If you take a look at leadership training courses from a few years ago, the agenda falls into two parts – sessions devoted to professional mastery – management, strategy and vision setting – and sessions devoted to personal development – assessing strengths and weaknesses, managing leadership, or improving interpersonal communications. It’s like two different people come forward to be trained – one a performance driven executive, the other a human being. This separate view of leaders and how they should be developed is no longer relevant. Moreover, it is detrimental. Massive disruption in the workplace is disrupting the role of leaders and requiring integration of both performance and the human aspects of leadership.
With the new hybrid workplaces, employees are looking for leaders who can make tough decisions and get results, while creating an environment that offers flexibility, connection and a sense of belonging. It is no longer enough to focus on one type of leadership. Leaders must do and be the two.
What are both / and leadership like?
The distorted speed at which the world of work is changing has already forced leaders to pivot quickly, take bolder action, and make decisions quickly. Leaders must perform like never before with speed, drive and expertise. These performance factors for leaders need to be sharp and ready. But these are no longer enough.
As hybrid work revolutionizes the workplace, employees grapple with overwhelm, disconnection and anxiety, and 41% plan to leave their organization. Blurred lines between work and home lead to burnout; the realities of physical distance cause disconnection and mistrust; perpetual uncertainty leads to anxiety and fear. In this context, a new set of people-centered leadership qualities are paramount:
- Durability: How to get others to perform without leading to burnout.
- Opening : How to adaptively respond to change and uncertainty and help others to do the same.
- Vulnerability: How to show your own weaknesses and fears so that others are also safe and vulnerable.
- Optimism: How to inspire hope by focusing on the possibilities while accepting the realities as they are.
When leaders are able to put these very human traits into practice and integrate them into their standard management approaches, a whole world of opportunity opens up for both the leader and the organization. Recently, the Potential Project published the results of a large study of 2,000 global leaders in 15 industries. We looked at the interplay of performance factors – the ability to do the tough things of leadership – with human factors – the ability to be compassionate and take care of others. What we found is that when leaders are able to do tough things in a human way, employee job satisfaction increases by 86%, job performance increases by 20%, and burnout increases. improves by 64%.
Become a leader both / and
Bill George once said, “The most difficult person you will lead is yourself.” This is especially true as the pressures build and the weather decreases. During these times, muscle memory kicks in and it’s easy to default back to what you’ve done in the past.
Mastering one way at a time / and leading takes practice to make it the default approach.
For our latest book, The Spirit of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your Employees, and Your Organization to Achieve Extraordinary Results, we spoke with Vince Siciliano, former President and CEO of New Resource Bank, which is now part of Amalgamated Bank. He shared his experience of neglecting human factors in his leadership to focus solely on executing a major turnaround and the resulting employee morale issues. He was leading by the book and trampling on the concerns of others who weren’t ready to go so fast or didn’t understand the reasons for the change. “There was a gap between my internal reality and my external behavior,” he said. “My ego had gone crazy. I was leading with my head and not with my heart.
Siciliano explained that in all of his years of training and leadership experience, he was never asked to consider who he was at the heart of his concerns, what he valued and what it really meant to be a leader.
And this is where you start the journey … within, with the spirit. Why? Because the mind directs our behavior, and our behavior shapes the people we lead. And the people we lead create the culture of the organization and determine its performance. When you learn how your mind works and how to reconnect it for agility, durability, or vulnerability, you can face a changed world head on.
As a first step, it is crucial that leaders invest in becoming fundamentally self-aware. Self-awareness is learning to know yourself, every moment. It is knowing what you are thinking while you are thinking it and what you are feeling when you are feeling it. It is the ability to keep your values in mind at all times and the ability to monitor yourself so that you can manage yourself accordingly.
In our experience, the practice of mindfulness is fundamental to self-awareness. It helps you avoid your compulsive reactions and replace them with more useful behaviors. And it helps you stay true to your values. The more time you spend training your awareness, the more aware you become of what is going on in the landscape of your mind at every moment. You can then take a break from the moment, make more conscious choices, and take more deliberate action. It will also be easier for you to be kind to yourself and to others. These are powerful skills to have as a leader.
Here are some things you can start doing today:
- Commit to doing ten minutes of mindfulness training on a regular basis.
- Identify an autopilot behavior that you want to change; set an intention to notice when the old behavior occurs, pause and choose a new response.
- Write down the values that are most important to you in your professional life and as a leader; consider when these might be challenged and how you will respond to them.
It is an exciting time to be a leader when the “rules” of leadership are broken and new models emerge. Take advantage of this time. Go ahead and start … inside.
To learn more about leadership and how to be a more people-centered leader, we invite you to explore our next book, Benevolent Leadership: How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way, published on January 18e, 2022.
Moses Mohan, Partner and Global Head of Leadership Solutions at Potential Project, is co-author of this content.