This is the second in a series of short essays written by CEO and Founder Dean Brenner, to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of The Latimer Group. In this series, Dean will share his reflections on, and learnings from, the last two decades.
Twenty years ago, the person who got noticed and placed on the “leadership track” tended to be the person who could command the room, make the good point in the meeting, and looked and sounded the part.
Historically, driving positive business outcomes also led to promotion in corporate America. But on top of driving those outcomes, the person who fit the profile of what we envisioned in our leaders, often by outwardly visible characteristics, tended to get tapped on the shoulder and put onto a faster track.
Over the last twenty years, this thinking has evolved a great deal, and in many good ways. We now look for our leaders-to-be based on a much wider variety of characteristics. But the evolution in thinking needs to continue because there is still one big remaining blind spot at most companies regarding internal leadership development. And that blind spot causes companies to ignore a critical component of leadership today — the ability to connect and bring colleagues together.
Today, we live in a world where we are more connected technologically than ever before. We have the ability to create connection more easily, and in more ways, than we could even dream about twenty years ago. And yet study after study after study clearly shows that most people are feeling an epidemic level of disconnection from each other, despite the ease and speed of connection that is readily available.
In addition, the forced isolation of the pandemic and the struggle that many companies are having with when and how to bring people back to the office have poured an accelerant on this problem. Many companies are telling us that a large percentage of their people don’t want to come back, or only want to come back in limited amounts. And many employees are expressing to us, often privately, that they have real anxiety about being back together in the workplace.
This means that companies need to start thinking differently about leadership, and in particular what their people need from their leaders in order to be successful. Companies need to start looking for, and developing, leaders-to-be who are particularly good at creating connection, and bringing people together.
The problem is that most companies have not yet realized it. This lack of awareness of the problem has huge implications, and represents a significant opportunity for the companies that reimagine their approach to leadership development. When the people inside your company crave connection, as all humans do; and are frustrated by disconnection, as many of us are; and when the organization is struggling to figure out how to start bringing people back to the office in a functional way; then the person who is particularly skilled at creating connections with and among others just became critical to the overall business success.
Human beings are, above almost all other traits, social animals. This is why we join teams, clubs, associations, all forms of gathering. Even gangs are built upon a foundation of common understanding and belonging. Whether through a common cause or common interest, human beings want to feel connected to others in some way.
So in a business context, companies need to be looking for leaders who demonstrate that they understand the issues impacting the people around them, who have taken the time to understand other perspectives, and who care about and are skilled at bringing people together. Leaders who foster connection will be followed, listened to and revered. We all are drawn to the people who make us feel heard and understood.
In a rapidly changing world, organizations need to remain dynamic in their thinking. And this shift in particular won’t be easy, because this “connection” skill is hard to quantify. And it is always hard to define the “hard to quantify.” Nevertheless, this is what our world now requires. It is time that companies start to realize it. And invest in it. Because like most skills, innate talent is helpful, but rarely enough. These skills can, and must, be cultivated and developed.
Today, the best leaders will be able to bring their people together, even when they are physically apart.
Good luck, and have a great day.