If you are a people-centered leader, you’ve noticed some trends in the workplace that have you scratching your head (or, maybe, grasping for a Kleenex or a vodka).
I’m talking about the Brave New World of “Bossism.”
We are regaled daily in the press and on social media about the antics of Elon Musk, Jamie Dimon and others who are presently taking the opportunity to do what is in their hearts. Or, at least, where their hearts would have been.
Not long ago, I read an article in the New York Times that spelled out this trend called “Elon Musk, Management Guru?” Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned loyalty oath, eh?
Spectacle, yes. Hero, not so much.
However, Elon is not alone in this endeavor.
These behaviors and attitudes make most people-centered leaders cringe.
Let’s look at it all more closely (and what to do about it).
THE NEW “EXCUSE-ISM”
Senior executive “Bosses” are taking back command. Heaven help us.
Forbes Magazine featured an article not long ago, “CEOS Will be Clamping Down on Employees” that describes some of the near-glee that executives are exhibiting in demanding a full return-to-office, insisting on long, brutal hours once again, and stamping out the office Kombucha bar.
Don’t like it? It’s mostly a resounding “Too Bad, So Sad.”
The situations I’m describing embody what some bosses have been pining for since the employment tables tipped in the employees’ favor in recent years.
It’s all disguised under the excuse of “economic necessity because of over-(fill-in-the-blank) from the pandemic.” Perhaps a believable smokescreen for behavior they’ve had to hide away for some time?
But it’s just a cover. Because even with potential looming economic challenges, you can still treat your people well. If, that is, you actually want to and you even try.
I’m not saying it’s all companies and all leaders.
It’s highly visible at a bunch of big names out there. However, these examples “tickle down” to regional and local companies as well. Monkey see, monkey do.
BTW, I don’t expect to be invited to do any coaching work at Twitter anytime soon (but I can probably make referrals to licensed trauma therapists in the meantime).
HIDING BEHIND SCALE
So, let’s talk about mass firings. This is new.
I’ve been laid off once in my career in the “tech bust” in 2002. This was in the aftermath of the boom in the need for technology services spawned by the ultimate non-starter “Y2K.” Google it if you’re under 35.
I was working for IBM at the time and one bright day in September, I got a call from my boss’s boss who explained that I was impacted by a reduction in force.
As much as it wasn’t a pleasant situation, they conducted the RIF with some dignity.
An individual call, respectful conversation, and the proposition that for the next 30 days, I was freed from my duties to seek another role inside the company. If I didn’t find a suitable role or chose not to, I’d separate from the company with a modest but OK package.
Even though thousands were let go ultimately, they invested the time, energy and money to do it the best way possible. I give them a lot of credit and I saw how it could be done.
So back to present day. There’s been a rush to announce mass firings – almost like a pervasive mass hysteria.
I mean, were these companies we see in the news really going out of business Monday if they didn’t lay off 10,000 people Thursday? By email… or worse yet, by their employee badge no longer working? C’mon.
Would it break the bank to treat people like people you value?
It’s not even the mechanics of the communications for the personnel actions that is the biggest problem. It’s the lack of willingness to find a way to treat their employees with any dignity whatsoever.
It takes real intention and creativity to treat your ‘most valuable assets’ like Human Commodity Management.
POWER AND CONSEQUENCES
I spend my days helping people-centered executives be better people-centered executives and create extraordinary results.
I know that being a bully is kind of ‘in vogue’ these days. At least in the minds of some of the leaders I’ve described in this article.
However, there’s one truth that these leaders, in their reckless and careless use of power, never get…
The people you abuse ALWAYS get you back. And, in ways you’ll never know.
Your people know your organization, your systems, your desires, and your weaknesses way better than you.
So whether it’s subtle sabotage, undoing things important to you that you’ll never know they undid, invisible underperformance, tacit thievery, or spitting in the coffee you demanded they fetch for you, they always even the score. And, I have to say… they’d probably be right. Treat them as transactional and their loyalty will be transactional.
Bully at your peril. Here’s an idea… treat them with respect in the first place.
THE CRUSH OF CULTURES
Most of the leaders we’ve been describing value results at all costs (regardless of the human costs). They have a business strategy with which they want to prevail and win the game.
They want to disrupt and transform their company, their industry, and the world. (We’ll save the “pathological ego” discussion for another article.)
Except, here’s a big piece of truth (with apologies to Peter Drucker) – “culture does eat strategy for breakfast.”
Imagine what you do to the culture of an organization when your positive employee culture has the rug pulled out from under it because some leaders don’t actually believe in it. What do you think happens to results?
