In this article for International Institute of Directors and Managers, Michelle explains why leaders need to own the way they lead their team.
From Facebook’s privacy breaches, the Theranos scandal, Uber’s initial failure to deal with sexual harassment, Equifax’s data breaches, Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, the examples exposed at last year’s Australian Banking Royal Commission there are many examples of leadership failures.
In contrast, as the world confronts a global pandemic and leadership is being tested like it never has before we are seeing leaders who are rising to the occasion. But this is still the exception, rather than the norm. Given the thousands of leadership books, a plethora of leadership frameworks and extensive research, why are there still barriers to leaders leading well?
Change starts with you
It’s easy for leaders to get stuck in their ways and to see the traits that secured their leadership role, as the competencies and capability that will carry them forward.
However, in a continually changing world success requires leaders to embrace the notion that successful organisational growth and transformation, requires not just change for those around them, but personal change for themselves.
Harvard academics, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who have studied why many crucial change efforts fail, found that one of the core problems is the gap between what is required and a leader’s level of development. They write: “…it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat)…”
Recognise the challenge
With too much vying for their attention and a focus on short-term targets, it’s often easier for leaders to make expedient decisions. At the same time, organisational complexity and size often result in leaders being too far removed from what’s happening on the front line.
In this way, they lead remotely – from a comfortable office and via emails, SMS or social media – and remaining one step removed from the impact of their decisions.
The best leaders own their leadership. Accepting that leadership is contextual – and what’s needed changes – they are always ready to adapt, evolve and grow their leadership.
They are willing to get amongst it and to understand what it is like to work on the front-line serving customers or working on the shop-floor. They are eager to experience the challenges that staff confront so they are better informed and therefore, able to make wiser decisions.
Leading from the front can’t be done from the comfort of the corner office (or even the open-plan desk). It involves rolling your sleeves up and getting engaged with employees at all levels of the organisation, so you understand the challenges and opportunities they face.
By doing this, leaders lead the change they are seeking to make. They are the first to immerse themselves in new ways of working. As well, they don’t apply one rule for themselves (and their favoured team members or colleagues) and a different standard for others.
Leaders who take full ownership recognise that leadership is personal, and that it’s often the little things, consistently applied that make the most significant difference.
Everyone wants to feel they matter and to be acknowledged. Every day, there are many small steps leaders can take to build connection and deepen engagement.
It can be as simple as taking an interest in team members – at a personal level and by finding out what matters to them. On occasions, rather than sending an email, make the request or response in person; remembering, there are times when it is a faster way to action a piece of work. Pick up the phone and say ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to team members for their contribution. This little bit of effort demonstrates you have noticed what they do and that their efforts matter.
As well, don’t cancel one-on-one meetings. There will be occasions when you may need to change a meeting with a direct report, but when you do this regularly, the team member feels under-valued, and it can add to their stress levels. These actions demonstrate that you respect, value and appreciate your team. All of this is crucial because leaders don’t achieve success alone.
As the legendary basketball player, Michael Jordan, once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”