A Leadership Choice: Connection or Isolation

Posted by Jack Warren, Chase Oaks Chief of Staff, on Jan 31, 2022

A Leadership Choice: Connection or Isolation

You have likely heard me say this or write this before: “We are made for connection.”

In other words, we are wired for relationships with other people. Isolation kills us, but real connection replenishes us. This is especially true for leaders.

Even though I know and believe in this principle, I fight it on a daily basis.

Here are four reasons why:

  1. People can be annoying.
    Not me of course, just other people. Sometimes we need someone to just listen, but instead they want to talk…a lot. People can also say the most insensitive things, even when trying to express care or concern for others.
  2. People disappoint us.
    We tend to place a variety of expectations on others. We don’t always verbalize these expectations to other people, but we still have them. And at some point, even the most amazing people will disappoint us. After multiple disappointments, I usually just want to move on and not rely on other people to be helpful or supportive or, well, non-disappointing.
  3. Shame.
    I find myself thinking things like, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “I should have done things differently,” or “No one else will understand why I am discouraged.” It’s easy to think, “I should be stronger” and “I shouldn’t be in this predicament.” The long string of “shoulds” typically brings shame, which can drive me back into isolation.
  4. Self-sufficiency.
    I resonate with the self-sufficient cowboy in the TV show “1883” and with Kevin Costner in “Yellowstone.” I don’t want to need others. I just want to help people who need others’ help. Basically, I want to tell people that they need people while being an exception to that same rule. That is messed up in so many ways, but it is where I tend to go.

So, those are my four main reasons to live in isolation. I think they are pretty compelling.

The problem is that they don’t change this fact: we cannot thrive without being connected to people. It’s simply how life works.

Your list of reasons to avoid connection might be different as a leader. But the sooner you and I can make the choice to get past our compelling objections and move toward other people, the better off we will be. 

And here’s some good news:

People can be annoying and disappointing. But they are also life-giving, comforting, inspiring, catalytic, insightful, and wise. God consistently shows up in our lives through people, and there is no replacement for real, human-to-human connection. We can’t experience the joys of relating with other people if we stay isolated.

But what if you’ve been hurt by people in the past? Keep in mind, we can (and should be) selective. Not everyone will be a good match for us, relationally. For example, not everyone can quietly empathize when we need to share about what’s going on in our lives. Think of it this way: A bad meal doesn’t mean all meals are bad. It just means a particular meal didn’t suit us. There are many more good ones waiting for us to enjoy. 

One more encouraging thought: we just need a few close friends for life-giving connection. Just a few. It’s exhausting (if not impossible) to have a busload of truly intimate friends. But we are incredibly fortunate if we can travel with a trusted companion in the passenger seat and a couple more good friends in the backseat.

So take some time to think about where you are in connecting with others. Getting past our reasons for isolation, and making the choice to move toward real connection, can make a huge difference in our health and vitality as leaders.

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