Regardless of what Mark Zuckerberg says to the contrary, breaking things actually just breaks things.
These kinds of “bossism” behaviors we’ve described here obliterate employee engagement. It’s hard to earn it back once it’s diminished.
Not long ago, employee engagement and retention became front and center in organizations because of the challenges of finding and keeping great talent. Among smart executives, it still is.
The war for talent is still on even if some companies pretend it isn’t.
THE PREDICAMENT FOR PEOPLE-CENTERED LEADERS
Everything we’ve discussed weighs on people-centered leaders. After all, keeping the focus on your people is what you are all about.
When faced with a leader in your organization who admires the new “bossism” (maybe the one at the top??) or when these abhorrent practices become normalized or mainstreamed, what can you do?
First, a few cautions.
TELLING TRUTH TO (POWER SAW)
While I always advocate courage as a people-centered leader in standing up for what is right, there is a matter of picking your battles. It doesn’t do your people any good for you to be sliced up into little pieces when you tell truth to power. Do it when you can advance your cause.
Although it’s exhausting, you’ll need to spend time and energy evaluating the degree of impact of any given decision or action and decide how much energy you’ll invest to push back on the tide. You ultimately have to win the long game.
Here’s where it gets painful and dicey. Who you are as an authentic leader is likely very different from the way that you are observing some colleagues think and behave. It likely hurts you from the inside out.
Despite what your head and your conscience tell you, you don’t lose yourself by choosing to operate under the radar and behind the scenes. You can sometimes be more effective in creating change when you don’t “lead with your chin.”
AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
So, what can you actually do? Here are some suggestions:
First and foremost, put your mask on first. Operating in these climates is draining. Focusing on taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is vital. How else can you help others?
Get Support and Develop
Don’t try to go it alone. Get support from trusted resources – a coach, therapist, mentor, colleague, friend, or spouse. You will need to grow and develop your capabilities to deal with these challenges. If you reach the point where you’re really feeling the need for support – you’re actually late to the party. Get in front of it.
Remember that there’s equifinality – more than one way to get to an outcome. It’s easy when economic times are challenging (or perceived to be) to get stuck in groupthink.
No… a mass layoff, conducted poorly and disrespectfully, is not the only way to handle an anticipated revenue shortfall even if you have to reduce headcount.
Creativity is not optional.
Shift the Conversation
In these situations, fallacies and presumptions often prevail.
Listen carefully and challenge the off-kilter assumptions, reinforce sensible beliefs, reshape unrealistic expectations and illuminate false perceptions about the employees in your organization and the possibilities for the future.
Keep at it, they may not hear it the first time (maybe not until the 27th).
Needless to say, your advocacy for your people is a given. Even if you haven’t the power to do everything the way you would like to, give people good information, help them receive fair treatment, soften the hard realities, and give them access to resources, whether they are staying or going.
If nothing else, you can feel as though you’ve done everything in the best way you could. Acting with as much integrity as possible is the way forward.
Prioritize the Positive
Your people take their cues from you. If you continuously draw attention to what is truly positive (as opposed to putting a positive face on what is truly dreadful), you help them persist and survive. Take an appreciative approach no matter what.
You can deal with reality while still using positive psychology. Be that beacon of hope they can count on. It helps them get to the other side.
WHERE WILL YOU TAKE THIS?
Because of your focus and values, as a people-centered leader you have an internal set of resources that will help you (and your people) weather this storm.
Every hurricane eventually moves on or dies out. This latest management “fad” will as well. Your persistence will pay off.
Trust the people-centered leader inside you.
In over 15 years as an executive coach, I’ve witnessed a huge mindset change among talent development professionals in organizations. You’ve moved from skepticism about the value of coaching to embracing it as an essential element of helping leaders grow, develop and apply their learning.
Hooray for us coaches! However, with expanded experience with coaching comes new questions about its effective use in the organization.
A TIME FOR BUDGET CREATIVITY
When questions about the state of the economy are on everyone’s minds and companies are reorganizing or reducing their workforce, panic stops seem to happen in the area of leadership development.
Yet, disruptive times are when leaders need to grow and develop most to rise to the challenges.
Got budget pressures? Rather than hitting the brakes (or pulling the rug out from under your leaders), instead look creatively for how to get high impact for a reduced (budget-friendlier) investment.
Let’s look at strategies for thinking differently about your investment in executive coaching.
BEYOND COACHING AS USUAL
I often hear, “We believe in coaching, but how do we get the most from what we spend for executive coaching?” Many have adopted the “gold standard” convention of six- or twelve-month coaching programs for senior leaders – a substantial investment of money and time.
