections with others to develop beautiful and functional relationships.

No matter what medium you use, be it wood or interpersonal connections, you can only master your craft through disciplined action, and learning a set of skills as a means of achieving the desired outcome. Taylor notes, “You have an opportunity to develop your craft of leadership every time you interact with someone.”

How do you get better at connecting with people?

1. Taylor says the first step to looking at your leadership as a practice is to connect to yourself to understand your behaviours, and interactions, and figure out how they contribute to a situation, especially problematic ones. Meditation, contemplation and journal writing are all excellent practices for self-reflection.

2. Brené Brown, best known for her research on shame and vulnerability, advises us to be honest about the stories we tell ourselves about our struggles. In her book, Rising Strong, Brown recommends narrating a particular fall or failure, based on Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft”(SFD) approach to writing. Lamott advises writers to “Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those crazy pages that you would have never have gotten to by more rational grown-up means.” “What this requires,” says, Brown, “Is getting curious about what happened, figuring out the truth, deciding whether we are self-protecting, and learning what needs to change to move forward.” Brown’s recipe for writing your SFD is to finish these sentences:

  • The story I’m making up
  • My emotions
  • My body
  • My thinking
  • My beliefs
  • My actions

“When you say ‘the story I’m making up,'” Brown explains, “You’re telling the other person your reading of the situation — and simultaneously admitting that you know it can’t be 100% accurate.” This phrase was my biggest take-away from Rising Strong. I now ask myself what story I am making up in my head about a situation, to check my assumptions. I also voice it to others to check my perceptions. It’s a safe way to start a conversation without causing other people to get defensive. Brown says, “It’s a lifesaver when it comes to relationships because it’s honest, it’s transparent, and it’s vulnerable.”

3. Taylor’s two-column case (adapted from the active science tradition developed by Argyris et al) is a useful tool to help analyze your interactions. Create a two-column grid. List what was actually said in the right-hand column and what you were thinking and feeling (which wasn’t said), in the left-hand column. Taylor notes that simply seeing an interaction written down as a two-column case often provides enough distance to start to see how your behaviour is contributing to the problematic nature of the situation. The next step is to be mindful of how you attain your goals and look for ways you can be creative how you engage others, You can learn how to create your own case in more detail in Taylor’s book You’re a Genius: Using Reflective Practice to Master the Craft of Leadership.

4. Advancing your leadership journey is a creative process. Once you have practised the craft of leadership for a few months, reflect on your progress. What has changed about the way you connect with yourself and other people? Write a new story based on what you have learned and how you want to lead creatively to better engage with the world.

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