Why becoming a great leader is a journey not a destination

One of my favourite leadership thinkers at the minute is Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why and Leaders East Last both of which you should read if you haven’t done so already.

The other week, I saw a link on Twitter to one of his videos which I watched and was reminded that ‘the best leaders don’t consider themselves to be experts; leadership is a skill which can be learned’.

This resonated with me because it is exactly the reason I am taking part in an initiative called ‘Leadership Pods’, a development programme developed by Dafydd Thomas at Circularis for people who want to be great leaders.

Being part of this encourages me to consider how I can further develop my leadership practice and allows me space to reflect on where I am now and where I would like to be in the future.  The programme also allows participants to share and learn from others who may have similar challenges or experiences.

As Sinek sets out, it is important as a leader to keep learning and commit to continuous improvement throughout your leadership journey.  It’s about supporting people and making a difference so why wouldn’t you want to work towards perfecting your craft which of course we all know does not have a final destination.

It’s like the best athlete working on their discipline; they can break new ground and set world records for their sport but there are always others who are watching them, learning from them and will ultimately take their place and set their own records.

Sinek goes so far as to say in his video: ‘any leader that considers themselves an expert… don’t trust them…. run in the other direction’.  You should definitely be suspicious of a leader who is convinced that they are always right and can’t see a reason to listen to the views or ideas of others.

In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Sinek promotes the importance within good leadership of prioritising the needs of others sometimes even putting these needs ahead of their own.  My approach certainly is to focus on supporting those in my teams, ensuring I take steps to understand their needs and considering how I can adapt my style to get the best out of them.

For example, I consider who they are and how they like to be managed.  Some people, particularly millennials, want to have autonomy; they want to be clear about what is expected of them and be given the freedom to do their best work which might involve trying out new ideas or generating new opportunities.  They expect to be able to get fully involved and don’t want to be told what to do.

Generation X and the baby boomers might prefer more specific management and direction  with greater clarity around what is expected of them and could even look for detailed instruction.  Of course people don’t always fit nicely into a box and so the only way you can understand what they need is to ask them.  I try to ask my direct reports on a regular basis if they are happy with the way they are being managed, recognising that my preferred style doesn’t work for everyone.  In circumstances where my approach is causing problems for them, I do my best to change it because ultimately, I want them to perform as well as they can and I don’t want to be the person that holds them back.

Understanding their long terms goals is also valuable because I recognise that they might not spend their whole career with one organisation and instead may wish to develop and move on to other opportunities.  In taking time to discuss this, I can ensure they are developing the necessary skills and experience to get them where they need to go.  Even if they do want to stay with us, I want that to be because they feel like they are able to develop and are invested in, whether that’s through funding for formal training or time to develop their specific interests or skills.

It’s important to recognise that they are a good measure of my own performance as a leader and I might ask them how they enjoy working with me and listen carefully to their feedback.  Also important is to recognise that they can be giving feedback through their silence or avoidance so I try to make a special effort to notice what they are not saying through body language or passing comments.

Sinek says: “We call them leader not because they are in charge but because they are willing to run head first into the unknown or dangerous.”

It’s not about status or rank, leadership is a skills that needs to be developed and perfected over time.  If you aspire to be a great leader then you might want to sign up for a Leadership Pod yourself and find out how you can unleash the power not only within yourself but in those you work with across your organisation.

Like a parent, you are not an expert parent but you keep practicing and practicing and hopefully, you’ll get it right someday.” (Simon Sinek)

 

Do you consider yourself to be a great leader? Have any thoughts or tips to share? Let us know what you think by posting in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org

 

 

 

How to create an environment where your staff to lie to you (or how to make sure you don’t)

I’m going to let you into a secret… most employees want to work hard and do well.  I don’t think there are many in the workplace who would lie to you for malicious reasons.  However, the best employees might lie to you if they think this is the best course of action.

How can that be? I hear you ask.

Imagine this…

You have done an excellent job of hiring talented and highly-skilled people.  Across your organisation, there are people who bring a wide range of expertise and are committed to using this for the good of the business.  And yet you find out that they are keeping things from you or feeling the need to ‘spin’ the truth.  Your first reaction might be to think that they are stupid and incompetent.  Or you might think that they are being insolent; deliberately lying to because they think they know better than you do.  But how dare they, right?  I mean, you’re the boss for a reason and they should do what you say, yes?

The thing is, you might want to consider if there is something you have done to create an environment where, for good reasons, they think it’s better to lie to you than generate problems by telling you the truth.  The alternative to this could well be silence which is another clear indication that all is not well in the ranks.

Here are some instances where your actions might be encouraging your staff to hide the truth:

1)      When you make the job more difficult than it needs to be – they are getting on with something they know is valuable for the business and they have planned their time proportionately.  Then, you find out about it and decide it’s not the way you want it done even though your way will take a lot more time and resource that they and others should be spending on other things.  In an attempt to avoid that, they try to get the work done ‘under the radar’ because it’s easier than raising their head to get it blown off.
2)      When you take work off them because you think they have ideas above their station or think someone else could do it better – You find out a member of staff is working on something you think should be done by someone else so you tell them off an take it off them without asking any questions.  This is upsetting for them because they have worked hard on something they were interested in or felt they were good at.  If they felt that you would be encouraging and supportive, they probably would have been glad to involve you in the first place.
3)      When you dismiss something they are confident is a good idea – let’s say you have someone who has experience of delivering  certain type of activity and is confident that it’s a good idea and they can do it well.  It’s in line with organisational priorities but you want it doing a certain way, they think you are missing a trick but you won’t listen to them.  It’s understandable that they might try telling you just enough to get on with it the way they think is best.
4)      When you pull their work apart – they have identified a clear opportunity within the organisation’s objectives without any risk.  They would love to speak to you about it to ensure it’s how you want it to be and get your advice but they’ve shown you something before and you’ve ripped into it, giving criticism that is disproportionate and far from constructive.  Ultimately, you’ve knocked their confidence and destroyed their trust. They are not keen to come back for more so they keep it to themselves because they think it will allow them to get the job done more easily.
So hopefully, you’ve realised that if good people are keeping things from you, it’s worth reflecting on whether you have created an environment where they think that’s the best course of action.  In terms of what you can do about it, I’d advise that you start listening carefully and understanding how you can help rather than hinder.