I’ve done many of these engagements over the years and have been successful in supporting my clients to grow and create great impact through this work. However, I don’t think this is the only way to implement coaching.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL?
Even though my fellow executive coaches will be aghast, I believe that some clients are not well served by longer coaching engagements and their focus and attention waxes and wanes over the tenure of the coaching.
I’m a very skilled coach, if I do say so myself, so I don’t think it’s my coaching skills. I think it’s the structure of the way we work together that is not the best fit for every client. There is wasted time (and therefore money) in these situations. It becomes a missed opportunity.
It’s time to re-think the options.
LEAN INTO COACHING
What I am suggesting is borrowed from the lean philosophy of manufacturing, product development, entrepreneurship, etc. It’s the idea of starting with “minimum viable product” and then adding to it incrementally to create value and eliminate waste in the process. With coaching, I prefer to think of it as “minimum vibrant product,” but you get the idea.
START FAST, FOCUS, EXTEND
What I have found works with virtually all clients is to begin with a short coaching intensive followed by three or four focused coaching sessions. We have a fast start upfront with a day-long in-person intensive or four closely-scheduled virtual meetings. We dive in quickly to get to the root of what is going on with the executive and who they need to be to overcome their challenges. Rapid self-understanding followed by clear action helps them make progress quickly. Executives like quick, impactful wins.
Over the years, I’ve evolved a method that gets to the client’s core in a way that is non-threatening, engaging and not “touchy-feely.” Offered this way, executives embrace it and are open to more.
We then extend the coaching engagement in increments evaluating at the conclusion of each whether and how to continue. Some clients may end up working for three, six or even twelve months ultimately. However, it’s time that is focused and productive making the investment of time and money worthwhile. I think this is a better way to help clients get exactly that they need.
Some clients find the coaching intensive plus three sessions sufficient for the moment. Some extend immediately to continue more of a good thing. Some decide they want additional coaching later once they’ve gained momentum with what they’ve learned and practiced thus far. It’s about giving them enough, but not too much, at the right time.
AGILE ON THE WAY TO AGILITY
Agile methods are also prevalent in many organizations today, especially in the area of software development. There, the work streams are organized into short, focused “sprints” where portions of work products are completed and deployed before moving on to the next sprint.
So too, with short-term executive coaching. Following the initial intensive engagement, we add coaching “executive sprints” of six weeks of coaching with weekly conversations (or 12 weeks of biweekly sessions) focused on a specific objective. These sprints build on the previous self-understanding and action to help the clients accomplish their growth objective. We use tools like strategic learning contracts, assessments and roadmaps that combine awareness and action to help the client advance their learning.
The client continues with these extended sprints for as long as they are getting the results they want from the work. They know when they are ready to finish with coaching or whether to pause and re-engage at a future time.
HIGH IMPACT FROM FOCUSING ON WHO’S THERE
So, how does an initial coaching intensive make an impact in such a short time? It’s by focusing on “Who” the executive is. So often, the impetus for coaching is the “What” – what they need to get better at or what problem they want to address. Yet, the more they develop the “Who,” the more the “What” falls into place.
Understanding their core – core values, core authentic self, core needs and core patterns is the foundation for resilience, agility, innovation and influence in their leadership. Until those are in place, coaching, training, mentoring and cajoling can’t help the executive integrate new behaviors and ways of thinking. Starting with the “Who” and helping them quickly move to action makes the experience valuable and impactful.
EXPAND ACCESS TO EXECUTIVE COACHING
Let’s face it. Every leader who is open to learning and growth needs to work with a coach at some point. They can’t see their blind spots, get reality checks on their ideas and strategies nor have an objective, trusted resource to challenge and support them. They can’t get that from their boss, colleagues, spouse or family. A coach fulfills that unique position. However, organizations don’t have unlimited budgets.
So, my invitation is to spread the benefit around. You can use short-term executive coaching to create transformational impact with four leaders for about the cost of one long engagement. You can do the math.
Those that take to the coaching can extend with sprints that add more, useful value. And those who stop after the initial coaching intensive work are never unchanged for the better.
I believe this is a model that broadens the impact of coaching in the organization while getting the most from the investment.
It’s also a simple, flexible way to integrate profound coaching value into leadership development cohorts as well.
With one global vehicle and equipment manufacturer, in adding coaching to a cohort of selected executives in a year-long development program, we gave them the option of “conventional” coaching or this coaching intensive approach. In follow-up surveys, those that elected the coaching intensive reported that their coaching was much more satisfying and effective over those that elected the standard approach.
