The Changing Role of Leaders

I think we can all agree that business is changing and, as a result, the role of leaders is changing. No longer are leaders just expected to direct the business, sometimes at all costs, to achieve results. Today, leaders need to be able to combine operational business expertise with high levels of emotional intelligence. Leaders need to be compassionate and empathetic if they are to create high performance teams that thrive in today’s VUCA world.

For some traditional leaders, the thought of bringing the human into the workplace is seen as too “woo,” too soft—and yet the research is compelling. The number one finding in the 2019 Human Capital study by Deloitte was that, globally, leaders felt we needed to bring the human back into the workplace. We are now no longer living in the industrial revolution where the focus of leadership was to maximize the output, often at the expense of the team and the individual. The dynamics of business mean that the old command-and-control structures where one person makes all the decisions are no longer sustainable. Rather, we need a shared approach to leadership, one where everyone works together for the business’s success—which means that leaders need to know how to lead teams effectively.

Unfortunately, many leaders still have not transitioned to the mindset that it is teamwork that makes a business thrive in today’s VUCA marketplace. According to the 2019 People Management Report conducted by The Predictive Index, nearly 30% of team members believe that their direct line managers and leaders lack the prerequisite skills to build effective teams.

Not placing value on strategic team building is a huge mistake that affects the bottom line. When teams are cobbled together, team members are more likely to struggle to communicate and collaborate. This will impact the effectiveness of the team. Contrast this with a highly engaged team that, according to findings by Gallup, can deliver a 21% increase in profitability and a 17% increase in productivity.

So, how can leaders improve teamwork and help create highly engaged and motivated teams?

Psychological Safety

One way is by ensuring that all team members feel psychologically safe at work. Renowned Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy describes psychological safety as “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

Emotional Intelligence

This means that leaders need to create a culture where team members feel that they can safely share ideas with them without fear of reprisals. It also means that leaders need to harness their emotional intelligence skills and ensure that they remain approachable and always respect their team members' values and the contributions that they make. If they fail to do this, they can subtly sabotage their teams and inadvertently destroy the psychological safety which can negatively impact the employee experience.

Strong Relationships

The first step to providing psychological safety with team members is to form a deep connection with them—a bond. When people feel bonded to each other, they trust each other. They know the other person has their back. There is a transparency in the relationship, and both parties respect each other and value each other. These bonds are created through “water cooler talk” and actually investing time in getting to know your team members as individuals. Leaders need to know what makes every team member tick so they can effectively inspire and motivate them to be their best.

Personal Balance

However, the rub here is that very few leaders can provide this psychological safety for someone else if they don’t first have their own security. Few leaders can design a successful business and life without the support of others; those who put success ahead of relationships often end up as “independent loners” and can often suffer from illness, addiction, depression, and chronic loneliness. Conversely, those who put relationships ahead of goals can often end up failing to live up to their full potential.

So, my challenge to you today is to get clarity on where you get psychological safety from, and where you provide this for others. It can be really enlightening to understand where these drivers lie and how they impact you.

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