In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love memoir, she recalls a conversation among friends in Italy about each city having a word: one word to describe it. With only one word, is it possible to define a city, a place, a landmark? Or, how about a person? In the book, Liz Gilbert and her friends went on to each talk about their individual words. It was hard for many of them to define themselves in just one word. This passage always stayed with me because it took me about a second thinking about it to know that my word would either be connection or community. These two concepts are so intricately linked for me, and I know for sure they are critical to my happiness and fulfillment. I also believe they are necessary traits for a leader to possess and foster in others.
Being connected is a phrase used a lot these days. Most often though, it doesn’t mean something shared between friends – a laugh, a smile, a memory – or between family – love, traditions, history – but, instead, it’s often used in relation to our iPhones, tablets or similar such devices. There’s definitely a place for electronic connections, but, for me, connection means something more intangible. My favorite definition comes from Brené Brown: “Connection is the energy created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” I LOVE this!
But how do we create connection? How does it improve the quality of our lives or our leadership experiences?
Listen. Be open. Communicate. Think about others. Appreciate people as they really are – for their gifts and vulnerabilities and everything in between. Really see people. Share understanding, feelings, laughter and experiences. Show empathy. Remember things that matter to other people, and care. Care with an open and whole heart, and care because it matters to you to do so, not because it’s expected or you think you should. This is connection. And with connection comes a feeling of community.
I know for sure I am happiest and most at ease when I feel connected, when things feel solid, when I am building deeper community and trust between people I know and love, and even when it’s happening with those I don’t know as well yet. I love the small – often intangible – moments when you feel it truly building with someone new – one gesture, one action on top of another until you get to that perfect place when, there it is – a connection that’s real and true built on mutual trust.
The importance of feeling connection and community is not isolated to my personal life. I think my most rewarding and successful team and leadership experiences have been buoyed by connection and community. When we feel safe to be ourselves, we are at our best. This will show in our work, and in the level of investment we put forth to the cause – and to each other.