INNOVATION REQUIRES EXPERIMENTATION
For most client organizations, seeing is believing. I’ve gotten pushback from talent development leaders who don’t believe that one of their leaders can get much from such limited coaching engagements.
Only when you try it with a few of your own leaders can you assess the comparative impact. Innovation requires trying new things. It’s a process of experimentation and optimization.
So, short-term executive coaching?
Developing Yourself as a People-Centered Leader Series #2
Who is at the core of your leadership?
You may be waving your arms saying, “I am! I am!” That’s great. But who are you? Really. Who are you, really?
After years as an executive coach, I’ve learned to refine the question. It’s actually “Who are you at your core?”
Not, “Who do you think you’re supposed to be?”
Not, “Who have people told you that you are?”
Not, “Who do you want to be?”
Not, “Who do you want people to think you are?”
But, who are YOU at your core?
Seems easy, but it takes some real work to get the real answer.
And, it’s essential for leading with distinction.
FINDING WHAT’S TRUE FOR YOU
Identifying what is “core” for you raises a challenge. As you explore these areas, how do you know what’s actually true for you? After all, influencers in your life (parents, siblings, spouses, partners, friends) have communicated expectations, feedback and their perceptions of you (either tacitly or explicitly) and your brain filed them away.
If you are like most people, you have likely internalized some of these messages until you have come to believe they are true about yourself. They have impacted your sense of self. But are they really genuine to you?
For example, if you’ve been told by important others in your life that you have “a great deal of potential,” it implies there’s an expectation of you to achieve a certain high level of (success, proficiency, notoriety, authority…you fill in the blank).
This may be exactly what you want… or not. Perhaps there’s something different you want out of your life and work. Yet, you feel that there’s an expectation that you have to live up to (as defined by others).
So, what’s actually real for you? An honest, courageous look at yourself (often with the help of a trusted thought partner) is needed to distill out what is true at your core. In my experience, even leaders who have strong self-awareness can benefit from challenging their assumptions and taking a fresh look.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
I see two reasons why this matters to leaders. The first is that people trust leaders who they feel are authentic and genuine. They actively distrust those who they feel are not being true.
The second reason is that if you are unaware of what is authentic for you, you can make some whoppers of leadership mistakes. I’ll give you an example.
I was brought in to work with a Vice President who was the controller in the finance division of a prominent utility. Though this leader had great financial credentials and had substantial experience from roles in a large well-known accounting firm, she was on the cusp of being fired because she was making her people cry. Yes, cry… daily.
The strange thing was that when we administered a series of assessments, she scored exceptionally high in emotional intelligence – none of which appeared to be used in her day-to-day leadership.
As we unpacked who she was authentically at her core, we discovered the very caring, emotionally intelligent part of her makeup that she was actively suppressing on a daily basis. Why? Because she had learned lessons from her parents and influential others about how tough she needed to be to make it in a male-dominated field.
In other words, she was acting as she thought she should be instead of as she actually was. She was failing miserably because of this self-expectation. We worked to help her find the way of leading her people successfully using her natural style rather than the harsh one she had adopted.
And, it was hard for her to make that transition, even armed with the knowledge of what was going on. It takes intentional action to change the habits that have kept you from being true to your core.
GETTING TO YOUR CORE
There are four areas that I find that you benefit from knowing about yourself because they shape how you think and act as a leader.
The first is your Core Authentic Self – that person inside that is you when at your best. Accompanying your Core Self are your Core Values – what you believe is important in your life and work. Then comes your Core Needs – the types of experiences that energize, motivate, satisfy and fulfill you. Finally, your Core Patterns – the patterns of thinking and behavior that shape how you operate in the world.
Taken together, these four represent the core of you are as a human being and as a leader.
YOUR CORE AUTHENTIC SELF
Your Core Authentic Self is you at your best. These are the traits and qualities you possess that are most resonant and genuine for you – the “Real You.”
For an individual, the Core Self might include a collection of trait descriptors like strong, smart, funny, caring, no nonsense, nonstop, kind, fierce, generous, and creative. You can imagine the dynamic Core Self this individual possesses. You have your own unique list that applies in your personal and work life as well.
You find your Core Authentic Self, not through a checklist of traits, but by assessing important relationships and finding the mirrored commonalities. Once identified, this model helps you stay true to yourself.
BTW, your Core Authentic Self is not an imposter. Think about it.
YOUR CORE VALUES
I doubt it’s surprising that an important part of your core identity are the values that guide your actions and drive your decisions. Understanding what you value most makes the complex nature of your life and work easier to navigate.
