building connections
Leadership Management

The Importance of Building Connections in Leadership and Life

I’ve become a recent fan of playing the New York Times’ daily puzzles online, and one of my favorites is Connections. Sixteen words are provided, and the goal is to form four groups of four words that are in some way connected. You have to figure out what the connection is, and you get four mistakes, after which the game ends and the correct answers pop up. For example, on the day that I’m writing this, four connected words are bar, dinner, liberty, and tinker. They’re all “words before ‘bell.'”

When I first started playing, I would find two or three words that appeared to be obviously connected. But finding the last one or two for a group proved elusive. My initial thoughts about the connections were generally wrong. Then, I would look up definitions to refresh my memory on how they were used. I’d think about informal uses of words, and different ways of how they might be linked. The good news is, once I got the first three groups, the last one was obvious (there were only four words left!), even if I didn’t understand why they were connected.

The process of connecting

One of the reasons I keep playing the game is because it reminds me that my initial incorrect assumptions about how the words are connected are a bit like life. We see things and presume we know what they are, what’s happening, or how they work. We interact with people and surmise that they think the same way we do. Sometimes we’re right, but often we’re a little off base or just plain wrong. Because in interacting with others, we typically:

  • Move forward based on our unconscious assumptions.
  • Then hit a brick wall as we recognize we’re not making progress.
  • And we blame them for it.

It’s a pivotal moment where we can get stuck in our own needs or way of thinking. This is where people say…

  • Certainly, they see this the same way I do.
  • Surely, they understand what I mean.
  • Of course, we’re focused on the same objectives.
  • Why are they exhibiting such poor leadership behaviors?
  • Why won’t my team follow my lead?
  • Why don’t they respect my opinion or experience?

Instead, we should pause and think about other possibilities and ways of viewing a situation and relating to others. Then reapproach with a broader mindset and a sense of curiosity.

Building effective connections

Because to truly connect with people, we need to put aside our own assumptions, and learn to effectively communicate with them. We need to understand their perspective. Failure to do so can result in missteps, creating offenses, which will create barriers on the road to connections.

Rather than focusing on who’s right or wrong, left or right, recognize that the best solution is somewhere in the middle. Focus on trying to understand what experiences have shaped people’s values, priorities, and needs.

Finding new points of connection can add significant value to a relationship. While the process of developing areas of common interest can sometimes be difficult and time-consuming, the end result can provide greater benefits.

The responsibility of leaders in building connections

Great leaders understand the value of connections – with other leaders, within their teams, across teams, with organizational stakeholders (customers, suppliers, investors, communities), and others. Great leaders are proactive in finding points of connection. They look for areas of common interest or need, approach differing opinions with curiosity instead of being defensive, and encourage their teams to build relationships. They set a tone for building value for the future.

What connections do you need to make? And how hard are you willing to work to find the point of connection?

Read more about how to create connections in the workplace.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit

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