We’re all more connected than ever in today’s world, what with smartphones, social media and the internet, in general, consuming our daily lives. But these communicative tools become isolating tools in many ways, and some would argue that we’re becoming more disconnected than we’ve ever been before.
That’s precisely why Michael Gelb, author of the New York Times best-selling book, “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci,” wrote his latest book aimed at motivating today’s leaders and instilling relationship oriented leadership, “The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship-Building Skills Every Leader Needs Now.”
“Although we’re electronically linked and we have access to all of the world’s knowledge and information, we’re also overwhelmed by a massive tsunami of spam,” Gelb tells real estate investing expert Jason Hartman on the “Creating Wealth” podcast show.
“Kids are growing up learning their conversation skills from Alexa and Siri. So, there is a pandemic of superficiality of isolation, and besides being soul-destroying and weakening of one’s health and wellness and happiness, it also undercuts one’s ability to be a leader and actually be really successful and fulfilled.”
“My thesis is that these abilities—the ability to connect with people face-to-face, one-on-one to be really empathic—are going to become more and more valuable every year as we become more addicted to various devices.”
Gelb says in Hartman’s podcast that he wrote “The Art of Connection” with “an unofficial nephew, the son of one of my dear friends,” in mind.
He acts as the adopted nephew’s mentor.
“He’s 22,” says Gelb.
“He’s super savvy, master of the internet, master of social media, he even started at age 21 a search engine optimization company that he already has sold: Super-savvy, smart kid.”
“I wrote this book for him, so that he can take that amazing super brain and sophistication electronically and enrich and deepen his soul—and have fulfilling, happy relationships and be really good as a leader in the businesses that I know he’s going to create in years to come.”
Gelb has become known primarily for his work in helping entrepreneurs and companies become more creative and innovative, and he is a popular motivational speaker, in addition to becoming a best-selling author. Besides “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci,” another of his books is “Innovate Like Edison,” which he co-authored with Thomas Edison’s great-great-great-grand niece, Sarah Miller Caldicott.
Those books and his work would lead him to think: “If you really want to be creative, what it comes down to is, can you get people to buy into your idea? How do you build relationships that will allow you to get your innovation made, done, produced?”
Thus, he developed as the basis of his book the following seven relationship-building skills for relationship oriented leadership, which he says “help my clients be successful in making their creative ideas come true”:
The Art of Connecting, Step 1: Embrace Humility
“I don’t mean false humility,” Gelb tells Hartman in the recent “Creating Wealth” podcast. “It doesn’t mean not really being confident.”
“There’s this surprising paradox that true confidence is predicated on humility, because you learn to set aside your own ego and your own habits and really tune into what’s happening with another person or group of people.”
Embracing humility “requires really great listening, of really understanding other people,” he adds.
“Moreover, most communications result in misunderstanding. Most people don’t get their message across effectively. Most people aren’t as good at listening as they think they are. It’s a lot like driving: Everybody thinks they’re way above average, and that can’t be true. So that’s why humility comes first.”
“If you have that humility, you’ll have curiosity. If you have curiosity, then you’ll be on the path of building much richer, more effective relationships.”
Hartman asks if being curious, being an active listener and seeking points of clarification during a conversation all play a role in embracing humility.
“Exactly, exactly, and doing so with an attitude of openness and follow-through,” Gelb responds.
“So, instead of assuming, ‘Oh, I understood what you meant,’ I’m assuming maybe I didn’t get it. So, I’m curious and I want to know, and you sense, ‘Oh, this person’s actually really interested in what I’m saying,’ rather than just quickly assuming that they got it, and they’re off on some other tangent.”
The Art of Connecting, Step 2: Be a ‘Glow Worm,’ Like Churchill
“One of my favorite quotes,” Gelb says, “is from Winston Churchill, who’s just an example of one of the great leaders in human history. And he said, ‘We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow worm.’”
“So, it turns out that we now know that emotions are contagious, for better or for worse. Someone like Winston Churchill spread the contagion of hope, of courage, of strength, of resilience, and saved western civilization.”
