How to thrive in a new era of connection

Connection & Authenticity in Leadership

Over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable shift happening in the way that leadership is defined and realized. Leaders who have previously relied on an authoritarian ‘command and control’ style are learning that a fear-based approach is no longer acceptable in today’s organizational culture. Instead, research and collected data indicate that high performance is achieved when a leader brings authenticity and integrity to the table and fosters genuine connection with their team and their organization. For episode # 40 of my podcast, the World Class Leaders Show, I was honored to host Dr. Michelle Johnston, who holds the Gaston Chair of Business at Loyola University in New Orleans. An executive coach with over 20 years of experience, Dr. Johnston is a celebrated keynote speaker, presenting at conferences and events nationwide. She received her Ph.D in Communication from Louisiana State University, and she was named to the prestigious 100 Coaches group. Dr. Johnston is the author of the best-selling book, “The Seismic Shift in Leadership”.

The Mask of Perfection

One of the most common mistakes made by emerging leaders, especially those who set themselves to a high standard of achievement, is to formulate a polished professional persona that may actually suppress certain elements of their personality in an effort to appear more ‘serious’.  Unfortunately, this approach can sometimes lead to quite negative feedback from team members such as a lack of trust or being perceived as ‘fake’, because of the lack of congruence between the personal and the professional personas. Great Leaders understand that ‘who they are’ matters even more than ‘what they do’, if they want to inspire and motivate their teams and their organizations to greatness; particularly if they have their sights set on the C-Suite roles. As they travel higher in their career trajectory, they begin to understand that it’s critically important to build relationships and foster deeper, more meaningful connections across and within their organization.

Accelerating Performance

It’s a major ‘a-ha’ moment for leaders when they finally realize that they need to own their story, and be more authentic and expressive of their true selves.  Everyone has significant life events and experiences that have impacted and influenced them, and that have shaped them into their present way of being. The first step of owning your story requires introspection and connection to your own formative history. Once you truly understand and embrace your strengths and weaknesses and identify your personal biases and blind spots, then your energy can shift away from reacting to your past history, towards accelerating into the future. Following this behind-the-scenes work of self-reflection and self-awareness, a leader gains a better understanding of their preferences for communication, learning styles, and personal value proposition. Now, they are better able to be open and transparent, add value, and foster trust and alignment among their team members.

Empathy in the Zoom Age

With the continuing rise of remote work, leaders all around the world have been required to develop new ways of building connection with their employees. A leader who continues to rely solely on a ‘command and control’ approach to Zoom meetings may discover that their effectiveness declines as collaboration falters.  Regardless of whether the predominant meeting format is online or in person, a leader should work deliberately and intentionally to develop and exhibit empathy for team members. For example, taking several minutes at the start of a meeting, before diving into goals and achievements, to discuss non-business-related topics; opening the dialogue for sharing of personal information; showing understanding and compassion for each team member’s individual circumstances. “That’s what this is about: that meaningful connection. It’s giving up perfection and showing that I’m real. I’m a real person and making the effort to have an espresso with somebody and get to know them personally.” Leaders may also utilize more intimate breakout groups to focus on innovation, idea brainstorming, and tight collaboration among their teams. Flipping the balance of emphasis from 80% of the leader speaking to 80% team input will assist and support engagement and participation. Closing our interesting discussion, I asked Dr. Johnston to share her responses to my routine guest questions. Q: What is the number one lesson you’ve learned in your career? A: I can’t ever be successful if I’m trying to be someone other than who I am. Q: What is one thing that you might have done differently? A: My transition between academia and consulting was quite challenging for me. I wish that I had had enough confidence when I was younger to take everything I knew about adult learning in the corporate world and bring it into my classroom. Q: What do you think needs to be in place to deliver your best performance? A: I thought that it was all about achievement, achievement. Instead, I’ve learned that it is really all about beautiful relationships and how you can get the best from people. Q: What is the most impactful book you’ve read? A: Brené Brown’s book, ” The Gifts of Imperfection” absolutely changed my life in the best ways possible. For access to resources and to learn more about Dr. Johnston’s work, visit her website at For more information about my work with leaders and organizations, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, or take a free assessment of your leadership level, please drop me an email at [email protected], or go to my website at I would also very much appreciate hearing from you about your thoughts on this episode, or suggestions for future topics for this podcast. Listen to the podcast related to this article:  
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