In recent meetings with business leaders I’ve heard plenty of conflicting theories about when the economy will ‘right itself’. Everyone agrees, however, that we can’t just ride things out. The organizations that emerge successfully will triumph because they change. They will develop new strategies, reinvent their business models, cut loose divisions that aren’t core to the business, get employees to do things differently or ask employees to do different jobs altogether. Read more to learn our leadership tips on managing people.
We know that change is rarely welcome in organizations. Nor is it rapid. Nor is it easy. Kathleen Holmes, Learning & Development Consultant for Microsoft’s Server & Tools Business, describes one barrier that leaders face: “There seems to be a fundamental human fear of change. Even when we understand that we need to approach things differently, it’s hard to make the necessary shifts.”
Leadership is about driving effective change.
What about your organization? You may have a plan for succeeding in the ‘new normal’. Most of the leaders I’ve met expect the new normal to feature lower revenue and profits, at least for the short term. That means your plan contains changes that are bound to be unpopular with one or more stakeholders in your business: employees, investors or customers. You may have tried to manage expectations, with themes like “it will get harder before it gets easier.” These questions, however, remain: Will your workforce rally? Will they follow your lead? Will they work tirelessly to turn your strategy into tangible results?
You’re right to be concerned. As leadership gaffes, executive bad behavior and layoffs continue to make headlines, employee cynicism is at an all-time high. Even if your workforce believed in you before, chances are that they are thinking, “Why should anyone be led by you?”
I recently wrestled with this question myself as I attended our new leadership development experience based on the work of professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. I was familiar with the key concepts of Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?, having read both the Harvard Business Review article and book. Yet sitting with my colleagues, working on the business challenge I brought to the session, I was struck by the timeliness and relevance of the key concepts.
I’d like to share a few of them here.
Build a CASE for your leadership.
Leadership is a relationship. Without followers, it doesn’t exist. And as a recent participant, Fabricio Lopez, reminds us, “You must build followers not because you want an audience or recognition but because you have a vision — and you need your followers to take action, to do everything possible to get there.”
You can earn the right to be followed by taking into account the four primary needs of followers:
- Community: We all desire to belong, to feel part of something bigger (like an overarching organizational purpose) and to form connections with other people.
- Authenticity: We won’t follow a mere title or set of credentials. We need human beings who reveal what makes them unique and worth following.
- Significance: We’re all looking for meaningful work and the recognition that what we do matters.
- Excitement: We want passionate leaders to inspire us. And sometimes we need a bit of a push to spur even greater achievement.
- Listen to Professor Gareth Jones summarize the Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? ideas.
Be yourself – more – with skill.
Authentic leaders don’t try to imitate Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Andrea Jung or Richard Branson. They stay true to themselves while driving the organization’s imperatives, flexing their leadership behavior for different situations and staying attuned to the needs of followers. The following leadership practices come into play:
Become a situational sensor. Situational sensing requires you to pick up on the ‘soft data’ around you to guide your behavior and provide the insights you need to create an alternative, inspiring reality for followers. Check out the observations in last month’s eNews “Are You a ‘Captain Oblivious‘?” for more on this critical practice.
Know and show yourself — enough. You need to determine what is unique and special enough about you to excite others to exceptional performance. It may be your core values, your background, your special expertise or even your shortcomings (but not your fatal flaws). Holmes of Microsoft feels that sharing personal values, in particular, is a powerful practice during uncertainty and change. “It reinforces the human connection,” she says.
Communicate with care. Lopez of a global entertainment company shared this learning, “At the end of the day, you have to be yourself. You have to let yourself come through in how you communicate, without being afraid to be less ‘corporate’.” So communication needs to be about more than your message and your audience. You need to choose the communication channel that works best for you.
“I believe that leadership will get you to the finish line. It’s not enough to be smart.” — Edwin Belen, Executive Director of Accounting, a global entertainment company
Take stock of your leadership.
What’s your answer to “Why should anyone be led by you?”
Self-reflection is certainly an important leadership practice, but don’t stop there. Seek out your followers. Ask for feedback. Listen to what they say — and don’t say. And consider what differentiates you from the pack — or from the leaders who have made headlines in the recession’s ‘wall of shame’.