Are you Theory X or Theory Y?

It’s not (ONLY) about Trust by David Pilbeam MA

Not sure that you trust your people to give their best every day when they are working remotely and you can’t see what they are up to? You are not alone. The issue of trust has long been cited in research as one of the principle reasons leaders do not favour home or remote working for their team members. This mistrust is often routed in the leader’s lack of confidence in a performers ability to do the job well and a suspicion that people will abuse their homeworking arrangement somehow. Leadership researcher Jennifer Garvey-Berger calls this a ‘mind trap’[1] and suggests that rather than seeking control leadership ‘requires the counterintuitive move of letting go of control in order to focus on creating the conditions for good things to happen – often with better outcomes than we could ever have imagined.’

Douglas McGregor[2] introduced us all to the idea that leaders tend to naturally favour Theory X or Theory Y 60 years ago. One leader we talked to this week reminded us of its relevance for the present climate. McGregor suggested that leaders favouring Theory X see people as motivated to avoid work when left to their own devices, while those who have a preference for Theory Y are inclined to see people as naturally highly motivated to perform their work. With a preference for Theory Y a leader is more inclined to give trust while the mindset of a leader coming from Theory X might be that trust must be hard earned. The leader in question wanted to make clear to us that more leaders in his sector still had a preference for Theory X than you might imagine and it was they who were struggling most to adapt to present context.

Many observers criticized this polar view of human nature as being over simplistic but McGregor’s central point – as with Maslow[3] before him – was that most people were motivated to give their best and would actively seek responsibility if they had clear goals they were committed to and could see the impact of their contribution. With a newly distributed team we can make a choice to give trust or face weeks of frustration fuelled by feelings of being out of control, and worry about what individuals are actually doing on company time.

CONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS

So, what if leaders diverted their attention away from issues of trust for a moment and started to frame the problem more in terms of motivation and contribution? How can I create the conditions in this now virtual team whereby each individual can find their own motivation? This being a more helpful question than: how can I over-come my suspicious nature, even if I wanted to? In our experience, when a leader creates the right conditions, people engage and the issue of trust rarely emerges.

Talk to anyone who has worked from home over a significant period of time and they will tell you that their motivation ebbs and flows through any given day or week. However, another theory of motivation[4] suggests that if leaders focus on creating 3 core conditions in the work environment, they increase the chances of a performer finding a more consistent and robust sense of motivation for themselves:

Purpose and Contribution

Many of the people we speak to who demonstrate unwavering drive and persistence in their work are dedicated to a higher cause or purpose and are driven by a desire to make a strong contribution to the work of their team. They go above and beyond the call of duty to persist and perform tasks and work productively, even at times of uncertainty. Finding significance in the project they are working on drives them. Where leaders actively help their people to find ways to contribute the to the team’s ambition and goals that is based on their strengths and passions, motivation increases.

Cultivating a sense of choice 

The more sense of choice people have about how they make that contribution, the higher levels of interest, excitement and commitment they bring. A choice mobilises people’s energies. Micro-management and constraints will sap them. Leaders may not be able to give people full choice over the end game but they can provide choice over contribution and latitude to deliver in a way that fits people’s preferences and strengths.

Growing capability

People want to feel that they are getting better, every day, at what they do. The feelings associated with increased levels of competence fuel confidence and development. Where leaders provide the opportunity for people to stretch themselves and learn something new, motivation increases and is more sustainable.

BACK TO TRUST

In our experience, trust building in a team, virtual or otherwise, begins with the leader working every day on becoming worthy of their team members trust. Rather than inviting people to earn their trust the best leaders see it in reverse – ‘it’s my job to earn my people’s trust’. Research[5] tells us that the best leaders do this by paying attention to:

  1. What they say and how they deploy their skills and experience in support of others development
  2. Doing what they say they will do
  3. Being genuinely interested in understanding the world of their team members – what makes them tick?

By combining this personal focus on becoming trustworthy themselves with creating the core conditions for people to find their own motivation, leaders who may be challenged most by engaging their teams in the current context, may discover a new path forward. It is the combination of human factors, such as trust and motivation, and technical solutions that will ultimately fuel success.

Before COVID 19, technology was already making it easier for people to work when they want, where they want, for the hours they want, and for the company they want. This is a trend that has now accelerated many fold – along with people’s increased desire to contribute and make a difference.


