In my previous piece, I looked at an underlying theme found among the numerous issues leaders in every industry face today and what this tells us about how we can be more successful in bringing out the best in those we lead.
The enthusiastic reaction to the ideas I shared in that article got me thinking about the other piece of this puzzle. Namely, that in addition to our responsibility to protect those we lead to do the work they’re meant to do, we also need to have a keen self-awareness regarding how much truth there is in our leadership.
In other words, how much of our focus is on what our employees require from us to be successful in their efforts, as opposed to those things that demand on our attention, often because they impact us directly?
One can appreciate the importance of this question by looking at the failures of leaders like former BP CEO Tony Hayward, who during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill voiced his frustration with all the media attention on this environmental disaster by saying how he just ‘wanted to get his life back’.
Or when Chip Wilson, founder of athletics apparel company Lululemon, responded to complaints that his company’s yoga pants appeared see-through on some women by putting the blame on a segment of his customer base, arguing that his product wasn’t meant for women with certain body types.
In these and every other example of failed leadership that’s happened over the past decade, what we find glaringly absent is a lack of truth about their leadership. And by this, I’m not just referring to whether they were being honest regarding the problems their organization had to publicly grapple with.
Rather, what this lack of truth in their leadership pertains to is how their focus was more on themselves, on protecting their leadership status and financial security with little regard or concern about what others had to endure because of these issues.
While most of us will never have to deal with public scrutiny of our leadership due to the failures that will inevitably happen under our watch, these examples of failed leadership moments should get us to ask ourselves how often do we downplay the realities those around us face?
How often do we take the path of least resistance in our leadership by focusing more on the things we want to get done than on what our employees require from us to be successful in their efforts? How much confidence do we encourage in our employees that we will do right by them, as opposed to focusing on measures that serve our own professional or personal interests?
By recognizing our responsibility to protect those we lead to do the work they’re meant to do, we also have to recognize the truth of our leadership, of whether we are in fact making efforts to ensure our focus is on helping those we lead to feel a sense of value, purpose and meaning in the contributions they make.
In being truthful about the nature of how we lead – of how much we really show up to listen, engage, and learn from those around us – we’re able to foster a greater level of trust in our leadership. That we are in fact driven to put into place measures that serve the collective benefit of everyone we lead and not just ourselves.
After all, trust in our leadership is built upon the expectations we have for ourselves and for those we lead [Share on Twitter]; that we’re encouraging those under our care to bring their best selves to what they do because they see us doing very same thing each and every day.
In so many ways, leadership today is less about having all the answers and more about serving as a guiding example [Share on Twitter] to inform your employees about how they can create the greatest value through their contributions, both for the organization and for themselves.
Indeed, studies have shown that the greatest impact we have on our employees is not through our actions and words, but through the emotional connections we build and nurture with those under our care. That our employees feel that sense of connectedness and belonging both to the people around them and to the work they do because they see that underlying truth in our leadership that it’s not about us, but about how we can help them to collectively succeed.
Your employees need to see that you care about them as much as you care about your goals [Share on Twitter]. They need to see that you’re paying attention to them, that you’re tapping into your innate sense of curiosity to not only better understand their reality, but to learn more about what they care about. That you want to discover what gets them excited about the future and what they want to help create or be a part of.
That’s why we need to ensure that the underlying truth of our leadership is that we’re driven not by our own personal needs and interests, but in how we can better connect what matters to our employees with what matters to our organization – that we have that genuine desire to show them that they are important and that what they do matters.
Successful leaders understand that people flourish when they are given autonomy over what they do [Share on Twitter]. They understand the importance of communicating trust not only in the current capabilities of each of their employees, but in their potential to be more than they are today.
These leaders understand that while modern technological advances might change the way we connect, work, and share ideas, it doesn’t change what matters to us – what’s in our hearts and what makes us feel like we’re making a difference with our lives.
Indeed, if there’s one thing the social focus of today’s technological advancements has shown us it’s that we all want to be engaged in what we do. We want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, and we want to be empowered because we feel good about what we do and that we matter to those around us.
That’s why it’s important that we create an environment where our employees are excited about the work they do because they know the work will challenge them. It will push their perceptions of what they think they’re capable of, and it will fulfill that innate drive we all have to know we’re doing meaningful work.
The truth about our leadership is that it should be invitation for others to do their best work [Share on Twitter]. That we create those conditions where our employees will be involved in something that’s bigger than themselves and that they’ll be able to achieve something that makes a difference. And that means that we need to have the drive to not only push our employees to dream bigger, but to make our vision more inclusive to a diversity of thoughts, experiences, and viewpoints.
Again, no one gets excited about the opportunity to do mediocre work, or to work under someone who fails to inspire them to believe in their potential to do better, to be better than they are today. Regardless of which generation they belong to, your employees will not dedicate their talents, creativity, and experiences to your collective vision if they see your current focus is more on protecting the status quo than on helping them to evolve and grow.
You can’t get people on board in fully committing themselves to your organization’s shared purpose if they don’t have feel heard and understood, and at times having the opportunity to make their own choices. Showing that kind of goodwill and concern for the needs of others is what’s critical to our ability to rally others to believe in our leadership and the vision we hope to bring to fruition.
That’s why we must show that willingness to question and challenge everything, while never losing sight of the shared purpose that defines why we do what we do.
Although we might intuitively understand the need to protect our team to do the work they’re meant to do, we also need to show that courage to recognize and acknowledge what’s the truth about our leadership, of whether we are in fact being the kind of leader our employees need us to be.
In light of today’s faster-paced global environment, we need to recognize that the truth of succeeding at leadership is the commitment to aspire to be more than we are today [Share on Twitter], and to keep learning how we can continue to do right by those we have taken on the responsibility to lead.
By honouring that truth, we can create that kind of workplace environment to not only drive our collective success, but to ensure that we are in fact bringing out the best in those we lead.
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