By Guest Columnist KAREN J. HARDWICK, leadership consultant and executive coach

Stressful doesn’t quite describe 2020. And it is the grueling pressure of this moment that is creating a leadership movement that harnesses the power of Connection. The kind of connection filled with grit and grace. The kind of connection that transforms us, our workplaces, and our relationships.

Karen J. Hardwick
Karen J. Hardwick

Most leaders agree our connection currency is at an all-time low. But what caused our connection bankruptcy? Was it the pandemic? The associated pressures? Not likely, because if you look at workplaces and our collective mental health before this season, emotional and spiritual angst was running rampant while often denied and normalized. The normal suspects of depression, anxiety, and addictions have been around for a long time.

In short, the pandemic hasn’t caused our condition. It shed light on it. It’s made it more obvious that leaders are experiencing a human being crisis that is ushering us into what I call the Connection Era. Leaders are no longer expected to just enhance the bottom line; they are now being given the sacred duty of spiritually awakening, emotionally healing, and courageously leading from a platform of inclusion, wholeness, and connection.

This isn’t a kumbaya. It’s an essential ingredient that fuels leaders’ ability to move people and achieve outcomes. Whether you’re a corporate leader or change champion, the battle cry of the people is clear. People want leaders who have the self-awareness to connect entire organizations around the things that make us human, honest, and whole.

Emotional distress and self medication was reported by respondents to a survey conducted fewer than three weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, on March 11. Credit:

Connection is a strategy rooted in our neurological wiring. You and I are wired to connect, and problems arise when we don’t. When we leapfrog over this neurological need, it has the same impact as if we were depriving ourselves of food and water. The adulting version of Lord of the Flies happens in workplaces, on both sides of the aisle, and everywhere people are disconnected from themselves. Instead of connecting, we blame and scapegoat.

Leaders who embrace the connection era have a grit and grace. While many organizations are disengaged and battle weary, connected leaders give their people the powerful fuel of connection.

As I work with these connected leaders, they lead with more hope and less despair, more being and less doing, more growing and less MBA-ing. They emphasize results alongside emotional wholeness. They create courageous connections, holy groundings, and a sabbath kind of purpose while thriving in the marketplace. Make no mistake: Profitability, operational excellence, and performance matter. Work isn’t summer camp.

So know this: CEOs, who aren’t the religious type are increasingly seeing their role incorporate a pastoral approach. Words like empathy, curiosity, and mindfulness populate my conversations with leaders as often as strategy, innovation, and execution.

If you are like many leaders, you get it and it is uncomfortable. You want better outcomes and are reluctant to be a pastor-style CEO buying into the whole emotional-spiritual approach. I understand.

Christine McCauley Watts, cove
Much like tapping into the natural calm around us, leaders who deepen connection create a psychologically safe work environment in ways that enhance performance and profitabilit, according to the author. Credit: Christine McCauley Watts

So try this: Connection isn’t rooted in being pastoral, it’s about self-discovery. In our approach we help leaders awaken to their truest self. That’s it. When they do, they find a more awakened emotional and spiritual side to themselves. And without prompting or forcing, an awakened and self-connected leader naturally and organically builds bridges to others.

Our firm is getting increasing inquiries about our Connection, Inc. thera-coaching programs, which teach connection to enhance performance and relationships while excavating the fears that sabotage workplaces. As leaders wake up, they lead from their strengths in healthier ways and are then gifted with more trust and loyalty. They are less prone to act out their shadow sides, which leave people feeling manipulated, distrusting, and disempowered.

One senior executive said this: “We have to start with ourselves. Our fears. Our wounds and strengths. This feels like a revolution. This is more than a leadership philosophy. It is a life philosophy.”

As leaders embrace the truth about themselves they listen more and express empathy. They create a psychologically safe workplace that encourages trust and risk-taking. One executive team that undertook this commitment experienced a 20-point jump in engagement within a six-month period. Another organization transformed its culture and became a major acquisition target because of its “secret sauce.”

Two months after the WHO declared the coronavirus pandemic, survey respondents reported starkly elevated levels of distress compared to a previous period. Credit:

There is a groundswell of leaders waking-up to the connection era. You can find them here in Atlanta, in London, and around the world. They run public companies and entrepreneurial enterprises; they represent all races, genders, and industries.

What unites them are better outcomes for all, but what grounds them is the courage to do the inner work of becoming more self-aware and connected to their best selves. This is foundational, as we can never find outside solutions to inside problems.

When leaders commit to connection, they become the corporate version of the Velveteen Rabbit: more real and inspiring because they lead with their true self. That “realness” becomes the rising water that lifts all boats. As leaders awaken to their truest self, they give permission to others to do the same. The spark of Connection in them fuels their people, culture, purpose, and all the things that market leaders need to be meaningful and influential.

A CEO client said it best ““I am finding the courage to fight my inner Goliaths that keep me focused on the things that wear me down as a leader and human. I am becoming my best.”

We don’t need another leadership paradigm; we need our stories and truest selves. This level of self-connection will give us, our people and this world, grace and grit to meet the heights and promise of our potential.

Join us … we’re saving you a seat.

Note to readers: Karen J. Hardwick, M.Div., MSW is a clinically and spiritually trained leadership consultant and executive coach with clients in Atlanta and around the globe. She helps leaders, teams and organizations awaken, and courageously lead.

Join the Conversation


  1. I am not sure sure what I’m feeling and how I’m supposed to embrace it. But I do know what I’m feeling comes and goes I only get a glimpse of it then it’s gone. And my feelings and emotions are all over the place. It’s overwhelming at times. I look at our home, this world and I want to cry. People are hurting, dieing,not able to work together to make us thrive. We all are in this together, and it’s like nobody sees it. Everybody is cough up in there selves aND don’t even care about the stranger standing next to them. Weather that stranger is white,black,purple, or blue. It shouldn’t matter. We all come from the same place. Our home Earth. The way things are is sad, and maybe that’s why theses strong feelings come and go. But I never felt what I’m feeling now and this all just hit me one day.

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