Uncovering your Core Values is more than using a values list or prioritization exercise. Why? How would you know whether a value is truly deeply held, or whether it is a value you have been taught to believe you should adopt?
A better method is to use an evidence-based approach. Examine what you want your life in the distant future and then see what values that vision represents. Your most important values are more clearly revealed. An extended timeframe releases you from the practical aspects and encourages your genuine intuition to emerge.
YOUR CORE NEEDS
Core Needs are the way you live out your values. These represent the actions and experiences that create positive feelings and motivated energy, typically based on your values. They are the keys to fulfillment and purpose.
Your Core Needs might include accomplishment, connection, reflection, collaboration, tangible results, being part of something bigger or any of dozens of other types of experiences. You likely have a collection 8-20 of these in a combination unique to you. Core Needs are not the same as Core Values.
As an example, you and I might each value achievement and contribution. However, your Core Needs might be to do so through collaboration with others, taking risks, and doing challenging works that aid people who need help. My Core Needs might include focused time working independently, being an expert, seeking practical applications, and being creative in finding solutions to serious problems. Similar Core Values but different Core Needs.
Core Needs are a powerful and useful way to create a fulfilling career, establish purpose in your life, build satisfying relationships, create meaningful outcomes, and pursue engaging interests.
As a leader, understanding your Core Needs helps you create fulfilling professional experiences for yourself that avoid the negative effects of using reckless strategies to meet your needs that crush initiative in others, sabotage results and derail your organization.
YOUR CORE PATTERNS
Neuroscience research has shown us that our brains default to using approaches that have worked in the past as a way of reducing risk.
This means that despite your desire to do everything in a fresh, unique way every time, the reality is that you constantly repeat patterns of thinking and behavior, even unconsciously.
This repetitive strategy is actually incredibly helpful to you. This shortcuts the need to have to “recreate the wheel” every time. In a sense, it’s a “silent partner,” operating in the background to make things work.
For instance, when you drive a car to work or to go shopping, it’s likely you don’t think consciously about every turn of the steering wheel or application of the brakes. If you had to think that hard every moment of your drive, it would be too all consuming and unpleasant. A little automaticity is actually very useful in dealing with your day-to-day work and life.
This helps… except when you want to do something different. Need to be innovative, creatively solve a problem, or find news ways eliminate inefficiency? You know…what leaders need to do constantly? Left to its own devices, your brain will always fall back into the old patterns. It takes conscious and intentional thought and action to break the cycle and embrace new approaches.
Unveiling your unconscious personal patterns of thinking and behavior gives you access to new ways of dealing with challenges or adapt to change. How can you inspire others to thrive in the face of change if you don’t yourself?
BECOMING A BETTER PEOPLE-CENTERED LEADER
The first characteristic of a people-centered leader is KNOWING YOURSELF. In this article, we’ve shared ideas on conducting the self-exploration needed to gain this essential self-understanding to lead with distinction.
For more ideas, check out People-Centered Leaders Will Put Organizations Back Together.
Want more information about our True to Your Core coaching program for executive leaders? Contact us here.
Developing Yourself as a People-Centered Leader Series #1
Is it just me, or does it seem like the wheels are coming off the bus in some organizations these days?
Here’s what I’m seeing…
Yet another mass firing by email.
More threats to return to office full-time or have your job offshored.
Greater crises with disrupted supply chains, inadequate staffing and angry customers.
And, frustration with rising costs and a giant bunch of fear that the economy is headed into trouble.
Doesn’t make for a healthy, thriving organization does it? You know, one that wins with performance, productivity and profitability?
And what’s the common denominator? It’s what is happening to the human beings in these organizations. In popular parlance, people are your most important asset, but they aren’t machines. So, let’s stop treating them like they are. They require care, consideration and nurturing to keep them at their best.
Even if things in your organization aren’t so extreme, your human beings are still experiencing these effects for themselves or others they know.
So, who is going to help these human beings in organizations move forward positively with energy, resilience and commitment? It’s the people-centered leaders that will make that difference.
Stephen Covey espoused the idea of each of us possessing an “emotional bank account” that consists of emotional deposits and emotional withdrawals. Positive experiences of all kinds (including the workplace) add to the balance.
Negative experiences empty the account. To have focus, energy, effectiveness, and drive, you need to have “money in the bank.” Given the challenges, abundant savings are required these days.
People-centered leaders put deposits into the emotional bank accounts of their people. They also mitigate situations that might cause drastic withdrawals that could occur as the result of words and deeds inside their organization.