[1] Garvey-Berger, J (2016) Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders

[2] McGregor, D (1960) The Human Side of Enterprise

[3] Maslow, A (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, p370–396.

[4] Ryan, R. M.; Deci, E. L. (2000). “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being”. American Psychologist55: 68–78.

[5] Maister, D.H., Green, C.H., & Galford, R.M., (2000) The Trusted Advisor New York: Free Press,

How to improve productivity in uncertain times

Leading by objectives helps improve productivity

Over the last 3 weeks of lockdown we have spoken to a number of business leaders about the impact that this period of change is having on their business and the different demands it places on their leadership. After the initial phase in which most leaders described a need simply to affect the changes necessary to keep the business functioning, came the need to explore new ways of working that were going to meet the challenges of the uncertainty we are all facing. For many this requirement was driven by teams being forced into working at home and far away from the central hub of business activity.

Many leaders have learnt quickly how to use technology in order to help people stay connected. For many, this is clearly a straightforward and natural process of adaptation. For others, it runs counter to how they prefer to lead. For some, the idea of having the majority of their team working from home is scary. How do I know they are doing the right things? How can I trust them to do what they say they are going to do? This often drives an over-dependence on the technology to ‘check-in’ with people – what they really mean is ‘check-up’.

Same but different

Talking to a senior leader in the world of banking last week we heard that those leaders who appear to be thriving currently are those who have already developed strong, high trust, relationships with their team members. In our research on how the most effective leaders ‘show up’ day to day with their followers we identified 5 essential human qualities that exist in all of us that we can practise consciously in order to build engagement and develop high performance: Determination, Compassion, Balance, Discovery, and Perspective.[1] Leaders develop their credibility with others by building these capabilities through deliberate practice. When the context for leadership changes dramatically it appears these qualities matter more than ever.

For many organisations, of course, the transition to a more distributed workforce happened a decade ago and they are largely untouched by this hiatus. Listening to Mark Mullenweg, Founder of WordPress, being interviewed recently on Sam Harris’s wonderful podcast on the future of work[2] you get sense of the massive benefits of having a globally distributed workforce. Find the best talent in the world and provide them with innovative ways to connect and magic will happen. However, many organisations are still organised on more traditional lines and therefore have leaders at the helm for whom navigating this new context remains tough. It rubs against their strong need for control and for systems and process over the more human qualities identified above.

Managing by outcomes

It is an old idea, but could Managing by Outcomes be an approach that would help such leaders succeed in this new order? Simply put, managing by outcomes means defining organisational goals; communicating these objectives clearly; rigorously measuring performance against those goals and then continuously managing the organisation in line with those goals and measures. It strikes us that a structured, goal-focussed approach, makes sense when followers are outside of a leader’s line of sight for extended periods of time.

In this approach, leaders give people the big picture because they recognise that the most talented performers prefer to work with high levels of autonomy. They then manage by outcomes rather than by tasks.They spend a lot of time with people agreeing on what must be delivered. They make crystal-clear contracts about the real results to achieve. From then on virtually every performance conversation will start by concentrating on the agreed outcomes rather than get into supervising the tasks or justifying their working week.

In our experience, organisations who use this approach well:

  • have a clear vision of why they exist, what they want to achieve and how well they are achieving against this;
  • plan their work keeping in mind a clear set of individual and team goals
  • take stock of their progress by monitoring, measuring, reviewing and re-evaluating as they go;
  • learn from success and failure, then modify what they do and how they do it in response;
  • report openly on their results, promoting transparency and providing a basis for dialogue about future decisions in the team

Interestingly they do not stop there. They also aim to deliver in a manner that is consistent with the values and principles that characterise the organisation. They encourage people to focus on setting the bar high when making decisions on how they go about their daily work.

A number of organisations we work with have successfully shifted to this way of working. One in particular, until recent events took over, had all their staff under one roof, but have moved seamlessly to becoming a distributed workforce. The leader tells us that clarity is vital and their role is to communicate the big picture, provide structures and frameworks to guide people and be world class at goal setting and reviewing. Each team member’s role is to make clear contracts about their part in achieving the goals. If people get out of bed a little later than usual or take time out in their day to teach their child’s English lesson, can we learn to live with it – so long as people are delivering what they say are going to deliver?

