What I Loved and Learned from Michael Lee Stallard’s Presentation at RPI’s Annual Conference

This low key, seemingly conservative, boy-faced middle aged guy starts off telling us a story about the rock band U2. Boo-yah! I was engaged. I love music, love U2 and who doesn’t love stories? Author, consultant and recent keynote speaker at the RPI’s Annual Conference , Michael Stallard told us what he’s learned about the band U2, including personal stories about the band members that helped unpack his recommendations on how to create better, more meaningful, lasting, successful, fulfilling relationships – both personal and inside organizations.

Michael reminded us of how for U2 music has greater meaning, and represents what is important to the band members. They have a shared purpose behind their music, using it to support causes dear to them, including the elimination of poverty. He shared how each musician knows the importance of their contribution to the band – evidenced by profits being equally shared by the band members and their long-time manager. He went on to share ways that they support one another. A poignant example comes from a time when Bono, the lead singer, received a legitimate death threat if he sang a particular song during a concert. Because of the band’s conviction and strength of purpose, they decided to sing the song anyway.  During the concert, as Bono sang, band members physically surrounded him, literally putting themselves in harm’s way to protect him. Finally, Michael shared how all the members must agree on direction and decisions the band makes. They are aligned, united… and grossly successful!

What does this have to do with recognition? These stories help reveal and support Michael’s call to develop what he has coined “Cultures of Connection” – the key message in his presentation as well as his book, Fired Up or Burned Out – How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity. Michael defined a Culture of Connection as one that combines task excellence AND relationship excellence, and shared how this kind of culture leads to more creativity, better problem solving, and sustainably better performance.

According to Michael, the formula and attributes of a Connection Culture include what he calls servant leaders who create the Vision, Value and Voice that foster committed, fulfilled employees. He describes these cultural elements further as follows:

  • Vision: When everyone is motivated by mission, united by the values and proud of the reputation. This is about inspiring identity.
  • Value: When everyone understands the needs of people, appreciates their positive, unique contributions and helps them achieve their potential. This is about developing human value.
  • Voice: When everyone in the organization seeks the ideas and opinions of others, shares ideas and opinions honestly and safeguards relational connections. This is about knowledge flow, trust, collaboration. Michael described how lack of voice in an organization creates a knowledge trap, which acts like cholesterol, building up until we have a heart attack!

As I see it (and after discussion, I am confident Michael agrees):

Aligned, effective recognition strategies and programs can support each of these critical aspects of a Connections Culture.

We further share the perspective that what people want from their jobs is much deeper than just a paycheck. People want relationships, connections, purpose, identity, to make a difference… to be rewarded and recognized and valued.

Michael shared with us additional ideas and action items for how to help create strong Cultures of Connection. Find out a bit more from him on these concepts in the video interview with him above, in his book or on his blog.

How are you creating connection in your workplace?


  • Fred B says:

    Great post, Michelle. There’s no denying that our Connections and the strength of these Connections will define our ability to reshape society, technology, and business.

    I’m going out to pick up Michael’s book today!

  • Thanks Fred. You won’t be dissapointed, great stories, framework and action items to help create a Connection Culture from Michael. And thanks for connecting us back to your blog, Michael!

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