Connecting in a Disconnected World
David W. Earle, LPC

I am convinced that the core human requirement is the need to connect with others. The problems of strife, misunderstanding, and conflict are symptomatic of the lack of connection; the key to successful leadership is the strength of the connection between the leader and the led. With the myriad of outside influences, there are many reasons and opportunities for leaders to be disconnected. How a boss connects with employees is the single most significant ingredient of successful leadership.

I recently attended a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. service celebrating the holiday bearing his name. As I experienced the celebrant’s various rendition of what the movement meant, I could not help recall my experiences in my formative and teenage years amidst the late fifties and tremulous sixties. I knew what side I was on in this struggle by just looking at my friends who all looked like me; I knew no one who did not.

I did not participate in cross-burning, lynching, or hateful epitaphs on bathroom walls nor did I join the freedom march walking arm in arm off the Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama singing “We Shall Overcome”. No, my contribution was the gray area of indifference, of being safe, telling just enough black jokes to establish my secure place with my white friends but careful not to inflame the sensibility of black people by verbal attacks.

Then in 1963 at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, King invited the world to join the movement, he opened the door to be part of the healing available to those who would accept it. I have come a long way from those days of indifference to embracing the “beloved community” which King advocated and accepting the “inescapable network of mutuality; tied in single garment of destiny”.

In the mid-nineties, Ernest Dennis and I created an Anger Management program for a court ordered population sentenced by Baton Rouge City Court. This creative process generated discussions about stereotypes. He and I were of similar age and had experienced the civil rights movement at the same time but across the black-white divide. In this conversation, as members of a segregated society we shared what was commonly believed about the other race; we laughed about how outrageously inaccurate these stereotypes were. Deeper, Ernest and I gained a certain amount of healing that came from those troubled times from the pain of the hate that separated blacks and whites. The animosity generated by two opposite races staring at each across the Jim Crow Laws is a classic example of disconnecting; King’s Lincoln Memorial speech made the case for connecting.

Our culture is electronically connected with email, cell phones, Blackberry, text messages, and not being a teenager, probably a lot more than I am aware. We have the ability to stay in touch and communicate on many different levels; yet our culture is very disconnected.

I went grocery shopping and heard a woman talking on the cell phone in the vegetable section. As I traveled down each isle, she was making the same approximate progress up every isle and I would hear the constant chatter on the cell phone. At the checkout line, there she was still talking, and since our cars were parked next to each other, I followed her to the car and watched in amazement as she loaded her groceries and continued her preoccupation with that phone, and still talking as she drove away.

When I recounted this tale to Penny, my wife, she reflected that instead of thinking of her family as she brought the various food items and making by her purchase a conscious expression of love, she was not “there” in the experience.

As leaders, we have several choices. We can be like the woman at the grocery store, totally absorbed in our own world where we are not connected to what is happening in the here and now, disconnected via being connected. We could also fail to appreciate the “inescapable network of mutuality” that ties all employees into a corporate “single garment of destiny”. The final choice available is to connect with others on a deeper and more profound level of understanding.

A leader’s willingness to turn away from the computer, put the cell phone down, and focus on the employee sitting across the table will pay long-term dividends. The key question to ask ourselves, how connected am I with my employees, coworkers, my children, and spouse? Where am I disconnected and more importantly, when will I begin to change the disconnect into connection?

Author's Bio: 

David W. Earle, LPC
Earle Company