The answer to this question should be fairly obvious given the world financial crisis. Many of us knew our financial markets around the world were connected and influence each other. And yet most of us (including myself) didn’t know it in the gut until recently, as we watched our life savings evaporate and people in our community lose their homes and jobs. The lines of our connection become visible as we watch the effects of the financial crisis, with its epicenter in Wall Street, stretch out across the globe and devastate Iceland. Just last year the UN Development Index listed Iceland, as the most desirable place to live in the world.
“Are we all in this together” is a question of connection and our experience of connection. We can intellectually believe we are all in this together, even recognize how we are connected and how our actions impact one another, individually or across community. It is only when the connection is person to person, that new possibilities emerge for change. This is one of the first moves of the practice of shared leadership – “Creating Connections.”
President Carter Creates Connections for Peace
President Jimmy Carter understood this move well. In September 1978 he invited Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Israel’s Menachem Begin to Camp David for peace negotiations. Israel and Egypt had been at war four times in the last twenty years. . From the beginning it was structured to create connections, a small intimate setting, with shared recreation facilities.
However, after three days of working alone together in Carter’s cabin, he came to the conclusion that the two men were completely incompatible and he made the decision to separate the two leaders. In a recent lecture he remember the 13 days as full of “intense verbal warfare.” In his words “they were completely immersed in condemning each other not only for the past three years, but the past 3000 years.” For the next ten days he would shuttle between the two men listening, understanding their needs, and trying to build common connections.
On the 13th day Begin announced he was leaving and no agreement was possible. He had requested that before he left that Carter sign pictures taken of the three men for each of Begin’s grandchildren. At the urging of his secretary Carter personalized the inscription on each photo using the their names.
In his memoir Carter describes this final opportunity to make a connection.
“I walked over to Begin’s cabin with the pictures. He was sitting on the front porch, very distraught and nervous because the talks had finally broken down at the last minute. I handed him the photographs. He took them and thanked me. Then he happened to look down and saw that his granddaughter’s name was on the top one. He spoke it aloud, and then looked at each photograph individually, repeating the name of the grandchild I had written on it. His lips trembled, and tears welled up in his eyes. He told me a little about each child, and especially about the one who seemed to be his favorite. We were both emotional as we talked quietly for a few minutes about grandchildren and about war.” (Page 399)
Ultimately this deep personal connection led to a breathrough and the creation of the Peace Accords.
Disconnection among leaders happens every day in less dramatic circumstances. Where the results of disconnection are not life threatening. Sometimes the results are loss or opportunity, stress, dissatisfaction, waste or cost.
Consequences of Disconnected Business Leaders
In business it is not easy to get a team of leaders on the same page. Bob and Kevin are executives in a large company based in the Northwest, with offices around the country. Kevin runs sales and Bob runs installation and service. In their company sales is king. Maintaining a high growth rate of new customers is one of the key metrics for success. Kevin knows this and uses it to his advantage. Basically anytime he needs to do something that Bob resists he says he has to do it to meet his numbers.
According to Bob the sales organization has no incentive to be cooperative. Orders are incomplete, not submitted on time, and customer requirements are not documented. Over 50% of new orders are marked high priority for expedited installation. Kevin says this is necessary to make the sale. This in turn leads to either a backlog or overtime.
The two men don’t like or trust one another. They work independent of one another as much as possible. The district managers in both organizations mirror their leaders behavior. Bob’s solution has been to document everything and create new rules. Things improve for awhile and as soon as sales numbers are down Kevin and his people do what they need to do to meet their goals.
There is one exception to this -- the southern region. Sales never abuses the high priority for accelerated installs. Installation often bends over backwards to give sales what they need. On complex sales installation is often invited to meet with the customer before the sale is complete to determine the exact requirements. The difference is that in the southern region the two district managers know one another as people and trust each other. They keep each other’s interest in mind as they make decisions.
It may seem to simple – people connecting as people. Remember the opportunity for connection is always just below the surface waiting to emerge. Try simple genuine actions.
Listening is the foundation for connection.
Learning together builds opportunity for new conversations
Making sure there is enough time for dialogue
Create opportunities for people to connect as people and get to know one another
Those who practice Shared Leadership build and deepen connections. They constantly invite new connections and attend to the health of established connections. “People connecting as People” is a building block of growth and healing in organizations and communities.
When relationships break down across communities; when one community chooses to act completely independent of other communities; when those in-charge of communities do not trust each other, do not communicate, withhold information or act independent of each other -- those who practice shared leadership are drawn in to build connections.