By David Pilbeam (MA) Leadership coach and coaching supervisor


[1] Pilbeam, D & Wallis, G.P., (2018) Leader iD: Discover your leadership profile – and how to improve. Pearson, London

[2] #194 The New Future of Work, A Conversation with Matt Mullenberg on Making Sense with Sam Harris, Podcast

Why do leaders stop leading?

Leaders Leading Leaders

Brilliant functional leaders who head up their own teams of high performers often share an observable trait: They stop leading when they come together in a group with their peers, e.g. at their regular senior leadership team meetings.

We see it. Too often.

Why do leaders stop leading?

From our data and experience of nearly 20 years, there are a number of reasons why highly effective leaders stop leading when they come together and they include but are not limited to:

  1. A lack of discrete contracting about the expectations of behaviours within the team
  2. A well-meaning but overly directing nominal leader
  3. Leaders in one context limiting themselves to being solely a follower in another setting

Let’s looks at each of these in turn and see what you might be able to do about them if these traits appear in the teams you are involved with.

1. Contracting around behaviours

Great teams spend time getting a clear and shared understanding of what the expectations are on each member of the team. This might include developing both specific roles in addition to a more generalised set of expectations.

One of these team-wide intentions must include the leadership requirement on all members when they are within a team setting or representing the team to the wider organisation, customers and/or other key stakeholders. Being explicit about this single aspect of what it is to contribute to a highly effective team is (in our experience) perhaps most especially important when team members are already leaders elsewhere i.e. have their own team to lead.

2. Overly directing nominal leader

We see the ‘nominal leader’ as the person with the title and ultimate accountability for the team. This person would be the one that the other members of the team would turn to for appropriate permissions, sign-off etc.

Where the contracting around leadership expectations has not been completed (See #1 above) and in some cases even when it has, there can be temptation for the nominal leader to feel that – for a range of reasons – they should very visibly and actively lead the team. Albeit that the team may comprise a number of highly experienced leaders in their own right. This disempowers the other leaders, creates doubt and a sense that you don’t trust or value their points of view, experience etc.

If you are such a leader, find ways to re-orient your identity within the team to be more of a facilitator of experts, rather than role model an identity that might look more like “the Boss” to outside observers (such as us when we come and work with you!) This helps you to:

a. add more specific value to team activities, from your own deep experience

b. provides a platform for your team members to add greater value

c. gives you first-hand evidence of how your team are operating and contributing.

3. Identity crisis

For leaders who are also part of other teams of peers/leaders – which is pretty much everyone in an organisation – you need to work out for yourself what it means to be a follower and behave accordingly, whilst … and this is important … not giving up all your leadership activities, skills and experience. You need to be able to do both dynamically – be willing to follow and be led by others, whilst also be willing to pop the leader hat back on when required, step up and do your thing!

We know it is tempting to welcome a break from the responsibilities for a while and let someone else take the mantle/burden of leadership.

But we’ve got some bad news: You don’t get not to lead. It’s a full-time role. That includes when you are working alongside your peers.

Glenn P Wallis helps leaders and teams become the very best versions of themselves. If you would like to know more, please contact us here.

Preparing to succeed

Some sunkissed, sun-lounger moments over the last few weeks will doubtless have been spent thinking about the start of the final third of 2019 and how to prepare best for a strong finish to the year. What better time to share with you a summary of the key insights provided by Olympian and Paralympian coach, Keith Antoine, when he was a guest on the Success iD podcast sharing his views on the importance of preparation.

The business case for preparation

There’s a difference between preparation and catering for eventualities. People think they have to prepare for what’s going to happen, which is different to preparing for what may happen. Here’s where I am, here’s where I want to go, I will lay the ground as I want the ground to go, yet life has a tendency to mess that up. This can lead people either to feeling, “What’s the point in preparing as you can’t guarantee how it’s going to go?” or over preparing, which can be unhelpfully constraining. You need to look down the road, see the journey, predict what might happen, then prepare yourself for those things that may occur. Being prepared for unpredictability gives you flexibility. A practical way to deal with reality.

Flexibility in planning is key

Expect a plan not to go to plan. Break a goal into small sections – it’s more practical to get from A to B then think about what route the journey make take from B to C, rather than A – Z from the get go.

For example, if you were aiming for success at the next Olympics: Then track back, to where you would be in an ideal world, at each separate staging post, ie each championship along the way or the end of each season. Ideally. Not setting these in stone. The stepping stones will ultimately just be fond memories, or not so fond if you get beaten along the way…but that’s okay, as at that point in the journey you were working on these as building blocks for your ultimate success i.e. gold medal at the next Olympics.