My approach is always to think about how I can support my staff to do their best work.  I try to ensure clear direction from the beginning and offer pointers where I think they might help.  Questions are also a useful tool for helping them to think things through and hopefully bring them around to your way of doing things.  Ultimately, if you are critical, judgemental or heavy-handed, they won’t tell you what’s going on and I’d say understandably so.

 

3minuteleadership.org

 

 

 

 

Help people find their ‘flow’ and make every day feel like Friday

Have you seen the new Lucozade ad?  The energy drink brand has decided to shake its image as a hangover cure and look for a new audience amongst busy professionals.  The campaign, titled ‘find your flow’, features normal people in everyday situations performing beyond their best thanks to Lucozade.

“Flow. The unmistakeable feeling of unstoppable. Of no problem that can’t be solved. Of no-one else can do it better. That whatever the day throws at you, you simply take it in your stride because you’ve found your rhythm. You’re on top form.” (Lucozade 2015, Find your flow)

The ad company responsible, Grey London, have taken inspiration from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who created the concept of ‘flow’ after extensive research on the topic.  It’s the feeling of being completely ‘into’ what you are doing.  Of being wholly absorbed in a task or activity and of losing yourself in a moment.

Csikszentmihalyi describes ‘flow’ asbeing completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” 

That’s what I want to feel when I’m at work and what I want my team to feel also.  I’d like them to love what they do so much that they can immerse themselves in their tasks and spend most of their time ‘in the zone’.

Why should we aim to help individuals find their ‘flow’ in the workplace?

I’m really conscious that people spend a lot of time at work.  Over a lifetime, it’s around 90,000 hours if we work full-time from leaving school to retirement.  This is time that many people would rather spend doing something else such as sitting in the garden, playing with the children or walking the dog.

It’s an ambitious aim but I want the people in my teams to enjoy what they do almost as much so they are focused on delivering great things for the organisation rather than wishing they were somewhere else.  My view is that if I can help them find their ‘flow’ at work, I can help them to maximise their contribution to the organisation and enhance their overall life satisfaction.

How do we create an environment that supports individuals to find their flow’?

Based on 10 factors which are known to accompany the feeling of ‘flow’ here are 8 things that leaders should seek to provide in the workplace to allow employees to immerse themselves in their activities:

1)      Set clear goals that are challenging but achievable

2)      Allow people to concentrate on their goals and focus their attention

3)      Ensure their work is rewarding and ensure recognition of their efforts

4)      Create an environment where they feel secure and not self-conscious

5)      Give feedback

6)      Ensure tasks are achievable and suitable for the individual’s level of skill whilst providing a healthy challenge

7)      Allow ownership of a task or responsibility

8)      Minimise any distractions that will prevent the individual from focusing on the activity

 

Do you agree that helping people to find their ‘flow’ is an important goal?  Have you tried to create this kind of environment in your workplace?  Let us know your experiences by posting in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org

 

Photo credit: Pixabay

 

Leading a resilient nation for future generations

Last week, I attended an event led by Cardiff Business School which explored how procurement can be used as a tool to tackle poverty. With a background in equalities, I have been promoting this kind of approach for a while as a way to increase social value by ensuring public funds are used as a lever for change so it was exciting to have a whole day talking about how we might do that.

One of the main topics of discussion in Wales right now is the Well-being of Future Generations Act which came into force earlier this year. The Act legislates for sustainable development and sets out seven well-being goals that public bodies have to work towards.

During the day, we discussed the goal for A Resilient Wales and how we might achieve this nationally. The discussion was informed by a presentation on resilience in manufacturing and covered resilience in its broadest sense.  As we explored the challenges, it became obvious to me that there is a fundamental requirement for strong leadership which facilitates the development of resilience in organisations, communities and individuals.

Firstly, to achieve resilience, leaders have to mark it out as a priority. We can all continue delivering in a way that is unsustainable, providing services for the here and now without protecting our resources (human and financial) to continue into the future. Or, we can take a moment to think about what we’re doing and whether we are doing it in the best way, not just for now but for the long term. In order to make this happen, we need our leaders to take a stand and consider how we can stop doing more for less and instead focus on ensuring we can stand up to the pressures of reduced budgets and increased expectations to ensure we maintain economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being.

Once we have committed to achieving resilience, I would argue that the first step in reaching the goal, is building resilience amongst our people. Delivering national well-being requires energy and commitment from our officers in the public service. Richard Branson was in the news not long ago for saying that the customer comes second and staff come first. His rationale being that if you look after your employees, they will look after the customer. This kind of philosophy is one that I believe is in keeping with the objectives of well-being and sustainable development in Wales. If we are thinking about the long term and the impact on future generations, then surely what we need to do is consider the way we are working and address that for the long term so that the people who will deliver national well-being have the energy, passion and drive to do so.

 

3minuteleadership.org

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