Too much stress, including stress in your workplace, damages “telomeres” on the ends of your chromosomes and causes rapid aging. Interestingly, when people connect in supportive relationships it triggers the production of enzymes called “telomerase” that heal damaged telomeres. Check out this outstanding 58 minute National Geographic documentary entitled “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” about this and other research on the effects of stress. It includes an excellent segment on the famous Whitehall research studies in the UK that established stress and mortality were inversely related to hierarchy in organizations.
Update: I recently returned from speaking, teaching and meeting with leaders of organizations in business, higher education and government in Houston, Fort Worth, Texas and Erie, Pennsylvania. ASTD’s The Public Manager recently published a version of a case study I wrote about CNO Admiral Vern Clark’s improving the U.S. Navy’s culture. The article is entitled “Great Leaders Connect with the People They Lead.”
Within hours after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers were in place to protect America’s shores. Naval leaders anticipated what had to be done and took action before they received orders. At the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., planning for America’s response began while fires from the attack still smoldered nearby.
The rapid response of the U.S. Navy on September 11 was in part due to the culture led by Admiral Vern Clark who served as the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from 2000 until his retirement in 2005. The CNO is the principal naval adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense on the conduct of war. The Navy achieved some impressive gains during Clark’s tenure as CNO and the naval leaders I’ve met or spoken with have praised his leadership and positive impact. By the time Clark retired as the second longest serving CNO in U.S. Navy history, he had led changes that would have a positive effect on the U.S. Navy for years to come. Learn about Admiral Clark’s leadership of the U.S. Navy in an article I wrote for Leadership Excellence that you can read at this link.
Did you notice at the Olympics that all the world class athletes had coaches? No one becomes great without coaching. We all have blind spots we cant see that are sabotaging our performance. This is true of leaders, too. Coaches and mentors help leaders see their blind spots. They also provide advice and encouragement to help leaders overcome their blind spots and strengthen their strengths.
Are you stuck in your career or want to accelerate your growth? If so, get a coach.
Check out the interview I did on Connection Cultures with Ago Cluytens of Coaching Masters in Switzerland. You might also enjoy this article I wrote for the August edition of Leadership Excellence entitled “Great Leaders Connect.”
Recently I was delighted to read a great USA Today article about Coach K of Duke leading the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team in the Olympics. Coach K has won four NCAA college basketball titles as the head coach of Duke, a gold medal as an assistant coach of the 1992 Dream Team in Barcelona and a gold medal as head coach of the U.S. mens team in the 1998 olympics in Beijing. He’s a servant leader who creates the “Connection Culture” where his players feel connected to him and to one another, a phenomenon we wrote about in Fired Up or Burned Out. Coach K cares about task excellence and relationship excellence. He cares about people and results.
To learn more about Coach K’s leadership style and the surprising story of how he evolved as a leader check out this fascinating New York Times Magazine article entitled “Follow Me.” In it you’ll learn why this extraordinary leader, a guy’s guy from an all boys Catholic high school, West Point and the U.S. Army, coaches, as the author Mike Sokolove says, “like a girl.”
“Little of consequence is ever done alone.”
– David McCullough
Last week my wife and I went to see the historian David McCullough speak about his new book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. I’ve seen David McCullough speak twice before and always found his talks to be thoughtful and inspiring.
On this occasion, McCullough spoke on the courage of Americans who went to France between 1830 and 1900 because they were “in love with learning and advancing their abilities.” They made the difficult trip across the Atlantic that lasted anywhere from one to three months. They remained there despite language differences and outbreaks of disease such as cholera. Upon their return, they applied knowledge acquired in France to improve America. Greater competence in their chosen fields was not all they gained. Their character had changed as well. Exposure to new people, new ideas, exquisite art and architecture, broadened their perspective, lifted their spirits and inspired them to make a difference.
The stories McCullough told were marvelous. His enthusiasm was contagious as he recounted the tales of Harriett Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Emma Willard and others. James Fenimore Cooper, while writing in Paris, visited the Louvre every afternoon to speak words of encouragement that would help his friend, Samuel F.B. Morse, persevere in painting the masterpiece Gallery of the Louvre. It was in France that Morse learned something that gave him the idea for the telegraph. Charles Sumner, while studying at the Sorbonne, came to know black students who were his equal in their aspirations and intelligence. He returned to America to become an influential voice for abolition despite threats against his life. The flow of ideas and knowledge, reflected in these personal accounts, is something I’ve written about in Fired Up or Burned Out and in the article “Encouraging Knowledge Flow” that appeared in Perdido.
This summer I’ll be reading The Greater Journey and another of McCullough’s books, The Great Bridge. If you’ve not already picked up books for summer reading, I encourage you to check out these titles. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend Brave Companions, John Adams and Mornings on Horseback, also by David McCullough.
