Leading through connecting and curiosity

I confess, I am an out and proud science geek!  This week is British Science Week, so it got me thinking about the role science has played in my life and work. As a kid I always pestered my parents with the question – “Why?”. Luckily my dad knew a lot, so he often fed my curiosity. If you add to that the awe inspiring ‘Life on Earth’ TV programme presented by David Attenborough, then me choosing to study zoology at university makes total sense.

I pursued science academically for a while, going on to study ecology and environmental science. Then 25 years ago, I took a diversion into training people and discovered that psychology and behavioural science was just as fascinating. The natural world continued to be a geeky hobby though; I’m still an amateur ornithologist, botanist and entomologist.

A career in developing leaders and the teenage science geek in me finally came together when I joined Complete just over 11 years ago. It’s in our DNA to ground everything that we do in science. We take the best of the research in a field and often conduct our own original analysis to build our methodology. We develop leaders across multiple lines of development (see image below) underpinned by the science of heart rate variability, emotional intelligence, value systems, ego maturity, high performance behaviours and networks.

Lines of Development

The theme of British Science Week in 2023 is ‘connections’, which resonates strongly for me. Science is all about making connections and of course so is leadership. The best leaders make connections between data points and ideas to create strategy and innovate; they connect with other people, teams and partner organisations to collaborate and synergise; and they connect the different parts of themselves to leverage their personal potential.

Perhaps more than anything, we need leaders who can connect ideas. The global challenges we face today need solutions that pull deeply from multiple sources. In most organisations however, leaders tend to be specialists to varying degrees (HR, finance, sales) or generalists (CEO, directors). What we’re missing is the ‘polymath’ who ranges freely across different disciplines and can integrate the thinking. You can think of this type of leader as a ‘bee’ who cross-pollinates across fields to germinate hybrid ideas and drive innovation. But connecting ideas isn’t enough.

The ability to connect with people is also a vital leadership skill. In organisations, the way we connect at work is no longer through the reporting lines of an ‘org chart’ (invented in 1910) or even a matrix of dotted lines (added in the 1980s). The reality is that people form connections across silos to the key people or ‘nodes’ who can help them to get their job done, feel part of the culture and understand the strategic direction. The science of network analysis underpins Complete’s approach to measuring and developing organisational networks. But connecting to people is still not enough.

It’s essential to be connected to others, but if your interpersonal skills are lacking or you are grumpy and tired, then it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are. Often parents, school and work reward us for coming up with the best ideas, but human beings are more complex than just how ‘clever’ they are. Inside every leader there are multiple ‘intelligences’ that matter, as depicted in the image above. It’s time to upgrade the human operating system whilst drawing on the science that underpins each line of development. If you want to be brilliant every day, then you need to develop, connect and integrate all those parts of yourself.

I encourage you all to become leaders who are great connectors filled with scientific curiosity – range widely to cross-pollinate ideas, build strong networks with key people and bring all of your brilliance to the leadership challenges we face.

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