“We also know that negativity, meanness, cruelty, unkindness, cynicism are also contagious—and that they spread an environment in the workplace that isn’t just unpleasant, it’s actually expensive. There’s a lot of research now … showing that when leaders are abusive or obnoxious, it’s like the old ‘Three Stooges’: Moe hits Larry, Larry hits Curly, Curley goes ‘woo-woo-woo.’”
“Too many bosses, unfortunately, are like Moe, and you really serve when you’re a leader, your emotions are contagious, your attitudes are contagious, for better or for worse. And, they magnify more than you’re aware.”
“So, learning to be really impeccable about the emotions that you’re spreading is one of the secrets of creating a marvelous workplace. And the implications for your family should be obvious as well.”
Hartman asks Gelb about another book, “The No A–hole Rule,” which says that though Apple’s Steve Jobs generally was perceived as a successful person, he also was intractable, egomaniacal and someone with whom it was difficult to work. Many would say he definitely didn’t embrace relationship oriented leadership.
“We look at Steve Jobs and we think, ‘Oh, what a successful guy,’” Hartman tells Gelb, “but you know the question we never ask is how much more successful would he have been if he were just as brilliant, but a little more pleasant, right?”
Gelb says he actually interviewed the author of the book of which Hartman speaks, Bob Sutton, for the Glow Worm chapter of “The Art of Connection.”
“I asked him the very tough question that many people are asking … sometimes it seems like a–holes are really successful, how do you explain that? Even though the research suggests that they’d be more successful if they weren’t that way and that they do untold harm on so many levels to so many people?”
“Here’s a quote from Sutton in my book, he says: ‘Even though there are occasions when being an a–hole helps people in companies win, my view is if you’re a winner and an a–hole, you’re still an a–hole, and I don’t want to be around you.’ And I agree with Sutton, big time.”
The Art of Connecting, Step 3: Achieve the Three Liberations
Gelb describes these liberations as: freedom from like and dislike, freedom from taking things personally, and freedom from whining, blaming and complaining.
“These are ways of liberating yourself so that you really are free from the habitual tendencies, the mindlessness,” Gelb says. “People talk about mindfulness; we need to talk a lot about mindlessness, because there’s a lot of it going around today.”
“One way that manifests is people’s tendency to look at everything from the perspective of what they like and what they don’t like. This is so limiting—it’s driven by an unconscious desire to move toward things that we think will promote our survival and move away from things that we think might compromise our survival.”
If you’re trying to inspire and uplift people, but then you communicate with them based solely on a constant evaluation of whether you like things or you don’t like things, “you’re tending not to see what’s really happening,” Gelb says. “You’re out of touch with reality.
“It’s OK to like things. I mean, I like plenty of things and I dislike lots of things, but the key is to liberate yourself from that being your default setting and the filter through which you look at everything.”
As for liberating yourself from taking everything personally, Gelb agrees with Hartman in the podcast that the concept of being offended by everything is narcissistic, selfish, self-centered and childlike. “To be in an adult body and still have these childlike qualities, sort of ‘I’m the center of the world belief systems,’ we gotta outgrow that, right?” Hartman asks.
“Big time, and it’s easy to spot this in other people, but my book really drives you to look at this in yourself,” Gelb replies.
“And I share some examples of where I catch myself doing this, and how much work it really takes to free yourself when you react to something on a personal level.”
“So, I’m serious about these liberations, and the third one is to liberate yourself from the tendency to blame and complain, which wastes a huge amount of energy, and it’s just the death of responsibility and energy and aliveness and genuine power.”
The Art of Connecting, Step 4: Transcend Fixations
We all have certain predispositions.
“They can be measured, understood by various personality inventories,” Gelb says. “My clients are often exposed to these in the workplace: The Myers-Briggs (personality test), the enneagram, which is one of my favorites, the Wilson Learning Model—what’s your type? Learn about it, and then learn to be free from it.”
“Learn to transcend whatever your habitual programming is. It’s the next step after the fundamental three liberations. It’s OK now, really simply, if you’re an introvert—if you tend to be quieter, and keep your own counsel and not learn how to speak up. Well, guess what you have to learn how to do?”
