Leaders as inclusive Connectors
Great leaders throughout organisations have certain superpowers, one of which I call Connectivity.
What is Connectivity?
At its core, it is about the vital role managers play in inter-connecting the team so that everyone's voice is heard, everyone is noticed and all are valued for their respective contributions. I relate this aspect of connectivity to the I in DE&I: Inclusion. To my mind, there's only value in diversity if diverse perspectives are included in decision-making and meaning-making.
To illustrate this point, think about a company board. They've done it. They're now more diverse than ever and have a brilliant group around the boardroom table. But do they change the way they make decisions in order to integrate these diverse perspectives effectively? In their book Noise, the authors (Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass Sunstein) write about just this issue. Those who speak early (and are liked and trusted by the rest) strongly influence what others subsequently say. And we know that those who have the most organisational power wield a lot of influence. For key decisions, the authors recommend that group leaders get everyone's views anonymously and express their own opinions last. The authors quote one of the people they spoke to about the way group dynamics affect decisions:
I've always been worried that when my team gets together, we end up confident and unified - and firmly committed to the course of action that we choose. I guess there's something in our internal processes that isn't going all that well!
Connectivity is also about linking the team to the rest of the organisation, so that each person knows how they fit into the whole. It turns out that the best teams are led by managers who take this job seriously. Cisco's Best Teams Study, which Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall write about in their book Nine Lies About Work, looked at what people in the best teams had in common. Each of these people tended to agree strongly about a few particular things, including:
- I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company
- I have great confidence in my company's future
The authors conclude that one of the distinct jobs for leaders of teams is therefore to:
ensure their team members feel connected to the purpose and future of the company, even though they might not directly define those.
Connectivity is also about helping everyone in the team to grow by connecting them to different perspectives and projects, inside or outside the organisation. This aspect is also validated by the Cisco research. People in the best teams strongly agreed with this statement as well:
- In my work, I am always challenged to grow
How well do you score on connectivity?
You probably have a gut feel, or you use your employee engagement data as a proxy. I was intrigued by research published last year by the ADP Research Institute. They studied over 12,000 working adults in the US. They concluded that only 21% felt 'Strongly Connected' at work while 11% were 'Not Connected' and a whopping 68% were 'Neutral'. This last group represents a huge opportunity if businesses shift them up towards stronger connection rather than let them drift towards disconnection.
What's the opportunity?
Well, those who have no intent to leave their job are 7x more likely to be Strongly Connected. Here are some other findings from the same study, contrasting those who are Strongly Connected with those who are Not Connected:
- 14x more likely to believe that their voice matters at work
- 15x more likely to feel like they are an important part of the company
- 19x more likely to feel like they belong at work
- 28x more likely to feel completely accepted at work
What indicates strong connection?
The ADP researchers think that how people rate these 12 statements indicates how connected they feel:
- I never have feelings of being an outsider on my team.
- I see myself represented in the leadership of my organization.
- I believe my company promotes people based on the work they do, not what they look like.
- I never feel invisible at work.
- I feel safe having spirited debates with my manager.
- I can speak freely without fear of retribution.
- When I share my opinion, I feel heard.
- I can let my guard down with my team.
- I believe I must work twice as hard to earn the same respect as my peers.
- I constantly censor my views to fit in at work.
- I switch my language to make others feel comfortable.
- I have to work hard to avoid being stereotyped at work.
What to do?
I can think of one thing immediately and I'm sure you will think of others: invest in your managers' coaching style. This style creates an inclusive, psychologically safe environment. Managers with a coaching style are trustworthy and are more sensitive to individual differences in the team. They strive to ensure that everyone is indeed seen, heard and valued.