So, for leaders, you need to hold on to both the macro and the micro – the end state and where you are now. Leaders have pressures of hitting targets by year end, etc, as that’s what they’ll be judged on, just like heading for the Olympics. It can seem conflicting to take care of today in the rush for tomorrow but you absolutely have to deal with today in the context of tomorrow. People get wrapped up in the busy and judge output as success, but can’t join that up with future goals. That’s normal.

In big complex organisations it can be harder to make those adjustments when people are looking to you but the principle is the same. The world of business is moving so fast now, it is likely that a fixed path will not be relevant by the time you reach the destination. A good leader needs to have the ability to say “you know this plan we had, we need to change it as everything we can see in the environment is telling us the world has changed so what’s the point of keeping to our plan when it won’t apply anymore.”

Coach Keith and I unpicking preparation as a topic.

Connection between preparation and creativity

Some feel that too much preparation stifles the spark of creativity. However, without a foundation of preparation, a core, a central theme, how can you channel creativity effectively? Keith enjoys the creative challenge of working with Paralympians – no two bodies are alike. Working with Richard Whitehead, the double gold medal winning 200m sprinter, preparation/research/understanding of the facts enabled him to innovatively overcome technical issues Richard was having with his prosthetic legs on the bend of the track, to achieve a faster performance and the ultimate success.

In a business context example, prepared key notes for a speaking event are your backbone, but presenting is more than reading something out. You need to read your audience and engage with them and adapt to them.

Preparation is actually freeing, not constraining, both in sport and in leadership. It liberates us as long as it’s servicing the end. For example, Keith’s detailed notes of each training session enable him to deviate from the plan due to unforeseen circumstances like injury or sickness, as he knows exactly the position they need to come back to. If you resist spending more time on building the right foundations, the building won’t be able to fight the vagaries of the actual or the organisational elements, many of which are unforeseeable.

The relationship between preparation and experience

Leaders with many years’ experience, should be able to prep more effectively, faster. They can more quickly work out what should/may happen, at the same time as accepting it’s not absolute and it’s not infallible.

Experience is a wonderful thing as long as it doesn’t stop you looking around and constantly monitoring what’s happening in the here-and-now. New concepts are popping up all the time and experience allows you to determine whether you should pay attention to it or not. A coach may say “This is the latest thing, we need to use this…” Great, take a look at it, however, just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better. Experience will help you make those judgements. But you need to be open to looking at it, not just pay lip service. You may have 20 years’ experience doing something one way but a new way looks better. It doesn’t make that 20 years wrong. It was probably fit for purpose then. Value the experience but don’t get locked in to the experience.

Biggest ‘bang for buck’ takeaway for this topic of Preparation for Success

What really makes preparation work is trusting yourself. It’s very easy to get locked into preparation because you’re trying to justify what you’re doing to others, and it’s very easy to concentrate on creativity because you want to validate others’ ideas, but at some point the decision has to be made about what direction you take and you have to trust in yourself, your beliefs, your system, as that’s what drives everything else. It’s easy to get lost in the system and the organisation.

There’s a place for all of that but the most effective way is to trust in yourself whilst being open to other influences. If you’re comfortable with yourself and trust yourself, you’ll be in the best position to work effectively.

To listen to the original broadcast of Preparation as Success with Keith Antoine, please subscribe to the Success iD podcast on Spotify, Stitcher or iTunes.

Are you destined to become a great leader?

It seems to me that as we look around politics and business life, there is a real dearth of great leadership.

What do I mean by great leadership? Let me clarify.

In my view a ‘great’ leader should not be confused with either a famous (or infamous) leader. Leaders can achieve notoriety for all the right, but also many of the wrong, reasons.  Leaders can achieve success through manipulation, threats, bullying and exclusion. To me, the truly great leader positively influences a group. They maximise human, financial and environmental capital, and then motivate those they lead to achieve great things.

A great leader does their job to the highest personal and ethical standards. In doing so, they gain the utmost respect from their peers and team, whether on the factory floor, running a scout troop or even leading a country.

Why do we need great leaders?

