It’s hard to identify why but there are currently major gaps in leadership, in Australia at least.
Actually, it’s not that difficult to understand really. The things we want from work are not that different to what we are looking for from life in general. The difficulty is not in the knowing, it is in the application and doing. It seems that employees in the modern workplace are screaming for a certain style and capability of leadership, but current cultures are challenged in delivering it.
The current state of leadership is not what is wanted nor required.
This is hard to write and I am sure is difficult to read for some. We wish it wasn’t the case however, no matter who I speak to either on a personal level or within my professional contacts, there is great frustration and disappointment with the current provision of leadership in business. In fact, there is considerable angst about leadership being portrayed in most areas including government at all levels. Statements and feelings referring to disengagement; indifference; self-interest; ego; fear; incompetence; and no time to focus on people are common issues, amongst others.
In a strange way I feel that this is the most important blog I have ever written. It encapsulates so much of what is missing, yet is most important and required to rectify the existing glut of good, effective leadership and relationships that impact business and personal success.
Last week during a dinner meeting with my two Connect Alliance business partners, many of these points were reinforced within various different contexts. Our conversation also highlighted an oddity that continues to be evident – the high levels of consistency in the need for change, themes and discussions, no matter the person, industry or organisation. I have been speaking about similar themes and topics with various people. Different discussions, different people, same inputs and outcomes! It is in moments such as these that I reflect on what matters most to my clients and customers.
The key leadership challenges across industries are remarkably consistent.
Although referencing a survey incorporating employees from the U.S. a recent HBR Interact/Harris poll highlighted some of the existing challenges related to communication and leadership. None of these work in isolation or silos, with one or more issues/traits influencing at least one other. In their entirety they create a powerful ‘check-list’ of skills and potential actions that can make any of us more effective in communicating and ultimately becoming a more informed and influential leader.
Employees called out the kind of management offenses that point to a striking lack of emotional intelligence among business leaders, including micromanaging, bullying, narcissism, indecisiveness, and more. In rank order, the following were the top communication issues people said were preventing business leaders from being effective (1):
I am currently working with 9 organisations in various capacities. Within these existing organisations and the dozens I have been engaged by in recent years, a very defined and clear message is being delivered – the discrepancy between what is wanted and what is being provided by leaders remains too substantial – and it is widening. Although a leaders ability and willingness to communicate with their team members is key, it is not the only aspect of effective leadership. Failure to understand self and others is a key contributor amongst other relevant points.
Why is this the case? In some cases it is intentional and conscious, political and full of self-interest. In some others it relates to self-awareness, honesty or people not knowing what they stand for and what drives them.
For some it is an unconscious set of decisions and influences built up over time and from previous experience and role-models. Whatever the input or cause, there is a need for change. The skills and attributes below are attainable…they matter…and are important if we want to turn this around. As highlighted in one of the points below, to develop in this space is a choice – yours, not someone elses. There are many traits and attributes but the first step is…
1. Self awareness and knowing who you are…acceptance of self: this could be the single most important attribute of leadership. It is certainly a great place to start and incorporates emotional intelligence and honesty. When coaching leaders, self-awareness and the development of comfort in seeing things as they are, not as we would like to see them is the first, big barrier to overcome in almost every case. For some it takes longer than others and over time, if a coachee is not prepared to go down this path, then I will refuse to work with them. As an employee you often don’t have the same luxury however through developing greater awareness of yourself; comfort, clarity and self-esteem builds and you are more likely and capable to manage the barriers as they arise.
2. Connections and relationships: you cannot be an effective leader who people look up to if you don’t take the time to build relationships. This must take into account the needs of each of your team members, however some people are more interested and engaged in this space than others, so tailoring your style and communication based on individual needs adds power and opportunity.
3. Passion: caring about what you do and who you are. Similar to one of my earlier points, if you are not passionate about leadership or your role it is time to review your direction. People feel the benefit or the lack of passion every day. Here are the five indicators that a leader has true passion:
- Commit honestly – Passionate leaders genuinely believe in what they espouse. People are touched and engaged by the genuineness of their passion.
- Make a clear case without being dogmatic – They convey the power of their belief without dismissing or belittling others’ points of view.
- Invite real dialogue about their passion – Their passion is balanced with openness: they want to hear and integrate others’ points of view.
- Act in support of their passion – They walk their talk: their day-to-day behaviors support their beliefs.