The greater the emotional bank balance for your people, the more creative, flexible, dedicated and engaged they will be in driving business results.
“Overdrawn” accounts generate regression, not only for the employee themselves, but others around them as well. Think tanking morale and sketchy performance.
People-centered leaders keep their teams on track and moving forward.
BTW, how is your emotional bank account these days?
WHAT MAKES YOU A PEOPLE-CENTERED LEADER?
Simply put, people-centered leaders prioritize the human component of “human capital” and create working environments where the people in them thrive and achieve their potential. The organization wins when the power and potential of individuals and teams are unleashed by an artful people-centered leader.
In my opinion, you aren’t born a people-centered leader. You become one – carefully crafted through hard work and intentional focus.
HOW DO YOU BECOME MORE PEOPLE-CENTERED AS A LEADER?
In 15 years of coaching executives, I’ve found four characteristics that distinguish people-centered leaders…
- Knowing themselves
- Being real
- Understanding others
- Doing good work together
By embracing and developing these four characteristics, people-centered leaders achieve extraordinary influence and create profound impact. They do this with and through their people and create satisfaction and engagement all around in the process.
This is the tough part because it requires a great deal of effort and inevitable discomfort as more becomes revealed. No wonder so many leaders skimp on this step or avoid it altogether.
In some ways, I don’t blame them. It is real work to prioritize the time to examine yourself, dive deep into your thinking and habits to find what truly works for you and what doesn’t. And, because we all have areas we cannot see on our own, we have to engage others in learning about ourselves, whether that be a coach, trusted advisor, learning group, training or therapist.
Not for the “faint of heart” but necessary to become a people-centered leader.
Why? Surely you have observed an executive in action who might be kindly described as “lacking self-awareness.” They charge forward believing that their way is the only way. They act without thinking of others. They leave wreckage and victims in their path. Ultimately, they evaporate business results and even crash their organization. And, they think its everyone else’s fault.
I don’t think you want to be that kind of leader. If you were, you wouldn’t have read this far.
Have you ever watched an interview show, opinion roundtable or political discussion with the sound off? You can pretty much tell who is genuine with what they are saying and who is gaslighting just by looking at them. People can tell when you are full of… (insert unpleasant substance here).
You (and I) don’t trust people we think aren’t honest or authentic. In fact, sometimes we even try to work against them.
People-centered leaders are effective because, in fact, their people trust them. People want to follow their lead because of that authenticity. That’s how these leaders accomplish great things.
It takes a lot of courage to be real with people as a leader. Sometimes you have to say things people don’t want to hear. Sometimes you have to tell them their ‘baby’ is a little ugly (albeit nicely and respectfully). And, sometimes you have to stand up for what is right including telling truth to power.
You have to build a certain amount of confidence and fortitude to do this. You also have to work to rid yourself of that imposter feeling you don’t tell anyone about (or, at least, be open about it).
If only everyone were like you, everything would be great, right? Of course, that doesn’t work.
It’s the uniqueness of people that makes work (and life) interesting and shifts results from ordinary to extraordinary.
So, if everyone isn’t you, that means you have to work at reaching out, learning about other people, having curiosity, appreciating them for who they are, and combining their best talents with others to create success.
People-centered leaders possess what I call “The Secrets Skills of People-Centered Leaders” that allow them to learn, explore, build relationships, and bring out the best in their people. More about these in a future article.
By embarking on a path of practicing these skills and stretching yourself, you can view each person as an individual, reduce misunderstandings, create synergy, get work done, and enjoy it all in the process.
DO GOOD WORK TOGETHER
There are really two parts to this characteristic – “good work” and “together.”
People have asked me why I don’t say “great work” because, after all, aren’t we striving for superlatives? Yet, the choice of “good work” is by design. Yes, we want to create quality work and the most effective outcomes.
It’s also a double play on words. Because doing what is good for people, good for the organization, and even good for the world are all an important part as well.
People are motivated by getting behind objectives that make a positive difference. Few are motivated solely by hitting a number. Doing “good work” is also about doing good work.
Of course, doing the work “together” is essential as well. Without collaboration, teamwork, and combined talents, extraordinary results have a slim chance of occurring, let alone being sustainably high-performing.
People-centered leaders know that their teams are living entities with a heartbeat of their own. These leaders work to build strong teams that can collaborate, trust, change and deal with conflict as a matter of course.
The focus on team development is what helps teams perform whether co-located, hybrid or virtual, working in the same or different timezones, with a culture that is local or multinational.
People-centered leaders continue to build their skills in team development and incorporate resources outside the team when needed to keep it working at its peak.
