The power of connections

Start by giving a helping hand

“Thursday’s child has far to go”

At least according to the old poem, so it’s a good job that I love to travel.

I hope this doesn’t sound too clichéd – I often enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I relish meeting new people, which is quite fortunate as I’ve moved house 8 times in 18 years and lived in 5 different countries. Watching how people interact fascinates me. I am filled with wonder when people from all over the world converge in an airport terminal; share moments in time together and then disperse in as many different directions as they came from. Think of the opening and closing scenes in the film, “Love Actually” and you’ve got the picture.

Recently while travelling for business, I had stimulating conversations with a Laser Engineer from Connecticut (you would not believe how many of your household appliances have been shaped by a laser instrument made by his company) and a Research Scientist renowned for his work on Tuberculosis (did you know that it is one of the world’s most deadliest diseases with a third of the world’s population infected by it? No, neither did I).

Connecting is a choice

Sometimes the most fascinating conversations happen when and where you least expect it. On my latest business trip, I was mentally exhausted after a week of full-on training and team building. As I was returning to Belfast from Lisbon via Dublin, I settled into a double seat at the front of the bus. The driver had already closed the door when an older lady approached with haste. The kindly bus driver let her on and she bundled herself next to me. I helped her take off her coat and thus began one of the most invigorating and informative conversations with a complete stranger that I have ever had in my life. We ended up talking about poetry, history, travel, favourite places and the joys of learning a language.

When she asked me where I had gone to school, I replied “Edinburgh University” and moved on. I’m used to US friends and colleagues referring to “university” as “school”. “No, no”, she insisted, “The school you went before that”. I duly told her and she exclaimed that she too had attended the very same school some 40 years prior. This incredibly knowledgeable lady went on to give the history lesson of a lifetime on the school during and after the Second World War – how it was evacuated; tales of how the school was led and what the teaching and learning was like.

We had an instant connection and shared many thoughts and feelings about what we had learned during our respective time at the school and what our education had given us, as young women. We both agreed on a love of lifelong learning, a well-rounded liberal education and the self-assurance to achieve in life all that was possible for us. Although in her eighties, this amazing and inspirational woman lectures all over the world, is herself learning two new languages, recently took an Advanced Level exam (and was one of the top in the country) and invited me to her series of lectures on James Joyce. As we got off the bus, even the driver commented,

“Wow, what a conversation! I think that’s the start of a beautiful friendship for life”.

Lean In and build trusting relationships through connecting

So why am I telling you all this? I started thinking about Lean In and my responsibility to inspire, encourage and lead other women. I asked myself what am I prepared to do to help make connections that encourage women to grow and achieve their potential and aspirations.

The encounter I had with this lady started by simply giving a helping hand. Through our warm and genuine connection, there was trust. It’s the sort of thing I can’t explain, but Harvard researchers have sought to explain this in a leadership context and you can find out more here.

“A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence – and to lead – is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals – a nod, a smile, an open gesture – can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them”.

As we go about developing and growing our businesses and our careers, I believe we must reach out and connect with others and actively seek to inspire, encourage and support. We owe this not just to ourselves, to future generations, but also to those who have gone before and whose legacy we have inherited.

What next – nurturing your connections

  • Think about the things you love to do aside from your work – how do these things connect you with others?

  • Do you need a mentor or personal champion? How can you use Lean In to ask for or build those connections?

  • Have you something to give or share – a skill, an experience or an asset that someone else could benefit from?

I’ll leave you with this thought…

“I expect to pass through this life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again”.

William Penn, 1644-1718, English Quaker and Founder of Pennsylvania, USA

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