Great leaders are important to:

  •  Your team: The effectiveness of the majority is either positively or negatively impacted by their leaders. Research demonstrates that most people need, indeed want, to be led. Many have no desire to lead other people. That’s fine. But leaders of character will expect this broader group of people to lead themselves effectively, even if they (understandably) do not want to lead others. While there is some debate around whether a person would leave a job because of their leader, we know the experience of having a great leader and mentor in early years development, often stays with people throughout their entire career. And always remember that future great leaders may be members of your own team!
  • Your organisation: According to The Business Management Report, 2017: “Employees who are happy and feel in control are 57% more likely to be engaged and 53% more likely to be productive.” Failing to recognise that most people are not interested or courageous enough to step up and lead, is the single greatest mistake of the organisations that I have worked with over the last twenty years. Where they think about people at all, organisations still subscribe to the idea that, “people are our most valuable asset”. They’re not. Leaders of character are your organisation’s most valuable asset!

So, do you have what it takes?

It’s my assertion that anyone can be a great leader. Some may have more challenges to face along the way, but being a great leader is accessible to all.

But to be a great leader requires you to look deeply at your ‘self’.

If you aspire to lead at any level, you need to take time to analyse your current skill set, embrace fully the idea of being a leader and commit to continually developing your ‘self’ to become the best leader you can be.

What areas should you focus on?

In our book, Leader iD, David Pilbeam and I codified four years of research into five key human characteristics of highly developed leaders:

  • Discovery – You have a deep spirit and love of learning. You look for better ways of doing things, and shamelessly take ideas from one context and apply them to your own.
  • Determination – Leadership can be tough. You are going to need huge reserves of resilience, energy and courage to lead effectively when times are challenging – which they most certainly will be.
  • Perspective – Developmental psychology suggests that the more perspectives a person can hold indicates their levels of intellectual/emotional/cognitive/personal Challenge yourself to look at things from a different point of view.
  • Balance – Are you able to hold things in balance? Can you really challenge your team while also providing support? Can you manage speed and reflection? The need for both action and consideration?
  • Compassion – Your ability to be genuinely empathetic and supportive with those you lead.

Take action to become a great leader now

I believe that while we are all born with a range of abilities, the five characteristics above can be developed by anyone. But only if you build on your strengths, recognise and accept areas of improvement, and take time to work on those areas so they also become your strengths.

Practising your leadership is essential. Initially on yourself, then with your team. Work at leadership all the time. Reflect on success and failures. Why did you achieve the result you did? How could you have reached a different outcome. And don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, from peers, colleagues and your team.

In my experience, there are no shortcuts, to becoming a great leader. It is a lifelong commitment. But it is one that is within your grasp, if you’re prepared to focus on and develop your leadership ‘self’.

Dr Glenn P Wallis, Executive and Leadership Coach

This article first appeared on The Royal Society of Arts online blog 12 September 2018

Leader iD, written by David Pilbeam and Glenn Wallis is published by Pearson UK, Business Book of the Month in W H Smith Travel outlets August 2018 and is available to purchase at all good bookstores and online.

 

Why Leader iD is more than just a book

As experienced qualified coaches, David Pilbeam and I have always shared a vision to create affordable development tools for ambitious leaders in the early stages of their careers.

Leader iD, published this month by Pearson, and currently WH Smith Travel Business Book of the Month, is one such example. It’s filled with tools and advice, and is based on our experiences of coaching and developing successful leaders.

Anyone who buys Leader iD, can also take a FREE online Diagnostic Assessment  to assess their leadership profile and development needs.

Completion of the assessment results in a confidential Personalised Profile Report identifying each leader’s strengths and areas for improvement. That’s a great way to get the best from the book.

But the book is only half the story…

The Leader iD Development Programme

For those leaders who want to really invest in their development, we created an innovative Online Leader iD Development Programme.

It’s presented in practical modules and includes 45 podcasts, nine videos and a comprehensive Workbook with hundreds of questions, and a ‘deep-dive’ exercise to make the learning stick.

You could view the programme as a tailored roadmap for professional growth. It’s ideal for new and aspiring leaders and costs just £99 for individuals. That feels like a small price to pay for being the best leader you can be!

Could this be a solution for your leadership team?

At a time when L&D budgets are under pressure, it strikes us that we could also offer the Leader iD Online Development Programme to corporate customers (with a volume discount, of course)!

If you’re interested in a low-cost, easy access and comprehensive development programme for your future leaders, feel free to give me a call on +44 (0) 20 3858 7337 to learn more.

