We live in an age of empathy and understanding. The notion of an infallible leader is no longer one that inspires confidence and a willingness to work. Instead, people long for human connection. If a leader is able to develop a bond between themselves and their team, they are on the pathway to true engagement.
What do you picture when I say ‘leader’?
The stereotype is someone who is stoic. Someone who stands above their team, making sure they get the job done. A leader’s words and actions are absorbed by their underlings who, from fear or self-interest, work to achieve their leader’s goals. The popular conception of a leader is as leading from the outside.
But this picture, despite its popularity, is unfit for the modern workplace.
In 2016, Gallup’s research indicated that 87% of workers felt disengaged from their workplaces. Similarly, 55% of respondents to a 2018 Deloitte Survey said leadership must be reconceived. Something needs to be done at the executive level if we want to re-engage our workforce and align them with our organisation goals.
Behavioural psychology gives us some guidance. A classical theory used to understand worker engagement is ‘Self Determination Theory’. Workers who are intrinsically motivated by internal desires are far more persistent and willing to work than those who are extrinsically motivated, as is the case where an authoritative leader orders their team to do work.
In essence, workers are more engaged with the organisational mission when they want to succeed. Authoritative, domineering leaders do not encourage this sort of motivation; instead, their team merely works because they feel like they have to.
So this begs the question: how can leaders foster internal motivation and, thus, engagement within the workforce?
Deloitte provides us with an answer: down to earth, humane leaders who involve their teams in decision making are better able to develop trust. If you can develop this human connection, you will be able to generate a team culture where everyone feels involved and ready to work.
The ‘Redefining Leadership’ report indicates that around 50% of employees believe that their organisation would perform better if their leaders became more transparent, authentic and able to recognise their own weaknesses.
What this suggests is that performance will improve if workers feel as if they are on more equal footing with their leader; when a leader acts like an everyday human being – capable of mistakes and in need of help – workers feel more involved and as if the goal being worked towards is as much theirs as it is their leader’s.
Based on this, you are faced with a choice: To change or not to change?
Understandably, you might feel entitled to maintain a more stoic style of leadership. You have authority because you are a hard worker who makes good decisions. It makes sense that you are in control, above the rest of your team.
But keep in mind that the best leaders are not those who strive for the glory of the role. Complete leaders will do whatever is necessary to optimise their team’s performance, even if that means relinquishing some of the control that typically comes with their role.
To take your team forward, you must take a step down.
Modern leaders should stand among the people, not before them. They need to be down to earth, willing to listen and inclusive. They ought to be a part of a broader team where everyone is working towards the same goal. While there may be a hierarchy of authority in theory, it should be invisible once the team starts working together. A complete leader should lead from within.
It is very simple: the leaders who are best able to engage their workers are, above all else, human beings.
The Complete Leader Program – which combines big data analytics with personal expertise – spends a significant amount of time developing its participants’ capacity to connect with their teams. If this is of interest to you, please contact Melinda Fell.