Leadership is a skill — a necessary skill to have in the workforce, but one that can be difficult to nurture. According to Lennie Knowlton, CHMC, CDWF, a key element of effective leadership is connection, which is why she founded Project Connection, an non-profit mental health agency that focuses on connection in order to improve community wellbeing. At the last Business Women’s Forum event, Knowlton shared tips to becoming better leaders during her presentation titled “The Daring Way Leadership Manifesto – Exploring Our Deep Need for Connection.”

When Knowlton was a young adult, she experienced a death in her family that left her feeling isolated and disconnected. She recalled that the person who helped her most was not the mental health professional sent to talk to her, but instead a hospital nurse who realized she was struggling and took the time to connect with her on a personal level.

“In that moment, she was able to sit with me and provide that connection that I needed in order to feel like I was human, like I was important,” Knowlton said. “I will be grateful to her for the rest of my life.”

Now, twenty years later, Knowlton has embedded the idea of human connection into her work as a therapist and team member. She explained that Project Connection operates with the understanding that therapy is only one part of someone’s wellness journey. Getting support, sharing stories and feeling understood are fundamental human needs, and focusing on those pieces of wellbeing make people better friends, family members and even leaders.

Knowlton has also utilized this understanding as a certified facilitator and the Rocky Mountain Region Leader for The Daring Way™, a curriculum based on the research of Brené Brown. The Daring Greatly Leadership Manifesto reads:

“We want to show up, we want to learn and we want to inspire. We are hardwired for connection, curiosity, and engagement. We crave purpose, and we have a deep desire to create and contribute. We want to take risks, embrace our vulnerabilities, and be courageous. When learning and working are dehumanized — when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform — we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas, and our passion. What we ask is that you engage with us, show up beside us, and learn from us. Feedback is a function of respect; when you don’t have honest conversations with us about our strengths and our opportunities for growth, we question our contributions and your commitment. Above all else, we ask that you show up, let yourself be seen, and be courageous. Dare greatly with us.”

Knowlton explained that the manifesto outlines how effective and intentional leadership leads to better and happier teams. Understanding that each of us are human, she said, helps us uplift each other and be more productive in all aspects of our lives, including work.

“If you’re creating work environments that are high-stress, where people are in fear, you cannot create environments where people are creative,” Knowlton explained. 

In order to foster creativity and ultimately grow their business, team or personal endeavor, Knowlton encouraged the Business Women’s Forum to allow vulnerability and connection to thrive. She also advised celebrating all moments of success, big or small, in order to create meaning and bonding. Finally, she shared Brené Brown’s Engaged Feedback Checklist, which helps leaders give feedback in a respectful and effective way.

“I know that I’m ready to give feedback when I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you, when I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us,” Knowlton read from the list. “What would workplaces be if somebody had to sit down and check all of these boxes before they went into a conversation with another human?”

The next Business Women’s Forum is on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 and will feature Makaila Kelso of Spherion and Alexx Goeller of Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. Register for the event here, or learn more about the BWF program by visiting its website.