10: The Law of Connection

People are inherently emotional creatures. While they value logic and reason, they tend to feel before they think, and then adjust their thoughts to justify their feelings. In smaller words, "The heart comes before the head."

You can look to the recent Presidential elections to see that the leader who took the election connected with people on an emotional level more than his opponents. Contrast an oafish but likable Bill Clinton to a cantankerous Bob Dole; a plainspoken simpleton like George W. Bush to a sterile and arrogant Al Gore. If you had observed the debates and predicted victory for the one that seemed to have the most compelling ideas, you'd have been wrong both times.

The author relates a common quote, variously attributed: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Public and Private Connection

Connecting with people is a method of earning credibility with people by giving them the idea that you genuinely want to help them. It follows the principle of reciprocity that people will act in ways that help others who act in ways that help them.

Much recognition is given to leaders who are great at giving speeches to large groups of people, but much is also accomplished by leaders who make connections with others on a smaller scale, touching the hearts of those who work closely with them, working with others one-on-one.

Key to connecting with others in a group is recognizing that you have to relate to each person as an individual. A quote from General Norman Schwarzkopf is that a good leader can stand in front of a group of men and command them as a platoon, while a great leader can stand in front of the same group and see them as individuals, each of whom wants to do good.

The author relates his own experience of speaking at large engagements, sometimes even in stadiums with 60,000 or more people in attendance. The trick that he used, which is the same that many speakers will relate, is to ignore the throngs of people and speak as if you are taking to only one person in the audience while the rest listen.

The Leader's Job

Some leaders have ego problems: they believe that because they have developed personal magnetism, such that followers will be attracted to them as a beacon on a hill. There ego is engorged by the fact that some people will - specifically, sycophants are drawn to any leader like ticks to a hound, but parasites make poor supporters.

Successful leaders recognize hat it's less important to have a large cadre of weak followers than to have a smaller contingent of strong ones. To build this, the leader must take initiative in identifying and recruiting the right kind of people, whose support will be valuable to him. This requires initiative and effort.

Leaders also need to take an ongoing role in maintaining relationships - loyalty, once given, wanes. This goes back to the analogy from a previous chapter about leadership being like credit - a small amount is granted to a new leader, and he earns or spends it with every interaction with people.

And there are also many instances in which leaders cannot select their supporters, but have to make due with the people they are given to work with. Any leader who has taken a new job, or changed positions, is handed a staff who have their own ideas about how things ought to be done. They will not change their minds simply because there is a new leader, and simply getting rid of people and replacing them with others who are more malleable is the hallmark of a weak leader who can't work with people.

(EN: It's also true of relationships in general, including those in which a person has no formal leadership role. When you interact with a competitor, regulator, or a customer, or a peer or superior in the same organization, you must develop a relationship with that person and collaborate. The "leader" who can only work with people whose jobs he can threaten is not capable of this, and is not effective.)

He gives an example from his own career, taking over leadership in a church where the elected lay leader of the congregation, a man with considerable influence, had butted heads with the previous pastor and made things very difficult. His approach was to meet with this man, and state plainly that "I know you're the influencer in this church, and I want you to know that I've decided I'm going to do everything in my power to build a good relationship with you. ... We can do a lot of great things together at this church, but the decision is yours."

Until you have developed a relationship with a person, you will find that you don't get much from them. Said another way, the more you're going to ask of a person, the stronger your relationship with them must be. The author gives examples from the military of generals who took the time to visit with their troops, to learn their names and get to know a bit about them, and to connect with them one-on-one: such men gained the highest level of loyalty from soldiers who would literally risk their lives at the leader's request.

The author refers to an ad that the employees of Southwest Airlines took out to pay tribute to their CEO, Herb Kelleher - among various humorous notes (thanks for singing at the holiday party, and singing only once a year) and specific reminiscences (thanks for helping load baggage on Thanksgiving), there were a few salient points about leadership: thanks for remembering our names, thanks for listening, and thanks for being a friend, not just a boss. "A display of affection like that occurs only when a leader has worked hard to connect with his people."