We don’t need another leadership paradigm; we need our stories and truest selves. We need to dig deep into self-discovery and use what we find there to uncover our purpose, our most authentic way of living, and connect with others in healthy, sustainable, energizing ways.
As leaders at work (and in life) we need to back away from the MBA-ing way of leadership - process, models, checklists - and run toward the connecting way of leadership based on us being fully human. We need to double down on self-exploration thinking of our lives as archeological digs that hold stories and wounds that need to be excavated and examined in the light of day. Treasures that hold the key to us leading and living from a place of mystery and authenticity, honesty and willingness.
This fully human, connecting approach begins with the inside work. The work we might not want to do. The work that makes spreadsheets, board meetings, and reorgs look like child’s play. The work that is the most courageous work, the most rewarding, and the most empowering: the work that allows us to use the power of our story to connect with others.
My story includes the porch. On the back of our home, overlooking the bamboo and swimming pool is a screened porch. During the long, slow months of a Southern humidity-filled year, we pretty much live out there. Meals. Coffee. Conversation. The porch is made even better when we can sit out there having a front row seat to a rainstorm from the comfort of welcoming wicker and plush pillows.
Our porch is not just a porch. As the symptoms of disconnection tend to grow stronger in the world around us, our porch is a sanctuary, a symbol of settling in and being received. It is a glass of tea and take-your-shoes-off-place. It is where we put our feet up, let our hair down, and feel our shoulders drop so we can reveal the darker parts of ourselves. Or the goofy parts. Or the lighter, blowing-bubbles-like-kids part.
I have had corporate clients out on the porch. It is often filled with teens and young adults hanging out and growing up, draped over the chairs as they eat and talk and connect. I often sit there in solitude. It is always filled with the right mix of folks or silence; the porch seems to know what is needed.
I also know what disconnection feels like. It is shame and soul-sucking denial, isolation, and self-blame. Disconnection is very anti-porch. It is about controlling and lecturing because disconnection tells us this lie: if the rules are rigid enough and we are powerful enough no danger can destroy what we love the fiercest or want the most.
I come by disconnection, the anti-porch honestly which is why I now run to connection as hard as I can. From early on, my life has been filled with the impact of terminal diseases in those I love and the brutal sucker punch of addiction and abuse. There is no porch during the cunning and baffling nights.
Yet, during this season of overwhelm, the antidote is now a return to the “porch”: being with my tribe, trusting our deepest truths, talking about the ghosts that still haunt, and eating as much bacon and chocolate as we can.
Last night as the candles flickered and the rain fell, my soon to be nineteen-year-old son and I sat on the porch. The phone rang. Not unexpected. He took the call and then left to be with one of his dear friends who needed to talk. Connection is meant to be taken on the road beyond the porch into our homes, workplaces, and souls.
It gives us leaders, our people and the world around us, grace and grit to meet the promise of our potential and the challenge of our daily mess. The grueling pressures and stressors of this moment (defined by the pandemic) is creating a leadership movement that harnesses the power of Connection. The kind of connection that transforms us, our workplaces, and our relationships and shines light on our larger purpose.
Most leaders agree our connection currency is at an all-time low. But what caused our connection bankruptcy? Was it the pandemic? The associated pressures? Not likely, because if you look at workplaces and our collective mental health before this season, emotional and spiritual angst was running rampant while often denied and normalized. The normal suspects of depression, anxiety, and addictions have been around for a long time.
In short, the pandemic hasn’t caused our condition. It shed light on it. It’s made it more obvious that leaders are experiencing a human being crisis that is ushering us into what I call the Connection Era. Leaders are no longer expected to just enhance the bottom line; they are now being given the sacred duty of spiritually awakening, emotionally healing, and courageously leading from a platform of inclusion, wholeness, and connection.
This isn’t a kumbaya. It’s an essential ingredient that fuels leaders’ ability to move people and achieve outcomes. Whether you’re a corporate leader or change champion, the battle cry of the people is clear. People want leaders who have the self-awareness to connect entire organizations around the things that make us human, honest, and whole.