In early May I spoke at the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) International Conference and Exposition in Denver on the topic “Do Leaders Need to Make Employees Happy?”.
Check out this excellent article in The Atlantic entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” Some eye-popping statistics and quotes from the article include:
- In 1950 less than 10 percent of American households contained only one person. By 2010, nearly 27 percent had just one person.
- A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely as opposed to 20 percent a decade earlier.
- Roughly 20 percent of Americans — about 60 million people — are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.
- “Across the Western world, physicians and nurses have begun to speak openly about an epidemic of loneliness.”
The rise in loneliness has led to an explosion in the number of paid confidants. A 2010 Hoover Institute paper stated in 1950 the U.S. had a combined 33,000 paid confidants including clinical psychologists, social workers and therapists. By 2010 that number reached an estimated 1,091,00 paid confidants which includes new categories such as mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and life coaches.
Clearly, Facebook and other assorted addictions to media are not the only contributors to the epidemic of loneliness. The geographic spread of families, increased time spent working/commuting to work, and the decline of relationships in the workplace are also responsible. Regarding relationships in the workplace, the push for productivity has contributed to a rise of cultures that label people who take time to build relationships as slackers. Today, having lunch alone in your office is the norm. Unfortunately, productivity and innovation take a toll when workers burn out from a lack of human connection. They learn to play “face time” games that make it look like they’re working, when in reality they’re not. Creating Connection Cultures in organizations to achieve “relationship excellence” is wise. We most recently made the case for Connection Cultures in an article entitled,”The Science of Engagement,” that appeared in the Spring edition of Training Industry Quarterly.
In addition to the The Atlantic article on Facebook making us lonely, here are two other readings I recommend.
Connecting with people requires empathy i.e. you feel the emotion another individual feels. This is different from sympathy where you recognize the emotion but don’t feel it.
In Fired Up or Burned Out, I wrote about the company Cranium and how it designs “high five moments” into its games. High five moments are times when people connect via the shared empathy of joy (remember that we define “the force of connection” as shared identity, empathy and understanding). When you are interacting with people you want to connect with, feeling and expressing emotion helps. When you feel someone’s joy or pain, it connects.
In the news
Here are a few recent articles related to connection that you might enjoy:
Walter Isaacson wrote about leadership lessons from Steve Jobs’ life for Harvard Business Review. In the article, Isaason addresses issues relevant to Connection Cultures including the elements of Vision, Value and Voice. Jobs was brilliant when it came to Vision, terrible when it came to Value and mixed win it came to Voice. Fortunately, there are other members of Apple’s senior leadership team whose strengths helped overcome Jobs’ weaknesses.
David Brooks just wrote a column for The New York Times entitled “The Relationship School” that touches on aspects of Connection Cultures in schools.
The Atlantic had a piece entitled “Stress Makes You Sick: Exploring the Immune System Connection.” The article explores how stress weakens the human immune system and mentions the link between stress and connection. (Remember I shared with you that recent research over a 20-year period showed people who work in cultures with supportive relationships had mortality rates that were 2.4 times lower than people who worked in cultures with weak relational support. This supports the longstanding view that lifestyles with little relational support produce chronic stress will kill you.)
While teaching seminars on leadership and Connection Cultures at the Darden Graduate School of Business, Professor Marian Moore introduced me to the work of her colleague Jonathan Haidt, a social psychology professor at the University of Virginia. Haidt just wrote The Righteous Mind. Here’s a well-written review of the book entitled “Why Won’t They Listen?” The book review clearly shows it addresses issues related to the Connection Culture elements of Value and Voice. I’ve ordered a copy but not read it yet.
Finally, I recently spoke with Jim Blasingame about the competitive advantage of culture on his nationally syndicated radio program entitled “Small Business Advocate” that you can hear at this link. Also, I wrote an article on the “Science of Engagement” for Training Industry Quarterly.
Last week I met Frances Hesselbein, head of the Frances Hesselbein Institute, over a delightfully long lunch at the Waldorf Astoria. Peter Drucker once called Mrs. Hesselbein America’s best leader. I’ve written about her remarkable leadership of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
At one point in our lunch I mentioned a quote from Psalm 78:72 about King David’s leadership of Israel. The New Living Translation of the Bible states it this way: “he cared for Israel with a true heart and led them with skillful hands.” It’s a variation of the “Task Excellence + Relationship Excellence” model we teach at organizations. After hearing the Bible verse, Mrs. Hesselbein leaned over toward me, looking me directly in the eyes and said “and he cared for them first.” I will never ever forget those words coming from a leader who lived them out.