- Stay committed despite adversity and setbacks – Their commitment isn’t flimsy; when difficulties arise, they hold to their principles and find a way forward. (2)
4. Be a giver, not a taker: altruism in its pure sense has merit. More specifically in leadership this relates to the caring theme in that those who are most successful are those who see their role as one of providing and giving, not removing or taking. Put another way, you exist as a leader because of your team, not the other way around! This remains one of the biggest negative influences on successful leadership and how others see you.
5. Managing outputs: an anomaly in thinking that is being practiced by many leaders during coaching, feedback and discussions with employees. If the goal, target or KPI is 80 and someone is consistently at 70, help them to find the gap. A direct or indirect challenge without support is unreasonable and unfair, but is quite common. Providing feedback only or highlighting the differential is not enough and demonstrates poor leadership. It also does very little to develop trust and engagement with your employees. Managing outputs or numbers has little value. Understand and influence the inputs and you will see improved results whilst bringing everyone along during the process – a true win-win. Your role as a leader is to:
- understand what is required
- why it exists
- seek understanding and views regarding what the person/people can do to close the gap
- understand what is required from you to assist
- follow up and follow-through.
6. Care: leaders can only build true connections and relationships if they have a genuine interest in others and care about them. There is no trick to this – if you are a leader and you don’t care about your team, change it or change jobs because the angst and challenge this creates will always work against you.
7. Trust: is the willingness to believe that someone is honest and means no harm. Not an easy concept in business until the right has been earned, both ways. Trust should not be given to another lightly but once it has been earned can create a platform for honest, frank, challenging and beneficial relationships.
8. Self-esteem: to value self and to be self-accepting is a challenge for many. How you view yourself will determine the course of your life, the choices you make and those you avoid. I previously read somewhere that when taking into account self-esteem, you will never rise above the image you have of yourself in your mind. In reality, this is very true.
9. Values: my journey has led me down many paths, yet values remain a constant. They drive much of who we are, our decisions and motivations. The alignment of values between an individual, their immediate leader and the employer/organisation is very important for sustained engagement and relationships. Values are not understood as well as they should be and have a massive impact on why employees are feeling how they are. Learn more about your own values and then take the time to understand those of your team and friends.
10. Integrity: how many poor examples exist of this? Privately and in the media we hear and see many situations that have, at least in part, been driven by a lack of integrity from senior leaders and CEO’s in many organisations. This lack of integrity is not the sole remit of senior leaders however, with many employees feeling the pain of this at all levels of leadership.
11. Empathy: The ability to see situations and things from someone elses perspective is a real gift. It may not mean that you relate to even agree with their position, but by positioning your view based on another perspective can be enlightening and a brilliant contributor to relationships and building connections.
12. Choice: has so many implications in our personal and professional lives. It impacts and relates to time management, prioritisation, goals and much more. It is also something that many of us struggle to take ownership of. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the absence of either making a choice at all or making the wrong choices is have a negative impact on leadership in principle and practice. As with several other traits listed, choice has strong alignment to accountability and ownership, which are their own topics altogether.
13. Ego: is what I consider to be one of the major negative influences on self-awareness, growth and genuine leadership. We see this in our politicians and the decisions that leaders make across industry. Sometimes even when it is known and proven to be a wrong decision, ego and its relationship to integrity and fear continue to drive the momentum of a wrong choice. As leaders, it is most often about others. Ego always makes it about the individual.
It is not just entry level and more junior employees who feel this pain. A report recently referenced on the InsideHR website notes that the issue is as apparent within leadership ranks also.
There are worryingly low engagement levels of Australia’s workers across different industries…which found that those earning between $70,000 to $150,000 are the least engaged in their work, suggesting that middle management as a collective are disengaged.
“Middle income earners are less engaged than any other type of employee,” said Andrew Marty, managing director of organisational consulting firm SACS Consulting, which conducted the Disengaged Nation study. “Middle managers have less autonomy in their decision making and more disenchantment with their work than either lower paid workers at the coalface or higher paid executives leading organisations,” he said. “This middle manager lag is no doubt dragging organisational productivity down.” (3)
There will be a tipping point in leadership competence, capability and style in coming years, increasing the requirement for strength in communication skills and developing relationships. They are not ‘soft-skills’ that are negotiable. Ignoring the needs of others and the evidence of what people are looking for has a limited lifespan. The need for a broader demonstration of genuine, authentic and giving styles of leadership is coming.
They already exist in some areas and organisations, however clearly there is room for improvement. The data and feedback overwhelmingly reminds us that we are some way from providing leadership that resonates with the majority. It starts with each one of us. Being comfortable enough to acknowledge what is working well and what could be improved is a fine start. Doing something with this information matters more.
I am interested in your thoughts. What are your current experiences with leadership? What have you done to resolve these challenges?