IT’S ALL ABOUT LEADING WITH DISTINCTION
Putting these characteristics together and continuing to hone them is what people-centered leaders do. Great results come from great people empowered by great leaders.
Are you ready to accept the challenge of leading with distinction as a people-centered leader?
There’s a saying out there, “It’s self-awareness or self-destruction, pick one.” Pretty dramatic, but pretty true.
I daresay you’ve seen this in action in organizations… the leader who is so confident in their opinions of how things are, that they drive the business or mission into the ground. It’s also those leaders whose style leaves “scorched earth” and makes your best employees run for the hills.
Even if they aren’t quite this extreme, they don’t know what they don’t know and executive blind spots can become executive blunders.
The good news here, it that there’s a fix for this in how you develop and groom leaders in your organization. And, it’s solved with real self-awareness for leaders.
So, how are you creating self-awareness for your leaders?
‘Who’ Not ‘What’
The temptation in designing leadership programs is to focus on skills and strategies, which seem so much more pertinent to the business challenges at hand. Leaders are looking for quick fixes and immediate practicality, so they prefer to be absorbed into that type of subject matter.
I refer to this as the “What” because it focuses on “What You Are”, essentially boiling the leaders down to what competencies they have and what ones they need to develop.
These are, of course, important to include but not at the expense of helping executives develop the “Who,” which refers to “Who You Are” as a leader.
People don’t follow leaders for “What They Are” but instead “Who They Are.” When was the last time you heard an employee remark, “Yes, I work even harder because he is a very competent communicator” or “I chose to join the company because she is excellent at understanding financial statements.” I think not.
Awareness of Who You Are
How does a leader, especially one whose ticket to success has been preferring action over reflection, come to accept greater self-awareness?
For some, it is because they realize that, to quote Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” For others, it’s that what they were doing previously isn’t working so well, typically accompanied by some humiliating setback. Finally, some leaders have smart, trusted lieutenants who impart the reality that they do have to change.
For any of these leaders, even small increases in their self-awareness pays off in results they can see.
The Managing Director of a large branch of one of the biggest construction firms in the U.S. was encouraged by a trusted colleague to improve his self-awareness. As with many strong leaders in pragmatic fields like construction, he operated intuitively based on his instincts and “common sense” with which he had been very successful.
He was reluctant to ‘waste time’ reflecting and exploring what was ‘behind the curtain.’ However, when we started looking at his Core Authentic Self and his Core Needs, he became very engaged. Suddenly he could give a name to what his gut had been telling him for years.
Making it more conscious and clearer is something he found he really enjoyed. It was like turning on a faucet (yes, a plumbing metaphor) and it set him on an amazing road of discovery.
In my experience, the hardest part of doing self-awareness work with executives is getting them to block time in their calendar to work on it. Despite their protestations, once you get them talking and they start seeing things about themselves that they never connected, they don’t want to stop. They rarely, if ever, get a chance to be in this space and they like it once they are there.
Half the battle is for you to maintain the confidence to persist through their skepticism and resistance to get them into the work. It takes courage, but it pays off.
Some leadership developers equate self-awareness with assessments. Assessments are great, I use many of them… behavioral assessments, 360s, EQ, etc. They provide very useful data, but they are just a part of the self-awareness picture.
You may have experienced leaders who reject the data from assessments saying things like, “That’s not me,” or “I’m more (fill in the blank) than that,” or “They just have an ‘axe to grind.'”
You have to add a more qualitative experience for them to even validate what the standardized tools are telling them. Only when it’s in their own voice do they really believe it. This involves insightful conversation.
Not the Same as Woo Woo
If your self-awareness work is anything more than some report spit out of a computer, they start to get nervous. Any kind of dialogic work has them terrified that you are suddenly going to go ‘woo woo’ and ‘touchy feely’ on them.
You can have profound and engaging conversations that help them see new things about themselves if you make it easy for them to go there. The least threatening path is to provide a framework that logically makes sense to them to understand what you are doing before you start to discuss anything but the most superficial of topics.
When they ‘get’ where you are going and why it will become useful to them, they are more likely to trust you to guide them in a deeper exploration of who they are.
Beneath the Surface
I’m not a trained therapist. I’m a certified coach and an experienced leadership developer. However, I can have deeper conversations that bring the client clarity without bordering on therapy. I’m clear where the boundaries are.
And, the well-used iceberg metaphor says it all. There’s way more that is invisible and beneath the surface than is visible above. Well-crafted self-awareness experiences shed light on the highly impactful but opaque parts that can make the difference between success and less-than-stellar outcomes.
