Sep 09 2018| Values
by Phil Eyre Founder
The summer months provide us with space to read, reflect and re-orientate our leadership perspective. It’s useful to have this time before we transition into autumn, adjust our goals and look towards the final months of the year.
I have distilled my reflections into seven areas which can be summarised as The Narrow Path of Leadership.
1. The difference between people pleasing and people serving
The notion that great leaders are servant leaders is gathering increasing prominence. Robert Greenleaf coined the term in his book The Servant as Leaderin 1970, with contemporary influencers, including Simon Sinek, Ken Blanchard, Larry Spears and Stephen Covey building on his work.
According to their research, servant leaders create conditions in their organisations that generate phenomenal performance however that performance is measured - revenues, stock price, solving social problems, reaching the moon etc.
Key characteristics of servant leaders include:
- Selflessness; considering the needs of others, especially employees, before their own.
- Committed to personal values; decisions are made based on personal values over and above expediency and ease.
- Long-term perspective: servant leaders work for the long-term growth of their people and organisations, not short-term transactional gains.
- Empathy; a willingness and ability understand both mentally and emotionally other people’s perspectives.
- Respect; the servant leader respects those differences, even (and especially) when they disagree with them.
Is there a risk that this will lead to people pleasing, a counterproductive approach to leadership whereby conflict is not addressed. People pleasing sees leaders flip-flop in their decision making; accountability withers and focus is lost.
I don’t believe that this is the intention behind a servant approach to leadership at all. Sometimes it seems more comfortable to avoid an awkward conversation and call this ‘serving’, when in fact it’s merely ‘avoiding’.
The proficient servant leader is strong; strong in their convictions and keen to give and receive constructive feedback so that others can grow and they can serve more effectively. Their commitment to their values might lead to short-term cost (investment in people, giving back to customers etc.) but they know that these actions pay dividends in the long term - a skilled, committed and engaged workforce and loyal customers.
The challenge is to avoid people pleasing, with all its negative connotations and instead lead with passion and commitment to create pleasant conditions for our people and customers. That is the basis for exceptional performance.
2. Can confidence and humility coexist?
In his book, A High Loyalty; Truth, Lies and Leadership, James Comey, former Director of the FBI, says that good leaders exude both confidence and humility.
Yet often we associate confidence with anything other than humility. Certainly, overconfidence comes across as arrogance. People who are full of themselves have no room for others, often believe that they are entitled to the biggest share of resources, take credit for successes and blame others for failures. This cannot be the kind of confidence that is compatible with humility.
I can, however, see what Comey is getting at; the confidence to be humble. Confident leaders can articulate a vision for the future and be prepared to take feedback for improvements.
Confident humility might be expressed with humour - the ability to laugh at yourself. Confident and humble leaders admit mistakes and learn from them, neither overreacting to errors nor denying them.
There are many challenges here, including a confidence in personal values that help set a moral compass for decisions, attitudes and behaviours. Great leaders invest time in fostering and living their values, especially in the heat of pressure.
3. Skillful communication: secrecy and transparency
Communication is a crucial leadership skill as countless books and blogs declare. There is an art to excellent communication, and I’m increasingly observing that great leaders know when to hold information tightly, when to communicate with complete transparency and everything in-between.
The leaders that we work with are often balancing multiple projects and issues, each requiring a different approach to communication. For example, confidentiality is crucial when exploring acquisition and merger opportunities, yet similar levels of secrecy can be destructive when implementing change.
Shifting between these changing communication demands - from a “don’t talk carelessly” mindset to “don’t hold back” - can make the difference between success and failure.
As with any art, whilst some leaders seem to possess a natural flair for communication, this is a skill that with practice that can be learned.
Something that I fully intend on doing.
4. When does consistency become ‘stuck in a rut’?
Perhaps because I have a more intense disposition than some, it’s taken me until my more recent years to learn that consistency - taking daily steps towards improvement - is the best way to achieve success.
Daily ‘small’ habits to improve my health, friendships, work, family, spirituality, recreation and mental stimulation are what makes for growth. Growth especially happens when overcoming the temptation to give up. It was Bruce Lee that said: “long-term consistency beats short-term intensity.” I agree.
Yet at the same time, I observe in my own life that it can be all too easy to get into ruts; slipping into comfortable and familiar patterns of thought and action that were once great but are now merely good or perhaps not even that. Without innovation, growth will stagnate.
The challenge, I think, is to stretch towards improvement consistently. Seeking opportunities to learn, grow and improve on a daily basis. Holding consistently to a clear mission and values whilst exploring new ways of working towards these.
Are you getting comfortable or even stuck in familiar patterns that are no longer helping you to grow and improve?
5. Who am I not hearing from?
The more diverse the views we receive, the greater our awareness of the issues we face and the potential solutions available to us.
It is natural for us to seek an opinion from familiar and friendly sources, especially those that have helped us to succeed in the past.
When interviewing leaders, it is clear that those who create the most effective solutions for their organisations are the ones with the broadest sources of input into their thinking.
Boardroom diversity has gained significant profile, yet too many leadership teams remain highly biased. This is not just an issue of gender diversity (although gender remains an essential factor); it is the breadth of perspective and experience that matters.
Diversity of thought requires us to spend time with unfamiliar people, or people that are familiar but that rub us up the wrong way. To be humble enough to recognise that we don’t have all the answers (or even many of them).
In my own experience, I am still learning that inviting perspectives from people that are likely to disagree with me will result in far better outcomes.
6. How can I press forward with my goals for the year?
Life is rich in its variety and uncertainty. That’s a polite way of saying that our plans need to change and flex as events unfold.
Following a team review in June, we are focussing our effort and energy on our core expertise - human data analytics. We have plans in place that we are pursuing, yet I am aware that tactical plans sometimes need to change to best serve the overall strategic objective.
With thanks to The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, I am asking myself what one thing I need to do that will have the most significant impact on each of my objectives. This prompted me to contact a music teacher; learning to play the saxophone is one of my goals for my 40s.
Autumn can be a time of year when goals and objectives are abandoned, whether personal or workplace targets. Perhaps a better approach is to affirm why those goals were important to start with and set new tactical plans, in light of current information, which still serves the bigger idea.
7. Digital versus personal
How can my business embrace digital technology whilst at the same time enhancing the critical personal edge that we bring? We are specialists in human data analytics, including psychometrics; at the same time, a high level of rapport and human connection is important and valuable when coaching individuals and teams.
Advances in digital technology have made these tools highly accessible, allowing us to bring our work to a wider audience, including manufacturers, small businesses, boardrooms and government.
We are building digital content, especially to support our certification programmes in Personal Formations but must never forget we are in the business of people.
Understanding the elements of our work that we can and should scale digitally and those that require our in-person connection with our clients will be imperative in shaping the future of our work.
What reflections have you made over the summer that will inform your actions this autumn?