— September 16, 2018
High performing organisations need high performing leaders. This, surely, is a prerequisite for success in any size business. But great leaders aren’t just born; they need to be trained and developed. So, how can you take your leaders to the next level? Well, there are five key areas to focus on…
In case you’re wondering how strong the business need is for investing in leadership development, consider that best-in-class companies have, on average, three times the profit margin and 23% lower staff turnover compared with others. See, they aren’t just a little better; they’re streets ahead.
High emotional intelligence and, in particular, self-awareness is an invaluable attribute for leaders. Not only does this have a huge bearing on their own behaviour and performance but also on their ability to lead, engage and nurture others too. So, how can you help leaders to become more emotionally switched on and self-aware?
Well, being self-aware is about knowing one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drivers, values, and goals. Leaders must be honest with themselves; they need to recognise the impact of their actions on people around them and be able to trust ‘gut feelings’ to guide decision-making.
Encourage your leaders to think about their own behaviour. Ask them, “How would others describe you when ‘at your best’?” And consider what marks out ‘optimum you’ – how do you think, feel or act differently? You can, of course, also consider diagnostic tools – 360-degree feedback is ideal for this – to deepen leaders’ self-awareness and help them understand how they are perceived by others.
Be an effective relationship manager
A big part of being a leader is managing relationships and team members with different drivers, strengths, and personalities. To do this well, leaders must possess empathy and be able to recognise and appreciate others’ emotions. This is a crucial leadership skill as leaders must, by definition, work through others to get things done.
While empathy is a very human trait, there are common barriers that prevent leaders from always showing it in the workplace. This includes potential embarrassment, a lack of time and not knowing how to start or have a conversation.
Train leaders to become active listeners and to read emotions. Being an active listener means listening to the whole message – verbal, non-verbal and tone – and suspending judgment. And, by learning to do this and being able to read and recognise emotions in others by their body language and facial expressions, leaders are better placed to then work out how they can influence positive emotions in others and to manage conflict.
For all the undoubted advancement and progression of the modern workplace, it has come at a price. That’s because of the relentless pace of change, the disruption brought on by digitisation and the ‘always on’ culture have ramped up the pressure, not least for leaders.
Now, research proves that some pressure can be beneficial in energising and focusing us, even making us more productive. The key for leaders is to recognise what is their tipping point and being able to manage themselves and their work to remain in a happy and healthy place. That’s where resilience comes in.
Resilient leaders can step back from a challenging situation, acknowledge and accept its negative aspects while finding opportunity in adversity. This gaining of perspective allows resilient leaders to focus on those things they can change while accepting anything they cannot.
You can train this in leaders by helping them to pinpoint for themselves a clear sense of what their purpose is in work and, ideally, linking this back to their personal values or ‘moral compass.’ In doing so, they identify the strengths, which help keep them grounded amid change and uncertainty and are vital to building resilience at work.
Be authentic, always
A spike of research into authentic leadership over the last decade reflects growing interest in the concept. If you aren’t familiar with it, being an authentic leader means demonstrating transparency, openness, and humility. It means taking full accountability and accepting responsibility for mistakes. It means leading from within and by example demonstrating honesty and integrity in every action and decision. It is about striving to always do the right thing while balancing the needs and demands of the organisation and other team members. As one might expect, this approach can have a demonstrable impact on employee engagement.
Again, authenticity is certainly something that can be developed in leaders. It relates to the need to raise leaders’ self-awareness and to help them establish and be clear on their values. Consider use of an appropriate psychometric tool for the former and a leadership coach for the latter.
While there’s been a notable shift towards better enabling self-led employee development, this does not absolve leaders of responsibility in this respect. Providing opportunities for learning and development is a really common driver of engagement – and a reason employees leave jobs, where it doesn’t match their expectations. Moreover, it should be viewed as a shared responsibility between leader and employee; one that involves push and pull. There is, after all, a mutual interest and benefit in employee development.
You can help leaders to understand their role in employee development by breaking it down into three stages:
Define – Identify development needs, which should come through regular dialogue, giving feedback and stretching assignments
Determine – Set goals and objectives, involving the employee in a collaborative process
Develop – Monitor and evaluate progress, offer encouragement and recognise achievements.