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The power of connection

08 Jul 2024 9 min read

This piece by Michaela Merk talks about the importance of relational intelligence in leadership.

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Leadership takes many forms, from transformational and democratic to adaptive, situational, authentic, transactional, charismatic, and servant leadership. The specific form it can take varies according to goals, personalities, and settings. However, one essential quality that most successful leaders share is the ability to connect with their audience, known as relational intelligence.

I first encountered relational intelligence at the age of 13 when I had the privilege of meeting the amazing Jane Goodall in Tanzania. Around a campfire in the jungle, she explained how chimpanzees, much like humans, are sensitive and relational beings. She emphasised the importance of developing close relationships with animals, each other, and our planet. Fast-forward twenty years, and during my time working with renowned brands in Paris high fashion, fine jewellery, luxury brands, and iconic beauty brands like L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, I realised the crucial role of relational intelligence. It was instrumental in managing multinational teams during crises, transformations, mergers, and other challenges.

Forming alliances

A manager aspiring to be a leader must engage their staff, partners, agencies, suppliers, and customers, aligning everyone towards the common goal of success. This is leadership through the power of the brand and the leader’s charisma. Without this relational connection, efforts can become disjointed, and achieving cohesive success becomes significantly more challenging.

Relational intelligence is an innate quality within us all, often dormant in a competitive world where professional obligations overshadow relationship-building. It is the ability to connect with people of all ages, personalities, educations, and backgrounds. It applies to company directors transforming their businesses to salespeople convincing demanding clients, and is essential for customers to feel understood and valued, and for teams to work harmoniously and effectively.

Relational intelligence not only enhances leadership skills, it improves team collaboration and productivity, employee satisfaction, engagement, retention, and assists with conflict resolution.

Woman standing at a board and writing on it, other people are watching

Strong emotions

The foundation of relational intelligence is empathy. It involves creating a bridge with others, considering their perspectives, and understanding their emotions. This means listening actively and being genuinely interested in what others have to say. Empathy allows leaders to connect on a deeper level, fostering trust and loyalty. Additionally, non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and particularly smiling, is a powerful tool. Maintaining eye contact, using open body language, and being mindful of one’s tone of voice can significantly impact how messages are received and interpreted.

Passion is another crucial element. Choose a field that fascinates you and makes your eyes shine. Passionate leaders are more likely to motivate their teams and drive them towards shared goals with enthusiasm and commitment.

Authenticity is vital. Be true to yourself. Authentic leaders connect with others by sharing their personality and emotions, fostering genuine relationships. This means not putting on a facade to appear overly professional. Authenticity builds trust and encourages others to be themselves, creating a more open and honest work environment. Gratitude also plays a significant role. Acknowledge and congratulate others when they do something well. Showing appreciation reinforces positive behaviours and strengthens relationships.

In a rapidly changing work environment, relationally intelligent leaders are more resilient, adaptable, and capable of building supportive networks. They excel as mentors and coaches, adept at identifying and nurturing talent within their teams. This ensures that teams remain cohesive and motivated even during times of change or stress. Furthermore, relational intelligence enhances conflict resolution skills. Leaders who can navigate interpersonal dynamics with empathy and understanding are better equipped to mediate disputes and find solutions that satisfy all parties involved. This creates a more harmonious work environment where employees feel heard and respected.


Relational intelligence is a critical component of effective leadership. It enables leaders to connect with their teams, foster a positive and productive work environment, and navigate the complexities of human interactions. By developing empathy, mastering non-verbal communication, pursuing passion, embracing authenticity, and practicing gratitude, leaders can enhance their relational intelligence and drive their teams towards greater success.

As the work environment continues to evolve, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence, the ability to connect on a human level will remain a timeless and invaluable skill for leaders in all fields.
Dr Michaela Merk (CSP), is an award winning motivational speaker and trainer

This is a guest blog written by Michaela Merk, a professor at Audencia, for the Green Careers Hub.

To discover more about the power of Relational Intelligence and Michaela Merk’s keynotes, visit: or

Image credit: Shutterstock

  • leadership
  • skills

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