I think we’re getting many aspects of leadership wrong these days. I think its time to update some outdated leadership concepts.
There are several aspects we need to address, which I’ll cover in a series of articles leading on from this one, but the first one I want to discuss here is the leader shouldering all responsibility for the team culture and performance, and flipping this to more of a Leadership at All Levels culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating leaders abdicate their responsibility – not at all. The leader of course plays a, if not the most critical role in team culture and performance. A lack of leadership in this space means failure for everyone!
However, what I AM advocating is mutual responsibility: sharing that responsibility across the team as well as the leader: taking a Leadership at All Levels approach.
I think too much these days we are absolving team members of their share of the responsibility pie and expecting leaders to do it all. That’s an unrealistic expectation, and we need to change that if we want to have the truly inclusive cultures and high performing teams we strive for.
To give you an example: When we run our ½-day smart-phone-app-based Team Development programs with teams, I cannot count the number of times that, in the first round of challenges we observe people undertaking, we hear from team members that they don’t get given the right information; or they don’t get feedback on what they’re doing; or they don’t know what’s going on so can’t do their task properly. They blame the leader for not giving them this information. Now, that’s fair to a degree…However…
My response to the above☝️ is to ask people the question: “what does your leader do when you ask them for feedback/ information/ guidance on what’s going on?”
The most popular response? “Um, I shouldn’t have to ask, they should tell me, they’re the leader!”
Yes, in an ideal world the leader would be across everything, tell people everything, give perfect feedback and flawless guidance tailored to each individual.
However, this, unfortunately, is not an ideal world. And leaders are humans too🧠! Even the best leaders are not perfect and drop the ball on things, make mistakes, get the feedback and guidance levels wrong, etc. Especially these days where we are all under increasing pressure from all sides.
As the saying goes, “a person cannot think of something they simply couldn’t think of”.
What we advocate is if you’re not getting what you need from your leader, this is your time to be the Leader at All Levels and make time and [respectfully] ask them. Initiate an open conversation where you respectfully outline to your manger what you need, how and when it needs to be delivered, and what your thinking is behind that so the leader can understand ‘The Why.’
This approach can literally change the world!
We understand not all leaders will listen. However, in our experience the vast majority will listen – if given the chance. And not only listen, they’ll also be incredibly grateful to you! They’ll be incredibly grateful for you stepping into the Leadership at All Levels role helping them and pointing them in the right direction to give you exactly what you need, rather than trying to flounder around in the dark hoping to land things right but often not quite hitting the mark (not all leaders get training in these skills – unfortunately!).
When we send teams out to apply this learning and ask for information / what they need in the second round of challenges in our smart-phone-app-based team development program, it literally changes the world! People step into the Leadership at All Levels space, speak up, get the information they require – and are so much more effective as a result!
When people step into the Leadership at All Levels space and ask, managers also better learn to listen to what people need. Plus, it also teaches leaders to ask more, and check in with individuals, which builds a much more collaborative and supportive culture. Better understanding and better results all round. Everyone wins.
Performance increases exponentially because everyone’s more on the same page!
We see it in action right in front of our (and the team’s) eyes when the team performs so much better in the second round of fun team development challenges!
When people build a Leadership at All Levels culture, from a neuroscience perspective, things turn round from the defensive/ attacking “you’re the leader, you should know what I want!” type attitude that produces adrenaline and cortisol and creates a ‘threat’ state and reduces collaboration and mutual understanding, to people being in a mutual reward/ toward state.
This reward toward state produces the powerful connection hormone, oxytocin, that plays roles in positive group behaviours that include social bonding, as well as dopamine and serotonin (reward and feel-good/ feelings of well-being neurotransmitters), which produce happier people and more collaborative and productive teams.
Of course the same applies to leaders to ask their people what they need – it’s a 2-way street. And remember, nearly all leaders are also team members one-way-or-another, so this Leadership at All Levels concept applies at every level of the organisation!
So, if you’re not getting what you need, whether you’re a leader or team member, step into that Leadership at All Levels space to build a culture of respectfully asking – and allowing a safe space for people to ask.
P.S. This concept also applies to out-of-work relationships. I’m a pretty emotionally intelligent person – but I can’t always read the situation or what someone needs!
The number of times in the past I’ve been told “you’re good at this stuff, I shouldn’t have to tell you, you should know what I’m thinking/ what I need…and do it!” Obviously, things tend not to go so well from there…!
When guessing what someone needs (as a leader or partner), it’s like fumbling around in a massive dark room trying to find the tiny, hidden switch that brings light.
If I and the other person take mutual responsibility for asking what each other needs/ tell each other what we need, then finding the light switch is way faster, and there’s a lot less fumbling around in the dark, which is fraught with danger and usually gets everyone frustrated and annoyed – and destroys culture and relationships!
If you want to find out more about our customised in-house Team Building (or any of our training sessions of course!) please email us, visit our website or simply pick up the phone and talk to a real person by calling us on +61 (0)2 7901 5618.
Simon and the team @ Southern Cross Coaching & Development