How to instantly create a powerful connection with someone

September 2

It is all about how you make people feel

How many truly great people have you met in your life? What separates them from the ones that did not come to mind?

I am so grateful to have received one of the greatest leadership gifts when I recently had lunch with David Hopley at the UK Special Forces (UKSF) HQ.

A colleague and I spent a couple of hours delving deep into David’s experiences with life in the Royal Marines, Commanding the Special Boat Service and later Deputy Commander of the UKSF.

Following his time in the military, he moved into the corporate world with Goldman Sachs and now as an executive coach. His resume is very impressive!

I first met David on a UK Sport experiential leadership programme in Dartmoor, where we spent three days on a tough search and rescue mission with the Devon Air Ambulance Trust.

I could write for hours about this experience although I think it deserves its own space down the line.

Lunch with David was an intimate meet to delve deeper into him as a leader, as a person and as a family man.

What would be your perception of a special forces leader?

If you watch SAS Who Dares Win, you could possibly think of someone who is intimidating, loud and encroaching.

When I sat down with David for a private lunch, it could not be further from the truth. In fact, the opposite. Incredibly humble. Totally authentic. Powerfully vulnerable. Entirely selfless.

With David, I learnt it was all about how you make people feel.

The purpose of the visit was connected to exploring the organisational culture of the Special Forces UK organisation. This included the history of the special forces, its role, how it develops recruits and how it has adapted over time. Our course leader, Karen Gray (who keeps on gifting us these great opportunities), provided some great cues. A few nice and simple ways to consider organisational culture include…

“How things are around here” (Cameron & Quinn, 2011) and “how organisations do things” (Watkins 2013).

Schein (2010) talked about culture having three levels:

  1. Artefacts (things you see, hear & feel)
  2. beliefs & values (what is important, right and wrong, will and won’t work) and,
  3. the deepest layer of basic assumptions, i.e. the implicit assumptions which guide individual & group behaviour, thinking and emotions

I quite like this expression for culture:

the way we get stuff done around here

Meeting David yesterday really shined a light on one thing. That one thing was the impact the leader(s) have on organisational culture. This took me back to a TED talk I remembered from Simon Sinek who said:

‘it is the leader who sets the tone‘.

Think for a moment, how much of your organisational culture is a result of your managers/leader(s)? 

If you are leading your organisation or managing your team, does the personality of your organisation reflect the personality of your leadership style and vice versa? Or how does the environment in front of you reflect you as a person? 

When you look at the reflection, do you like what you see? 

Clearly, culture is complex and there will be many interacting things that make up your culture. The people, the physical space, the mission, the history, regulation, rules, etc. Not one person will be solely responsible for ‘culture’.

The thing that was really apparent for me was how he made me feel. And how that one small thing can make a massive difference. Why did I feel safe? 

He was hugely welcoming and took an interest in how my day was going within minutes of meeting.

Whether you are meeting one person or a group of people for the first time, your introduction or ‘onboarding’ is critical to create a good first impression. Not for one minute did I get the impression he felt rushed, or I was wasting his time.

He had great eye contact and was fully present and engaged. Eye contact shows you are present.

Being present shows you are listening. Listening make others feel special and creates a strong bond.

He was utterly vulnerable and completely open about his experiences and how it made him feel (people are often good at talking to what happened and less so how they felt).

This made me feel safe to share my story.

All those things seem small and are certainly what people take for granted. I felt like I trusted him within that short space of time.

It is the small things that make the big difference. Creating a sense of belonging does not need a big intervention. Just one small adaption in your behaviour can alter the state of a person or result. 

Yes, David has an incredible resume and has great stories. The thing I will remember most though was how he made me feel.

How many people do you know who have an incredible CV but are rude, distracted or not interested in listening to you ? It is not a particularly pleasant experience and shine goes away pretty quick.

How do you make your colleagues feel?

Do you know how you make them feel?

What things could you start doing to make your colleagues, client or team feel valued?

Remember, it is all about how you make people feel. It is within your gift to create that feeling in anyone. How are you going to instantly create a connection by making someone feel valued?


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