Why do 77% of leaders think they do a good job engaging their people at work, yet 88% of employees say their leaders don’t engage enough?
It was a question posed by Rasmus Hougaard, Founder and Managing Director of the Potential Project, at both an IMI (Irish Management Institute) session early this year and at the American Chamber of Commerce annual event on Learning this September.
It caught my attention – as it did the rest of the audience’s – when I heard it first and it made me buy Rasmus’s book ‘The Mind of the Leader’. Over the course of its pages, it essentially confirms that organisation and leaders today are not meeting employees’ basic needs of finding meaning, purpose, connection and genuine happiness at work.
His talk and indeed his book offer a radical and practical solution for leaders. He suggests that to solve the leadership vacuum organisations need to put people at the centre of their strategy. They need to develop managers and leaders who lead with three core mental qualities: Mindfulness, selflessness and compassion.
Leadership today is a complicated business. The 21st century is asking for a new kind of leader one who can be comfortable with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and change. Of course, the degree of change is seismic, meaning leaders must also be able to ask for help and be dependent.
Jeff Turner, International Director for Learning and Development at Facebook recently shared with me his organisations research on teams and the conditions that predict their success.
When looking at the very essence of successful teams and their inherently networked nature, one important understanding Jeff reminded me of is that organisations are complex adaptive systems, which means they cannot be easily controlled or predicted.
This makes relationships essential. When gears inevitably grind together, it’s important to have the grease to get them going again in the right direction. It’s the leader’s role then to listen to all the connecting points within and outside of the eco system, with people being at the core of all these interactions.
Trusted, Collaborative Relations
What then should be the end goal for leaders? According to the leaders I’ve talked to, and my own experience, the answer is ‘trusted, collaborative relations’.
Why? Because people are looking for business organisations to be more human, more empathetic to the human condition in the world we live in, and engage with their own individual needs.
This is backed up by research, particularly the 2018 Deloitte report ‘The Rise of the Social Enterprise’.
“In 2018, we are witnessing seismic changes in the workforce, the workplace, and the technologies used in the world of work. Based on this year’s global survey of more than 11,000 business and HR leaders, as well as interviews with executives from some of today’s leading organizations, we believe that a fundamental change is underway.
Organizations are no longer assessed based only on traditional metrics such as financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, organizations today are increasingly judged based on their relationships with their workers, their customers, and their communities, as well as their impact on society at large—transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.”
Coaching towards a Social Enterprise
Coaching has a real role to play in this new world. Coaching is one of those methodologies that support the creation of positive, trusting relations that get at learning. It’s a practice that helps others see things from different perspectives, it challenges assumptions, reframes old problems and gets at solutions owned by the coachee.
Coaching is a mind-set, it supports the growth and development of the other. The degree to which you engage in coaching will depend on your mindset, your belief set and values as well as your views on authority, relationships and trust.
It is somewhat counterintuitive for a leader to be humble, to access their own ignorance and ask questions to which they do not know the answer. That is coaching.
What to do? Be disciplined. It takes discipline and practice to access one’s own ignorance, to adopt a beginner’s mind-set, to stay in humble enquiry and to listen.
Learn to be present, step back, slow down to speed up, ask open questions, notice what is missing, challenge assumptions, question your own questions to rid yourself of bias, and be curious.
The beauty of coaching is that it gives another or others the space to think, space where they can explore their own options, and determine what is a block to action and the chance to change.
While not comprehensive, there are three behaviours leaders should demonstrate if they want to move towards a coaching mindset.
Rule 1 Do less telling
Rule 2 Engage in humble enquiry
Rule 3 Do a better job of listening & acknowledging
The positive consequences will be better conversations, better relationships and better task completion.
So, it essential that companies invest time and resources in listening to their people and creating structures and opportunities to bring out the best in them so that individuals and teams can flourish. Coaching for business results is one answer.
If we do, we might begin to close that gap between what levels of engagement leaders think they are giving their followers and what their followers actually need.
Tara Nolan is an IMI associate who teaches on the Coaching for Business Results programme.
Tara specialises in developing leaders and managers in the practice of business coaching.
She has worked with top teams of many multinationals and her approach balances the needs of the company and individual while leaving a lasting, positive legacy of professional and personal change.