 

Dr Glenn P Wallis, The Leadership Coach

Leader iD, published by Pearson, is currently WH Smith Travel Business Book of the Month and is also available to purchase at all good bookstores and online.

©Glenn P Wallis Ltd

 

Coaching future leaders

The more the Glenn P Wallis team coach senior leaders, the more we believe that coaching should also be available at an earlier stage in a leader’s career, especially for those identified as ‘talent’ for future leadership roles.

These future leaders would often benefit from improved confidence, greater self-awareness, increased leadership skills and higher role engagement much earlier in their careers. They will then be able to ‘hit the ground running’ when promoted to more senior executive roles.

But organisations can be put off coaching large numbers of leaders because of cost.

Which is why we created Compact Coaching®

Compact Coaching® is an affordable proprietary high-quality, time-efficient coaching methodology. It is suited to middle and junior leaders within an organisation, delivered in large volumes and high frequency. It is also suited to managers in organisations undergoing business transformation or culture change. It is the new coaching method that embeds targeted change through a “little and often” approach.

Compact Coaching® is available to groups of 20 or more. Delivery can be tailored to specific needs but normally each participant has monthly twenty-minute individual coaching sessions via telephone or Skype (or equivalent) over the space of a year.

Is it really worth the investment?

In our experience, the organisation will benefit from leadership skills reaching and shaping a large-scale leadership tier. Other benefits include improved organisational alignment, increased leadership engagement and better business performance.

For example we delivered a blended leadership development programme for a UK bank that resulted in a Return on Investment of over 340%.

Click here for further information about Compact Coaching® or Contact us

©Glenn P Wallis Ltd

 

 

Coaching vs. Mentoring the C-Suite Executive’s Dilemma

There is a misconception that top senior executives and business leaders no longer require a leadership coach, rather an adviser (mentor) who has been in the role successfully in the past.

We, at Glenn P Wallis, believe that this is an assertion built on erroneous thinking. Each C-Suite Executive is very different to the next. It assumes that a mentor’s experience will be of more benefit at a different time and potentially in very different circumstances.

So that does beg the question – how many ex-C-Suite Executives are forward thinking qualified coaches with a commitment to CPD?

The areas of development that the C-Suite Executive requires, will determine the success of the support they receive. A former CEO may be a brilliant mentor, but would they know how to coach effectively? Would they possess the skillset to spot and explore such areas as:

  • faulty thinking
  • personal bias
  • self-limiting beliefs
  • values conflict
  • projection
  • transference
  • counter-transference?

It’s unlikely, unless they have sufficient development in the skills of coaching.

At Glenn P Wallis, it is our firm belief that highly advanced coaching skills, coupled with being a former CEO, would make for the best coaching solution. However, omit the former and you are left with high quality advice that may or may not be fit for purpose. Omit the latter, and what remains is high quality coaching.

In our experience, high quality coaching trumps high quality advice for long-term career success. Because as the old saying goes: give a person a fish and they can feed themselves for a day, or teach them to fish and they can feed themselves forever.

Glenn P Wallis

Coaching for Leaders and Executives

Click here for further information about Coaching for Leaders and Executives or Contact us

©Glenn P Wallis Ltd

3 ways leadership subtlety can improve your pace

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Senior leaders in today’s workplace are required to work quickly. Almost all the time. The expectation is that executives make often quite complex decisions, rapidly. Everyone has to iterate innovation at speed. Many senior leaders I am asked to work with are approaching exhaustion at the relentless pace of work. The challenge here is that the rate of change is not likely to slow down very much any time soon. So how can leaders learn to cope better in this lighting-fast environment? One way to achieve greater capability to work at this pace, is to develop leadership subtlety. In this post, we’ll explore what I mean by leadership subtlety; how it can improve your pace and how to develop the kind of nuance that the very best leaders demonstrate.

What is leadership subtlety?

For the purposes of this article, ‘leadership subtlety’ refers to leaders developing the capacity to respond to situations and to other people, in the widest range of ways. This flexibility of styles is a mark of mature leadership. Mature leadership is not a function of time in the role. There are plenty of examples of very new leaders who have the range of approaches available to them, that engages their team and ensures delivery of great performance. For the sake of balance, leaders who have been in post for a long time but lack the subtlety of leadership approach, are legion.
Leadership subtlety is the direct result of a developed leader. The human being that is the leader, has high levels of awareness, sophisticated worldviews that allow them to be comfortable with paradox, accept the views of others, even when (especially when) they do not accord with those of the leader. Leadership subtlety enables many views and truths to be held together.

