Outward-looking executives can forget the effect of their own hubris in stifling employee engagement. The most successful leaders are those that can put their success to one side and connect with their team members at a human level.
The 18th Century was an age of revolution. For centuries, people had lived under the iron fist of leaders who viewed themselves as God’s incarnation on earth. Monarchies were turned to dust and, where Kings and Queens once stood, their people gathered as one.
What is abundantly clear from history is that human beings do not appreciate being spoken down to. They respond well to leaders who connect with them as people; who don’t treat them as lesser merely because they are not as experienced or well-paid.
Consider the outpouring of grief after the passing of former PM Bob Hawke and his recent funeral. His policies may not have united the country but people from across the political spectrum remember him as a man of the people. He was a larrikin who was as capable talking to members of the public as he was leading the country. Australia loved Bob because he was one of us.
This logic applies as much to organisational office spaces as it does to princes and politicians. Research conducted by Roberta Toscano, Gavin Price and Caren Scheepers in 2018 concluded that arrogant executives adversely affect employee engagement. In essence, underlings feel less oriented with their work in environments where their leaders seem full of themselves. This should be fairly obvious to most executives; we’ve all been in a position where we’ve felt less inclined to do what we’re told because the person ordering us around is being dislikeable.
Executives in positions of leadership, thus, find themselves in a very tenuous position. Naturally, a seat in the c-suit brings with it privileges. No matter how warranted these privileges are, the fact remains that they are present and capable of alienating subordinates.
How can executives balance the nature of their role with the need to remain relatable and human? The answer can be the difference between a productive and ostracising workplace environment.
The answer is a simple one: Humility.
You cannot change the fact that you are successful. By virtue of your role as an executive and a leader, you will be looked upon as residing in the upper echelons of corporate Australia. But you can change what is within your power. You must defy your workers’ expectations of you. Disarm them. Make them realise that you are just like any other employee – only, you are sitting in a different office.
Research suggests that executives aren’t particularly good at doing this. According to a recent survey by LRN, only 14% of employees said that their leaders acknowledge their own shortcomings and only 6% recall their boss ever asking them for assistance. In other words, executives continue to give off the impression that they are infallible and will not be reduced to asking for the assistance of their underlings.
Fortunately, it is quite simple to make inroads into this perception. AON’s 2018 report on Trends in Global Employee Engagement found that the number one driver of employee motivation is recognition. Simply put, one way to make an employee feel engaged is to ask them for their assistance in the work you are doing. If you can create a relationship where they see themselves as on equal footing with their executive, you will foster engagement with the work they are doing.
Mindfulness training is another way forward. Increasingly, executives are turning to exercises that help them be more present in their interactions with their subordinates. Mindfulness training enables participants to connect with those around them, making others feel more involved and wanted. The effect of mindfulness is a perception among the workforce that the executive is more relatable and human, in that, they are willing to listen and treat others with respect.
Literature and history sounds a warning to all those who wield power: the stability of any tenure rests on those beneath the leader. Your success depends on your capacity to draw the best out of your team members.
The best executives do not get caught up in the gloss of their position, their office, the functions and their salary. They appreciate the privilege of their role but remain humble. For to do otherwise would be to alienate the people you have been appointed to optimise the performance of.
Ultimately, complete leadership rests on an executive’s capacity to make their subordinates forget that they are, in fact, a leader.
The Complete Leader Program, using advanced big data analysis, breaks down participants’ leadership styles to make subtle but fundamental alterations. If you are interested in recalibrating your employees’ perception of your leadership, please contact Melinda Fell.