Five Key Leadership Behaviors for a New Kind of Leader
The relationship between leaders and the people they lead is in desperate need of a reboot.
According to a ground-breaking global research survey conducted by The Adecco Group, senior business leaders are profoundly disconnected from their employees on most major workplace issues, including career development, mental health and wellness and plans for a full or partial return to the office. The gap is as wide as it is troubling.
The results certainly suggest leaders need to move quickly to repair these relationships and, at the same time, re-evaluate their skills and look for new and updated approaches to leading people.
However, these are complex relationships and fixing them will take a deliberate and focused effort on the part of leaders.
Leaders and their organizations need to be deliberate and purposeful in changing leadership skills and mindsets, adopting best practices to bring leaders closer to their employees.
Where to start? At LHH, we’ve always focused on helping leaders develop different approaches, embrace transformational competencies and exhibit new behaviours that allow them to be more empathetic, compassionate and resilient.
1/ Ask, don’t always tell. One of the most effective things a leader can do to repair relationships and bridge disconnects is to adopt a coaching mindset. Professional coaches do not preach solutions or prescribe specific measures. The emphasis in this relationship is on asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers. Even if those answers reveal some unflattering aspects of the leader-employee relationship. This is a technique that encourages dialogue, draws out a full picture of how the employee sees the leader and the organization, and eventually leads to other, more meaningful conversations. It is, in almost every way, the essential foundation for the leader-employee relationship.
2/ Create true partnerships. Once the lines of communication have been opened through the adoption of a coaching mindset, you’re ready to create mutually beneficial relationships. These relationships are the vehicles through which leaders can identify synergies and learning opportunities across their teams. When the team suffers a setback, good leaders will emphasize the idea failing is actually a “First Attempt in Learning.” In a true partnership, where everyone shares successes and failures, you need a relationship where you can bypass recrimination and proceed directly to solutions – when we do this the next time, how will we do things differently? A true partnership involves a constant, relentless culture of learning that promotes innovation, agility and – ultimately – better outcomes.
3/ Emphasize empathy and self-awareness in your leadership culture. It’s no secret that the best leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ). The leadership development industry has been trying for years to promote the values and benefits of EQ. And while there has been some success, far too many leaders are too focused on themselves, and lack the basic empathy to inspire the people they lead. Successful leaders know their own limitations, are honest about them with the people they lead, and seek in-the-moment feedback from their teams to keep everyone on the same emotional plain. EQ will come naturally to some leaders. For most of the rest of us, it is hard work that requires organizational support and investment. It’s only by putting in the time and effort to be a better, more emotionally intelligent and cognizant person, that we can go on to be better leaders.
4/ Ask better questions. Leaders need to know that what they ask their employees, and how they ask, has a huge impact on engagement and workplace wellness. There’s a big difference between “why didn’t you get that done?” and “Can we figure out how we all missed that deadline?” Both questions are designed to address an important business issue; only the latter question will get you to the heart of exactly what happened. If you ask questions that are designed to provoke defensiveness or even contempt, then you will never figure out where your team came up short. Remember, as we noted above, you’re in a partnership with your team, and that means asking employees to tell you how they are doing, how are they coping with things like the pandemic, and how they are getting along with co-workers. Use your questions to show them that you share responsibility for setbacks, and are more interested in solutions than blame.
5/ Make time for meaningful career conversations. One of the biggest jobs for any leaders is helping employees grow and develop their careers. And make no mistake about it – your employees want you to be interested in their careers. Surveys of working people all over the world show they really want to work in a company that is interested in helping them do bigger, better things in their careers. This really requires leaders to set aside time to have focused, meaningful conversations about how their current work is going, and the kind of work they may want to do in the future. Ask questions around what activities they find motivating in their current role. When you demonstrate an interest, employees may be more willing to take on a stretch assignment, to seek opportunities to learn new skills to fill a future role. Failure to have these meaningful conversations can only end one way: with top talent leaving to join an organization that cares about their career journey.
None of the points above are, on their own, a magic bullet to bridge the broad and widening gulf that exists between leaders and the people they lead. Together, however, they can be a potent and inspiring strategy that can lead to a more engaged and productive workforce.
Read the full report, "Disconnected Leaders: Bridging the Growing Chasm Between Leaders and Their People."