Leadership Lessons From New Yorkers

If leadership is about influencing others toward a mission that matters to you, Brandon Stanton, 31, is a giant leader influencing over 15 million people every day. He is the founder of photoblog Humans of New York (HONY). Started in 2010, the photoblog has over 15 million followers on Facebook. Stanton is using HONY to give a voice to our humanity and social causes all around the world and has inspired many other like photoblogs. Stanton traded bonds in Chicago for three years before losing his job and pursuing his photography hobby full-time.

I became fascinated by Stanton after watching his 15 minute video demonstrating how he is able to create authentic connections with complete strangers in a city like New York. As he says himself, “there is no way I’m the best photographer in the world. There is no way I’m the best journalist in the world.” Then what is the secret sauce that creates his impact? I believe it is his ability to create authentic connections with people.

Having approached more than 10,000 people, Stanton has mastered the ability to make people feel comfortable with him. It is precisely these soft skills, our ability to connect with others, that are at the core of emotional intelligence and our ability to succeed as leaders. Here are five lessons I learned that we as leaders can use to connect more authentically with others in our workplace.

 1. Authentic connection starts with your own intentions and the energy you bring to an encounter. His intention to communicate “I come in peace” creates what he calls his competitive advantage: taking an atmosphere of fear and discomfort of being approached by a total stranger, and turning it into an atmosphere of intimacy and trust.

2. Body language matters. Stanton is able to make people feel safe by using his body language to convey safety by crouching. “The goal is to be as non-threatening as possible…I’ll normally just sit down at somebody’s feet” he says. As I write about in my bookWired for Authenticity, one of the key practices of authentic leadership is befriending our bodies, using our body to lead and communicate. 94% of all communication is non-verbal and our body language impacts not only others but also ourselves.

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