What are the three ways leadership subtlety improves pace?

1. Leaders who display the sort of sophisticated thinking and action that we are talking about here, are more likely to focus on the job of leading because they don’t need to be operational. They are clear on their role. They avoid working at a level that is inappropriate to the job they have. This ‘role discipline’ provides greater impact and value across the organisation. Leaders focusing on leadership avoid getting wrapped up in the operational parts of their function. Not easy but vital.
2. Leadership subtlety is accessible to leaders who have a lower ego-need. Such leaders do not need to be the centre of attention, they encourage the ‘best people for the job’ to take control. Leaders who have lower ego needs tend to trust others more. Their ability to retain an idea of the ‘big picture’ allows them to remain more open to ideas and avoid the ‘my way or the highway’ trap so many leaders can fall into.
3. Linked to the previous point, a highly nuanced approach to leadership allows leaders to be more comfortable with glorious failures. Brave attempts that do not produce the desired results, are not an assault on the identity of the leader. Nor are such lacks of success a prompt for criticising the originators of the idea and plan. In such subtlety of leadership approach lies the germ of risk taking, innovation, rapid iteration, agile work. Why? Because people led by such leaders are not scared to make a decision, try something out or just crack on.

Develop yourself to develop your leadership

Developing your ‘Self’ as a human being enables you to live a more fulfilled life but also allows you to lead much more effectively. Your ability to align your actions to your values and your role, improves markedly. Encouraging the creativity and uniqueness of others, maximises the resources of those you lead. Remaining squarely in your leadership role supports high performance and confidence in others too. You working on you, will aid your ability to succeed as a leader in these fast-paced times.
Dr Glenn P Wallis is the Director of Wallis Partnership Ltd a specialised leadership consultancy. When your organisation is ready to make effective leadership a business imperative, you can contact us here we would be delighted to hear from you.

Stretch don’t snap

StretchHigh performers like to be stretched. Indeed they will push themselves, if you as their leader are not providing sufficient opportunity for them to learn, aim high and ultimately hit it out of the ball-park. There are several areas to be mindful of with these driven types however and it is to those ‘Red Flags’ that this post will now turn.

Coasting

If, as a leader, you fail to provide frequent chances for high performers to engage deeply in their work and to be challenged by it on an almost daily basis, they will get bored. That’s not a possibility, it’s a given. Where we are asked to work within our comfort-zone all the time, disengagement will naturally follow as sure as Q2 follows Q1. High performers live to learn and contribute in a way that has meaning for them. Sure, some may do it for reasons of ego or the accompanying reward but in my experience of working with hundreds of these high performers, most seem to do it for the reward that comes from the achievement itself, rather than just some extraneous recognition.

Burn-out

As a senior leader, when you look around your team and know that there is someone whom you trust deeply to deliver excellent work under often quite tight deadlines, the likelihood is that they become your ‘go-to’ person. Often. Usually, too often. Due to the fact that these high performers want the stretch and love the challenge, they are often not the best at saying ‘no’ to the extra workload you put their way. Before they (and you) know it, they can be overly relied upon and in deep danger of burn-out. That is the worst of outcomes for them and for you.

Lead differently
  1. Challenges for leaders when leading this kind of high performer are several, including your own ego and self-confidence, which may lead to you squashing the opportunities for this person in fear of the fact that they might out-shine you. My advice? Make your aim to be out-shone by members of your team. Regularly. Your ability to develop such key people is an important indicator of what a great leader you are, not the opposite.
  2. Rather than over-use the superstars, provide a greater stretch for those in your team who are not at that level yet. Ensure that these ‘nearly-theres’ are pushed and challenged, so that they can add more value to the work of your team. There is more capacity and potential in these people that is being left on the table, than there is from you and your current high performer, both of who (Hint! Hint!) are working very close to their maximum most of the time.
  3. Recognise that you and those in your team, work best under conditions of stretch. Whilst you or the context, may mean you mis-judge that from time to time, remember that moderate challenge helps focus the effort and makes sustainable high performance a much likelier outcome.

Dr Glenn P Wallis runs a boutique leadership consultancy, where he and his team help organisations perform better through developing higher quality senior leaders. If you want to discuss how you can raise the strength of your leadership bench then you can contact Glenn here.