There are many recipes being offered today to advise managers and leaders at all levels on becoming more authentic. The argument being that by being more authentic you are more credible and persuasive as a leader for those who follow and get more done more easily. In our approach we have a straight forward way of helping our customers develop as authentic leaders. We have three simple tenets:
• Be true to yourself
• Be true to your responsibilities
• Be true to others
In this article we will focus on “be true to others.” What we mean by this is the reality that your success as a leader depends on getting work done through others. Moving into a leadership role means your focus should now be more on how you can best enable others to achieve their objectives and less about you getting things done by yourself. Even individual contributors may need to display this thinking when they engage in project work or cross organisational team working.
As a leader are you creating an environment in which your people feel “psychologically safe”? This is a concept at the centre of recent extensive research by Google described by Charles Duhigg in one of his recent books.* Psychological safety is “a shared belief, held by members of a team, that the group is a safe place to take risks. It is a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.” As a leader there are important behaviours you can demonstrate to create an atmosphere of psychological safety. For example, demonstrate you are listening by summarizing what people have said after they have said it or admit that you don’t know. An important finding from the Google research was “you can take a team of average performers, and if you teach them to interact the right way, they’ll do things no superstar could ever accomplish”. As a leader you have an important role in making this happen.
Related to this how well do you facilitate upward communication? The safety literature highlights that the information is available to correct issues before they arise but employees do not feel they can talk about it with managers. People often do not feel empowered to raise issues and particularly negative issues with their manager. Edgar Schein would argue the need for managers practising “humble enquiry”. ** As managers we are very much programmed to tell instead of ask. It takes a conscious effort to ask with an open mind without triggering politically or culturally correct answers. Learning to do this can help us to hear the things we do need to know as leaders and enable our people to speak up.
Another central element of being true to others is giving feedback. Performance feedback helps people to know how well they are doing. It is important that I know what I am doing well in addition to what I might need to improve. Perhaps it is more important to know what I am doing well. Marcus Buckingham would argue that building on strengths is easier and builds both productivity and satisfaction more than trying to improve weaknesses.*** Key to my ability to build my strengths is regular feedback.
As a leader we can also help people grow by delegation. By giving people more challenging tasks and responsibilities we help them to increase their competence. The spin-off is that it can free up some time for us to concentrate on other things. Our colleague, Elizabeth Moon, makes a point of getting the leadership groups she works with to discuss and surface the keys to effective delegation so it is not assumed that the leaders already know how to do it.
Perhaps the most important thing a leader or manager can do to help her or his people grow is to provide coaching. The manager is ideally placed, with an understanding of both the person and the context, to help the individual find their own solutions to specific issues or steps in their career development.
In our work with clients and customers we aim to make them more skilled as leaders through becoming more skilled and effective in these areas.
Get in touch with Gerry Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org to explore how we can help you.
* “Smarter, Faster, Better – The secrets of being productive in life and business” by Charles Duhigg.
**”Humble Enquiry – the gentle art of asking instead of telling” by Edgar Schein.
*** “Now discover your strengths – how to develop your talents and those of the people you manage” by Marcus Buckingham.