Human Connection Is Essential To Engage Emerging Talent – And Why It Must Be Your Priority

Human Connection Is Essential To Engage Emerging Talent – And Why It Must Become Your Priority

Senior leaders are tired of being asked to change. Emerging leaders are tired of watching their senior leaders give up.

They see you surrendering. As a result, they are losing respect for you, they feel stuck, and they’re looking for a way out.

Why do I know this to be true? Over the past several years, much like I’ve been working with senior leaders, I’ve also been engaging with emerging leaders within the same organizations to help these two groups coexist through the different ways they work, lead and conduct business. Clearly, emerging leaders are frustrated and exhausted in their pursuit to not only be patient with their senior leaders, but also in their efforts to manage-up and work as one – in their attempts to flatten the hierarchy.

Here are the top three areas of tension for emerging leaders:


Success and survival are no longer about organizations and their leaders defining the individual, they are much more about individuals defining their organizations and leaders. The balance of power has shifted toward finding competitive advantage based on how well an organization can serve what matters most to the individual.

“This balance between the resource management task of a manager and the authentic care for the human hasn’t really been put into focus during this past year of pandemic,” said Jesus Mantas, Senior Managing Partner at IBM Global Business Services.

Or, as he put it: “We have over-indexed on technology and under-indexed on the human experience.”

I talked with Mantas about the results of IBM’s 2021 CEO Study: “Find your essential: How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality.” The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), in cooperation with Oxford Economics, interviewed 3,000 CEOs from nearly 50 countries and 26 industries.

In my previous article I touched on this point from the report’s conclusion: that to be considered essential to the organization, leaders must learn to excel in human connection. I’ve written extensively about that in the past, calling on leaders to create economies of scale around embracing human dignity.

The CEO study suggests a few ways that top leaders are trying to do that. But as I’ve learned from my own experience – and as IBV revealed in a previous study mentioned below – it’s a long way from a CEO’s words to an employee’s heart.

CEOs Say They Prioritize Employee Wellbeing

In the 2021 CEO Study, IBV reveals differences between what it designates as Outperformers and Underperformers, based on a number of performance metrics.

One of the biggest differences between the two is their stated commitment to employee wellbeing. Outperformers said they support workforce health and wellness even if it costs near-term profit – choosing that as a priority at nearly double the rate of Underperformers.

But that doesn’t mean employees believe them.

In an earlier report, “Closing the chasm” (published October 2020, to track leader and employee perceptions of organizational pandemic response), IBV cautions that just because CEOs say wellbeing is a priority doesn’t mean employees feel like it is.

From the 2020 report: “While executives believe they are giving employees the tools, training, and emotional support they need to remain productive; employees largely disagree. For instance, while four in five executives surveyed say they are supporting the physical and emotional health of their workforce, less than half of employees agree.”

As you can see from the top three areas of tension I opened with, from my experience with hundreds of emerging leaders – many do not believe their senior leaders care about them as individuals.

Purpose Over Mission

Here’s a finding that I think should be explored further by all leaders, in collaboration with those they lead.

From the 2021 CEO Study: “Outperformers identify a sense of purpose and mission as critical to engaging employees at a rate 53% higher than Underperformers. In today’s trust climate, where faith in institutions overall has been declining, that is an emerging competitive advantage. The heightened employee engagement from these efforts paradoxically helps performance.”

This is where I diverge a bit and question the inclusion of “purpose and mission” as if they automatically go together and can be measured in conjunction with each other.

The report seems to treat purpose and mission at the level of the organization – the impact of the organization as a whole on society. That is definitely worthy and valuable to emerging leaders as they move up the ranks.

But to truly engage them would mean exploring purpose at a much more individual level. What purpose can one individual serve on her own team? On her projects? What purpose can one individual have on the careers of those she leads? Your organization’s mission shouldn’t be more valuable than your contribution to it.

The earlier 2020 IBV report acknowledges this in its conclusion: “One key lesson executives should take from the pandemic is that their employees should be considered as individuals with unique needs and specific expectations. What will make each person successful varies wildly. But serving individuals is what will improve results for the organization as a whole. To compete in the future, executives must be mindful enough to understand their workers’ needs – and companies must be agile enough to accommodate them.”

The Skills Leaders Need

As I evaluate the input I get on a regular basis from leaders at every level within large organizations across a range of industries, I am increasingly convinced that our path to dignity and human connection is by activating individual capacity.

Emerging leaders are frustrated because they look at their senior leaders and don’t see any evidence that those leaders care about their individual capacity or have the ability to activate that capacity even when they do care.

That’s why it’s critical that leaders learn:

Watch this video to learn what you solve for:

Understanding what one solves for will result in individuals who feel fully elevated and activated to fulfill their own purpose toward the shared mission. It will result in teams of activated individuals bringing their fullest potential to bear for the organization.

And it will result in people who believe their leaders when they say they care about wellbeing, purpose and connection.

Learn more at

My goal is to prepare organizations to lead in the age of personalization– to achieve maximum growth and significance in the workplace and marketplace – as the individual