Continuing with the theme of developing a high performance culture, another prerequisite to doing so is effective leadership.
This need has clearly been recognized in the marketplace as, according to data shared by Northeastern University, 58% of U.S. companies say their number one strategic priority is closing their current leadership skill gaps. The study also indicated that many more plan to increase their total spending on leadership development initiatives in the next few years— “now treating professional development as an important component of their business strategy.”
Leadership provides the energy for change and the commitment to sustain it. Today’s leaders must continually work to hone and refine a range of skills if they are to engage and lead a cultural shift.
These skills include:
Communication and active listening
Method of sharing optimism, energy and enthusiasm
In addition, creating and working with a select work group is an ideal way to exercise, analyze and improve these leadership skills.
Finally, it’s important to note that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be in a C-level role to be considered a leader. Strong leaders exist—and are highly valued—at every level of business to inspire, engage, and influence their colleagues and stakeholders.
A past post summarized the importance of trust and trustworthiness within our organization and within our leaders.
A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Begin With Trust” reinforces this concept, and also suggests that building trust requires thinking about leadership from a new perspective.
“The traditional leadership narrative is all about you: your vision and strategy; your ability to make the tough calls and rally the troops,” the article states. “But leadership really isn’t about you. It’s about empowering other people as a result of your presence, and about making sure that the impact of your leadership continues into your absence.”
Unfortunately, as illustrated in the article’s real world example, people are too often put in leadership roles without having had the proper training or mentorship to be effective. This perspective aligns with our observations and experience over many years of helping people at all levels develop leadership skills and applying those skills to bring about change and continuous improvement; and certainly, many have struggled to build or inspire trust.
The Trust Triangle One way to better understand how to become more trustworthy is to understand the three key drivers of trust. Thus, the “trust triangle” illustrated below.
“People tend to trust you when they believe they are interacting with the real you (authenticity), when they have faith in your judgment and competence (logic), and when they feel that you care about them (empathy). When trust is lost, it can almost always be traced back to a breakdown in one of these three drivers.”
Just as the first step in improvement is to identify waste or opportunities, to build trust as a leader you first need to figure out which driver you need to improve and take corrective action.
Our previous post referenced recent research indicating that the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. has risen this past year, and that the primary reason for this increase is that organizations have made positive changes in how they develop their employees.
Carrying that thought a bit further, leaders at all levels within an organization must also be developed in order to bring about sustainable change and improvement. We have always known that it is a person’s immediate supervisor that has the greatest impact on their work experience and engagement level, so it stands to reason that these leaders must be trained and developed so that they can be effective.
To develop strong leaders, we have found the following five steps are critically important:
Training is an ongoing step. Leaders at all levels must understand leadership styles and how to diagnose the circumstances requiring leadership so they can apply the most effective style. Related skills and behaviors also include communication and listening, motivation, delegation, recognition and empowerment.
360° feedback from peers, staff members and upper management is a popular and insightful component of leadership development.
Coaching in a team environment is an ideal place in which to exercise and improve peoples’ leadership skills, self awareness and ability to build upon strengths.
Individual mentoring can help people analyze personal effectiveness and refine their approach based on actual performance and achievement. Mentors should observe leaders’ performance and conduct personal debriefing sessions. This cycle continues until desired skills and performance levels have have been achieved.
Accountability. All leaders are held accountable for their personal development as well as for developing others.
Developing effective leaders within an organization is an important step toward achieving sustainability, workforce engagement, and a culture of continuous improvement.
Many define leadership as getting people to want to do what needs to be done, and providing the energy and mindset for change and the commitment to sustain it.
To develop leaders who are capable of implementing a strong style, and who can provide a straightforward path for bringing about change and continuous improvement, we’ve found the following three steps are necessary:
Training — including an understanding of leadership styles and how to diagnose the circumstances requiring leadership so the most effective style can be applied. Important skills and behaviors, include:
Communication and listening
Optimism, energy and enthusiasm
360° feedback from peers, staff members and management is a popular and insightful component of the journey toward becoming an effective leader. With heightened awareness comes improvement.
Coaching in a team environment. A project team or natural work group is the ideal place in which to exercise and improve leadership skills. Senior leaders must coach and mentor new leaders so they can build upon strengths and measure progress.
Several past posts have referenced the fact that strong, effective leadership is a “must” if we hope to build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement… a culture rife with innovation and high-levels of engagement.
Innovation, change, continuous improvement, and engagement only take place when leaders empower people at all levels to unleash their creative skills, seek new and better ways of improving their work, and share their passion about what can be accomplished.
Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change, and people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, if they believe change will benefit “all” parties, and if they are involved in creating the change.
In a recent SmartBriefarticle, John Stoker, Author and CEO of DialogueWORKS, Inc., shares several pitfalls that can result leaders undermining their credibility and effectiveness.
These “behaviors to avoid” include:
“You can tell me anything, but…!” This statement is made (without the “but”) to solicit input or feedback on a particular idea or course of action. But, sometimes leaders will completely discount the idea or opinion offered, especially if it’s something with which they don’t immediately agree.
Coercing support. Sometimes in an attempt to win approval for an idea or decision, leaders will say something like, “I need you to support my position today in the meeting. You have to back me up!” Often there’s an implied, “Or else.” Such behavior destroys candor, honesty and team morale.
Solicitation without action. Simply stated, solicitation implies action. When a leader asks for ideas or solutions, it is implied that the leader will do something with the ideas or solutions that are provided. This doesn’t mean that a leader has to implement or take action on every idea that is offered, but it does require that the leader share what they might do and why. This reinforces the importance of contribution and collaboration. To solicit ideas or solutions and then do nothing signals to individuals that their ideas are not important. Do this, and it won’t be long before people quit speaking up or offering ideas.
Manipulation. Sometimes a leader will ask people for ideas and then use them as evidence that the leader’s original idea was the best idea. This ends up feeling like manipulation. If leaders ask for ideas, then they should be open to exploring those ideas.
Giving feedback at the wrong time and in the wrong place. The proper place to give any kind of negative feedback is in private! Some leaders feel it is appropriate to give negative or critical feedback to a person on the spot and in front of others. Some of these managers have said that they like giving feedback in this way because it is motivating to others. But in reality, such behavior strikes fear into the heart of any conscious team member who learns to dread interactions with these managers or leaders. Sharing negative or critical feedback in front of others is highly disrespectful and does not inspire candor or openness. In fact, it will likely cause people to keep bad news to themselves and hide their mistakes.