Stay curious Thought leaders

Want to connect? Embrace humility

In his book The Art of Connection, leadership expert Michael J. Gelb explains that many successful companies thrive through effective communication. The leaders of these organizations use seven personal relationship skills, such as practicing humility and becoming a better listener, to increase the scope and the depth of their companies.

Read it on getAbstract

Gelb presents a strong argument that learning these skills can help you connect more profoundly with other people and with yourself. He spoke to getAbstract about his work.

getAbstract: You make a compelling case that connection skills are becoming even more important in a world of declining job security. What are the rewards for embracing these skills, and the risks of ignoring them?

Gelb: If you want to live longer, be happier and be more successful, you need to be connected. There’s been a lot of research about what really makes people happy. Is it money, or more power? The one thing that really makes you happy is a sense of connectedness. This topic has always been important. I started doing seminars for corporations in the early 1980s. They’d always do these surveys: What’s the biggest problem in our company? Number one was communication. And that was even before all these devices. Now, kids are learning to communicate via Siri and Alexa.

getAbstract: Of the seven skills you outline in your book, is there any one that stands out as the most crucial?

Gelb: I think of them as building blocks. The most important skill is the first, which is to embrace humility. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to be able to embrace the other skills. The popular word is vulnerable. What we’re really talking about is that a leader is perceived as open, as accessible, as willing to listen and willing to learn. People like and trust that leader, and they’re willing to engage. I wrote this book out of my experience of working with leaders for the last 30 years. They all had this common sense – this ability to connect with people in a very humble, soul-to-soul way. You can see people light up when they deal with a leader like that.

getAbstract: Which skill is the most difficult to master?

Gelb: The seventh is the most difficult. That’s managing conflict in a creative and positive way. They’re arranged in that way because if you can’t do the first six, you have no hope of doing the seventh. The third is also very difficult. It’s called the three liberations. Free yourself from liking or disliking a situation; free yourself from the tendency to take things personally; and free yourself from whining, blaming or complaining.

getAbstract: Which of the seven is the easiest to tackle?

Gelb: They’re all kind of challenging, but the one that’s easiest to embrace is the second: “Be a glow worm.” It’s taken from a quote by Winston Churchill.

You want to be that inspiring, positive influence on the people around you. You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

If those people are alcoholic, depressed and abusive, you’re more likely to be alcoholic, depressed and abusive. If those five people are happy, successful and kind, you’re more likely to be happy, successful and kind. That applies to who you spend time with online, too. You can get access to the greatest leaders and thinkers, but there are also trolls trying to drag you down into a world of hatred, greed and envy. It requires almost a martial arts discipline to be the curator of the information you consume online.

getAbstract: Because these are soft skills, it seems like it would be difficult to measure progress. How does a manager set goals and track progress toward a skill such as embracing humility or becoming a better listener?

Gelb: You’ll know because people will start to come to you for your feedback rather than avoiding your feedback. Obviously, these are complex and challenging skills. This is a lifetime course. I’m not giving simple advice like having a firm handshake, looking people in the eyes and raising your eyebrows in a certain way. You can do those things, and people will think you just came from some cheesy seminar about shaking hands. This is about a deep quest to have a deeper, more meaningful life.

getAbstract: Many people are working remotely or managing farflung teams. How does one adapt these skills to a virtual workplace?

Gelb: The book emphasizes the importance of getting together with people face to face, heart to heart, eye to eye. When people are working virtually, they yearn to come together. When you do actually interact with real humans, it’s going to be more important that you know how to connect. You don’t want to finally get together and have everyone be on their devices.

getAbstract: Say I’m an introvert who’d rather not invest time and energy connecting with others? How do I overcome that challenge?

Gelb: That’s a great question. I get lots of those people, because I work with a lot of scientists, a lot of engineers. They’re very academically bright, but they’re strong introverts. They also tend to be thinking types. They want a lot of data and a lot of facts, so I give them a lot of data and a lot of facts. I travel all over the world, and one of the questions I always ask is, “Where do you get your best ideas?” People always answer taking a shower, walking in nature, lying in bed, driving in the car. We have our best ideas when we’re alone. So the challenge for introverts is to take those ideas and share them with other people. For extroverts, who are always in meetings and always around other people, the challenge is to spend time alone so they can have more ideas.

getAbstract: Do you have any examples of leaders who have embraced your approach and made great strides?

Gelb: I worked with one guy who was the head of an engineering company, and he had worked his way up from being a laborer. He was tough, and he was known for being angry. He was basically a good guy, but he had some negative characteristics. He would berate people. He scared the heck out of people, and employees were leaving because of it. We worked on transforming that into a healthy assertiveness. This guy really changed, and he’s had a hugely successful career. Now, I’d even say his demeanor is elegant. His posture has changed. He’s very kind, but you can still feel he’s the boss. Everyone has a personality type, but it doesn’t matter what your type is. You want to be a healthy version of your type.

About Michael J. Gelb

Michael J. Gelb is the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. He is a pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, accelerated learning, and innovative leadership. Gelb leads seminars for organizations such as DuPont, Merck, Microsoft, Nike, Roche and YPO. He brings more than 35 years of experience as a professional speaker, seminar leader and organizational consultant to his diverse, international clientele. Michael is the author of 15 books on creativity and innovation including the international best seller How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every


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