Mastering the Inner ‘Software’
The strides in neuroscience research about leadership from firms like David Rock’s NeuroLeadership Institute has helped bring brain-based insight to how the internal ‘software’ works.
Leaders need to understand how their own personal “Results System” approaches getting results. When they are consciously aware of patterns of thinking and behavior that work well for them in getting results, they can repeat it to be more effective more of the time. And, without an understanding of the patterns that do not work for them, they are doomed to repeat them.
To keep it practical for executives, the key is to keep the focus on the perceptions, beliefs, expectations, assumptions and the habits of thinking and behavior they practice as they pursue getting the results they want.
Looking at their real-life experience as a data set is far better than some abstract exercise or navel-gazing. When you tie the insight to examples from their own work and personal life (yes, both… since the patterns repeat in both places), they make connections in a more profound way.
However, this self-awareness work is not unstructured “sharing”. Few executives are willing to do that. The insights and connections come from using an easy-to-accept structure or framework to guide them through the exploration together.
Dealing with Change
Why do all this intensive work? Because it’s the foundation of all change.
Since your brain is wired to perceive change as a threat and automatically resist it, only when you understand how your internal ‘software’ operates can you deliberately take the needed steps make a change sustainable. Otherwise, you fall back into your old, familiar patterns.
All you have to do is to try brushing your teeth using the opposite hand from the one you are used to. You’ll see how awkward that feels and how much you want to go back to the way you usually do it. BTW, how is your consistency with that new commitment to daily exercise coming?
Staying on cruise control will make you miss the exit to a new destination. So much for embracing change.
Unlike the popular notion, resilience isn’t ‘bouncing back’ to the way you were before. That is reinforcing the former status quo and is actually a form of resistance.
Instead, think about resilience as ‘bouncing forward’ to a new outcome. This requires changing your thinking, shifting your expectations and taking new and sometimes very different actions.
For instance, do you really want go back to investing a large amount of time (and stress) in a daily roundtrip commute to the office? How have you re-deployed that time and energy into something different for yourself? That’s resilience.
The thing about the internal system is that it is backward looking – it only knows what it’s seen before. It’s all about the rear-view mirror. To move ahead in a better direction, you must be intentional about examining and changing your patterns of thinking and behavior.
If you aren’t self-aware, this is a complete mystery to you and you end up stuck where you are while pining for the way things used to be.
A significant part of real self-awareness is finding out who you are and what is genuine for you. To be an authentic leader, you must actually know who you are authentically.
This means mining through all the things you’ve been told about who you should be, what you should want, and what you should do to get to the real person inside.
Many leaders spend a great deal of time and energy protecting that true inner person from view (if they even know it at all) for fear of being vulnerable. Yet there is massive strength in the ability to show who you really are as it gives those who work for you the inspiration to do the same. It’s permission to be a human being, not know everything and to try things and make mistakes.
If you don’t think that authenticity is important in a leader, all you have to do is watch a movie with the sound turned off. After a few minutes, you can tell who is being truthful, who is lying and who is really authentic in their words and behavior, even without the audio. Are you going to trust and follow someone who you read as inauthentic?
Isn’t it better for a leader to really know who they are so they can be congruent and effective? Their people know. Sometimes the leader is the last to know. Help them find themselves as a leader.
Innovation is a much-sought-after commodity these days. At the heart of it, innovation comes from the ability to look at things differently, identify different possibilities and then have the courage and risk-taking ability to try something new. It’s a complete inner game.
Helping a leader see how their perceptions, beliefs, expectations and assumptions are having an impact on their results and frees them break out of the box. Being aware of their habits and patterns of fostering ideas, practicing creativity and taking risks is the first step in being able to do it consistently and create new solutions to the presenting challenges.
It’s all about being able to innovate rapidly in an accelerating business climate. Real self-awareness opens the door to taking a leap forward. Maybe opens a window too. Or, just blows the roof off completely!
“Best of Breed” Self-Awareness Tools
No matter what leadership development programs you are using, from a vendor partner or homegrown, incorporate strong self-awareness experiences and coaching into your learning strategy and curriculum.
Among my “best of breed” favorites to add are a behavioral assessment from The Predictive Index®, a Leadership Circle Profile® 360 from Leadership Circle®, an emotional intelligence assessment (EQ-i®), and the deep-dive coaching experience tools Results Accelerator™ and Results Roadmap™. All layer well into any leadership program.
Whatever path you choose, make sure that you have real self-awareness front-and-center to supercharge your leadership development.
Your leaders will thank you (after they finish grumbling, of course).