The 7 Connection Secrets Every CEO Needs to Prevent $7 Trillion in Losses

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter Drucker

In today’s competitive landscape, organizations are only as strong as their ability to attract, retain and engage top talent. Yet, a shocking Gallup study revealed that 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work worldwide. This translates into over $7 trillion in lost productivity annually.

One of the biggest drivers of this engagement crisis? A lack of authentic connection between leaders and employees. When there is a chasm between those at the top and those on the front lines, mistrust, apathy and active disengagement follows.

If you are a CEO or leader committed to maximizing your company’s potential, you need to prioritize forging genuine connections with your people at all levels. Here are 7 impactful tips to help leaders connect in more meaningful ways to drive engagement, loyalty and bottom-line performance:

1. Lead With Authenticity

People have finely tuned BS meters and can spot a disingenuous or self-serving leader from a mile away. Employees crave and connect best with leaders who show up as real, transparent human beings – not just authority figures behind a title. 

As BrenĂ© Brown states in her book Dare to Lead, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

Share more about your background, beliefs and even vulnerabilities. Use self-deprecating humor. Have casual conversations about non-work interests. The more you reveal the authentic person behind the role, the easier it is for employees to relate to you.

2. Ask Questions and Listen Obsessively

Many leaders are so focused on telling and directing, they leave little room for listening. But true connection stems from making others feel understood and valued by understanding their unique perspectives and lived experiences.

Legendary CEO and masterful listener Alan Mulally frequently asked advisors: “Did I miss anything?” – inviting input and signaling he still had more to learn. At team meetings, he made a habit of “going around the room” to ensure every voice was heard.

Ask insightful, caring questions that go beyond surface-level small talk. Listen without judging or preparing your response while employees speak. You’ll send a powerful message that their thoughts matter.

3. Tell Stories That Reveal Your Humanity

While data and metrics are essential leadership tools, employees don’t fully connect with pure logic – they connect through resonant stories that reveal values, struggles and purpose.


In their book Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, leadership experts Bill Cryriax and Richard Bright share data that story-based communication is 22 times more effective in influencing behavior than relying on facts alone.

Share personal anecdotes about formative life experiences, ethical dilemmas you grappled with, or major failures that shaped you. Revealing your journey makes you more accessible and shows that you face challenges and anxieties like everyone else.

4. Recognize and Express Genuine Appreciation

In the hustle of leading an organization, it’s easy for leaders to become task-focused and fail to express appreciation for the people who make success possible: their employees. But lack of recognition is a leading cause of employee disengagement.

A leading researcher on employee recognition, Dr. Brad Shuck, found that employees who don’t feel adequately respected are 63% more likely to look for a new job within the year.

Look for small and large wins to celebrate both individual and team efforts. Be specific about what capabilities, achievements or character strengths you appreciate. Feeling valued for who they are and what they contribute will bond employees to you and the company.

5. Open Feedback Loops

True connection requires trust that flows in both directions. Leaders must create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable sharing candid feedback and observations.

Research by Harvard Business School found that leaders who ask for feedback proactively and respond positively without defensiveness are seen as more approachable and capable of self-improvement.

Occasionally solicit 360 feedback or send short surveys. Ask individuals in meetings if they have any other thoughts or constructive critiques about your decisions or approach. And model responding gratefully to feedback without reacting poorly.

6. Show Vulnerability and Admit Mistakes

Humans inherently relate better to leaders who don’t posture as infallible heroes on a pedestal. Being vulnerable by openly admitting errors and uncertainties makes you more approachable and trustworthy.

A famous study by author Jim Kouzes found that employees’ willingness to “follow more willingly” increased by a remarkable 92% when their leaders showed greater vulnerability.

When things don’t go as planned or you make the wrong call, humbly own up to it. Outline what you learned and how you aim to apply that lesson. Sudden setbacks also offer opportunities to express appreciation for your team’s steadfastness.

7. Prioritize In-Person Interactions

Email, messaging apps and video conferences all have their place. But an over-reliance on virtual communication obscures the non-verbal cues and informal relationship-building moments needed for deep connection.

Research by leadership experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman found that leaders who made an effort to have frequent in-person conversations and interactions were rated by employees as significantly more trustworthy, inspirational, and better at developing others.

Commit to periodically walking around your office or plant floors to interact in-person. Have skip-level meetings where you gather employees several levels below you. Find opportunities for casual “management by walking around.”

Employees today don’t just hunger for leaders – they crave human connection. By embodying these 7 tips, CEOs and leaders can build bonds of trust, inspiration and mutual understanding that fuel engaged, dedicated employees willing to go the extra mile.