Last week I embarked upon an undertaking filled with a nervous trepidation that, I fully suspect, only people from my generation will ever understand. I upgraded my iPhone.

Emboldened by the seemingly idiot-proof instructions, I was assured that ‘sync-ing’ the new phone to our network would be ‘child’s play’. And it probably was. I read somewhere recently that two year old’s are now routinely able to turn on their parent’s mobile phones and computers and access the games of their choice. At two years old I was still eating dirt! Unfortunately for me no small children or Generation Y mentors of any description were available, and the idiot proof instructions conspired to defeat me for the next few hours until eventually, help arrived. After resolving my network problems, my Technical Guru offered to download a couple of useful Apps onto my new phone. They downloaded the Linked In App, which was great, however, in so doing they inadvertently clicked on a wrong option.

With one tap on the startlingly crisp new ‘Retina Screen’of my iPhone 5, every single person that I have ever sent an email to was invited to connect with me on Linked In. Everybody.

Over the last week or so, people that I’m pretty sure I don’t know at all have happily accepted my invitation to connect. Some of them have even sent little messages saying things like ‘It’s been a while – I hope you’re well?’ I’m guessing it’s a bit like when you bump into someone vaguely familiar at Bluewater or IKEA or really anywhere out of context. Somehow they know all about you, and your life, but you don’t have the first idea who the hell they are…. and you sense that it would probably be really hurtful if you were to tell them that. So to all those people who connected with me, but really had no idea who I am, thank you, and next time trust your intuition – it could just be some random guy, who just like me, had pressed the wrong button!

On the plus side I am absolutely delighted to report that a whole lot of people that I really like, and had just lost contact with, have got back in touch, which is great. These are the people that we all know, the ones that touch our lives for a reason, or a season. These are the really great people who we lose touch with for no better reason than we all lead such busy lives, or perhaps because we were both a bit embarrassed at the length of time we’ve left it before saying hello. To these people I say thank you. Thank you for believing in serendipity, and for taking a minute or two out to take that opportunity to re-connect. To everybody else reading this, I say, maybe just ask yourself, if this happened to you, who would you really like to hear from…. and what is it that’s stopping you from getting back in touch yourself?

Up until this point, no real harm had been done.  So why was it then that my initial feeling, that gut reaction message from my unconscious mind, was one of intense impending dread? Why did my thoughts gravitate to those people that I didn’t want to hear from at all? Why was it that this situation had made me face up to the fact that, over the years there have been people that have come into my life that didn’t make me feel great? People that maybe I didn’t make feel great either. People that I might have felt close or connected to for a while, but maybe we didn’t leave on the best of terms. The people that I’ve let down, and the people that have let me down – I really didn’t want to hear from any of those people did I?

Predominately Linked In is a vehicle by which we connect with people that we meet during our working lives. Whether we connected with them at a time that we worked for them, or we worked together on a project or team, or they worked for us, situations change. Organisational priorities and directions change, and sometimes those changes in direction work out for us, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes those changes put pressures on us that force us to choose between protecting ourselves by doing what we are told to do, or choose to stand up for our values, beliefs, and our important relationships, by doing what’s right. And sometimes we get it wrong.

To those people who I really didn’t want to hear from, and especially to anybody who was perhaps less than delighted to hear from me when my ‘Request to Connect ‘ pinged into your in-box, I would like to say that I am sorry if we didn’t part on good terms. With what I now understand about the cultures that leaders within organisations create, I can look back at times when I have made choices that I am not particularly proud of, and times when my performance has been less effective than it should have been. Looking back, I can see, very clearly now, that, for the most part, these choices were made at times when I was operating within an environment where silo cultures and self-protection and selfish behaviours seemed necessary just to survive. I can also see that maybe one or two of the people that I have worked for in the past may have made decisions that impacted upon me, at times when similar, or greater, pressures have been placed upon them.

It is any coincidence that the closest connections that we make in our working lives, and the roles and times that we look back on with pleasure and pride, were the ones when we were working in an environment where we felt safe, supported, successful, valued and empowered? And is it really any surprise that the people and memories that we are less keen to re-connect with, are the ones that we associate with times, bosses and organisational cultures that, looking back, were fuelled by self interest, blame cultures, criticism and fear?

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Bill Gates