Connected leadership: connecting people with purpose

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Doug Parkin and Rebecca Nestor explore connected leadership and its applications to the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme.

A leader connects people with purpose…and purpose with people

There’s a truth about strategy that is hard to find in many of the textbooks. It concerns engaging people. The primary aim of any strategy is to connect people with purpose. It is this connection that releases both personal and collective energy and makes things happen. If organisational strategies fail to connect people with purpose, and purpose with people, then they amount to little more than a vague map of possibilities or the best guess in terms of where the organisation’s current trajectory may lead next. Engaging people is at the heart of the difference between strategic planning and ‘being strategic’.

In his excellent book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters (2011), Richard Rumelt observes that bad strategy arises from emphasising planning over execution, fuzzy goals over action, and high-sounding words over concrete directions. These points may sound like the mantra of a pragmatist, but how often have you read a strategy document and put it down in frustration, asking:

  • Yes, but what does all that really mean?
  • Yes, but what are we actually going to do?
  • Yes, but what has that to do with me?

To be truly strategic involves Connected Leadership: the ability to connect with yourself, to connect with other people, to connect with the organisation and to connect with the wider world:

  • Connecting with yourself relates to your values, history, emotional intelligence and personal priorities.
  • Connecting with other people is all about relationships, communication, empathy, influence and negotiation.
  • Connecting with the organisation concerns context, ethos, strategy, purpose, narrative and direction.
  • Connecting with the wider world involves listening, contributing and impacting – shaping futures, contributing to communities, society, the economy and the environment.

Between all these connections sits a field of engagement, and that field is alive with a vast array of factors that help or hinder connectedness. Take the simple example of how well connected an individual employee is to the organisation they work for: the range of connections could include achieving personal goals, relating to the cause or purpose, opportunities to develop, relationships with key individuals, levels of reward or recognition, fulfilling challenges, belonging to a team or project, or progress and results.  Some of these connections may have deep roots, others may be more temporary or transient, and the field is always alive and in flux. A team or department, if regarded as an entity, will have a similar dynamic map of connections.

To develop as a leader, to achieve engagement at all levels and be strategic, involves a combination of four leadership intelligences. These intelligences enable leaders to understand, interpret and interact with some of what goes on in the field of engagement (‘some’ because a lot will be dynamic and elusive). The first of these, in every sense, and the best known, is emotional intelligence. Progressing on from this, the second is social and political intelligence. The next is about the narratives that are the life of any organisation, and this is called cultural (or narrative) intelligence. And, finally, there is an inclusive intelligence that bridges every aspect of an organisation with the wider world, particularly the environment and community (or communities), in which it operates.

Independence… [is] middle-class blasphemy.  We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth (GB Shaw, Pygmalion, 1912).

The Connected Leadership Model is illustrated fully in the headline graphic. This describes the four connections (yourself, other people, organisation and wider world) and shows between them the field of engagement within which the four leadership intelligences are at work. It also shows the way in which change challenges impact upon various connections and, depending on where they strike, stimulate and bring into play one or more of the intelligences.

Many of the best developments in organisations arise from a collision of people and events that can never be fully forecast. It is, therefore, as important for leaders to ‘be strategic’ as it is to plan and develop strategies. Leaders who connect people with purpose, and purpose with people, release personal energy and potential without getting bogged down in aligning goals or re-engineering structures. This is a more emergent and adaptive approach that is focussed on connecting the heart, soul, mind and strength of individuals and teams with the real purpose of the organisation in the prevailing context, at the current time, in the wider world.

The stories we tell are fateful: our ability to change ourselves, our organisations, and our world depends on our capacity to re-imagine them; nothing changes unless the stories change” (Geoff Mead, 2014).

Connected Leadership is the model that fundamentally underpins the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme (PSSL). It is one of the Leadership Foundation’s most highly regarded executive programmes aimed at experienced heads of school or department/service (academic and professional), newly appointed deans of faculty and those aspiring to such senior strategic roles. PSSL supports participants to reflect upon and develop their leadership identity through an active and aware engagement with contemporary perspectives on organisational change.

Doug Parkin the programme director for the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme at the Leadership Foundation. He also runs a number of bespoke and core programmes, in addition to international projects. 

Rebecca Nestor is the co-director of the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme. She is also an Aurora facilitator for the Core Leadership Skills development day, and undertakes bespoke projects across the UK and internationally.

More information:

Emotional intelligence: “The ability to monitor one’s own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action” (Salovey and Mayer, 1990)

Social intelligence: “Acting wisely in human relationships” (Edward Thorndike, 1920); “When we act in ways that help create optimal states in others” (Daniel Goleman, 2006).

Political intelligence: “Being able to and having the inclination to locate and understand power in an organisation” (Baddeley and James, 1987);

Inclusive intelligence: “Globalisation makes it clear that social responsibility is required not only of governments, but of companies and individuals” (Anna Lindh, 2002)

The next cohort of Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership will take place in Dublin in March 2017. To find out more visit PSSL Dublin.

One thought on “Connected leadership: connecting people with purpose

  1. Excellent blog – a mindset that is essential for successful OD. Have forwarded to my Exec Director, Strategic Initiatives and Enhancement

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