“And if you are more assertive and the first to speak up, you need to do the opposite—you need to transcend your habitual fixation.”
Hartman comments that all of us are “just becoming more like ourselves” because of our habits.
“Ever since the internet advertisers, and I would argue that this started with a company called Double Click in the late ’90s, since they started tailoring ads and content to us, we all have this big data profile in our life,” Hartman says. “We’ve all noticed it. We’ll go and shop for something online and then the ads follow us around, ‘You still want a new pair of shoes?’
“What is happening here, now that we can all tailor our news and the products we like and the stores we like, and you know, our consumer profiles, we either tailor them or they’re profiled for us by other people by big data. We are just becoming more like ourselves.”
“I do agree with that,” Gelb says, “and I think it’s extremely dangerous. This is brain hacking.”
“We have people rail against the tobacco companies for getting people addicted to nicotine and that just took over your lungs and gave you emphysema. Or they rail against Big Sugar for making you think it’s OK to have sugary drinks and, OK, you got obese and you got diabetes.”
“But now, it’s not just your pancreas and not just your lungs, they’re going after your brain, your whole nervous system, by seducing you.”
By clicking virtual “likes” and being completely “like-driven,” you’re wanting things “that are just like your habitual self,” Gelb says. But, “The tragic thing is that your habitual, automatic, pre-programmed self has almost nothing to do with your true self.”
“Great leaders are people who reach the true self of others and of themselves. People who have enlivening, rich, beautiful, fulfilling, satisfying, exciting, creative relationships aren’t just responding in a robotic, hypnotized, automatic, brain-hacked way to their world.”
“Absolutely, this is about freedom. That’s what ‘How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci’ is really all about, and that’s what this book is really all about—it’s just applying it more specifically to how it manifests in your relationship with yourself and other people.”
The Art of Connecting, Step 5: Balance Energy Exchange
Balancing energy exchange is essentially what every relationship is all about, says Gelb. This makes it incredibly important for relationship oriented leadership.
“It’s what’s the flow of energy between the parties in the relationship? And is it abundant and fulfilling for all? You walk into a business, you go into a company and you can tell right away about the quality of leadership by the energy in the place. When there’s positive energy, when there’s people who greet you, when they’re engaging, when they care … it’s totally contagious.”
“And the opposite is also true. We all know that feeling of walking into a store and nobody’s there to greet you and you’re not going to get any help. If I go into a restaurant that’s like that, I just cancel it right away, I go somewhere else. It’s not what I’m interested in.”
The happiest relationships at work, and at home, Gelb says, are those in which “we are focused on giving first.”
But, he adds, “We can only sustain that if we are interacting with people who are also focused on giving first. How do you redress the balance when someone is taking, taking, taking and you’re giving, giving, giving? Well, that’s how you have to learn to give feedback in a really constructive way, how to say ‘no’ in a really positive way, how to set expectations in a very careful way.”
The Art of Connecting, Step 6: Be a RARE Listener
RARE is an acronym for receive, appreciate, reflect and enquire. This step, in effect, relates to the first of embracing humility in the sense that good listening is a chief attribute of relationship oriented leadership.
To be a good listener, Gelb says, you must shift into a receptive or “receive” mode, “letting go of your preconceptions and being fully present.”
Then, you must appreciate the value in people and things as you listen, reflect back the essence of what was shared, and, once the conversation is over, enquire of the other person, “Have I understood what you said?” Or, “Is there anything else?”
The Art of Connecting, Step 7: Turn Friction Into Momentum
“Turning friction into momentum is all about a creative approach to conflict,” Gelb says of this final step.
“And the big message here is learn to separate the idea of a contest, where there’s a winner and a loser, from a conflict, where we need to use creativity to figure out how to meet people’s needs.”
“I love the way Denis Waitley (another motivational speaker) put that many years ago,” concludes Hartman at the end of the podcast with Gelb.
“I remember he used to say, ‘There is no such thing as winning an argument, there is only winning an agreement.’”