Saying 2021 has been a big year so far for leaders, is an understatement. We're judging and critiquing all that they do, especially when it comes to their behaviour and role modelling. We do not expect our leaders to be perfect, but we do want to see integrity and authenticity in all that they do. Our leaders set the vision and the tone for those values that matter most. Gandhi is responsible for one of the most famous quotes used for leaders to this day: "Be the change that you wish to see in the world". If leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators alike want to attract the greatest engagement in their people, leading by example is at the very foundation of what they need to do every single day. Despite pandemic-fatigue, we're still asking for more from our leaders.
Watch what people do, not what they say
The choices leaders make when they think no one is watching says a lot about who they are. In the same way, what they say when they're angry, disappointed or frustrated tells us what they think. It’s so easy to be a great leader when things are easy, but the significance of how they operate under pressure is not lost on anyone. Nothing undermines trust in leadership more than someone who says all the right things, but behaves in a way that is inconsistent with their language. How many times have we heard people say, ‘it starts at the top’?
Leaders do need to walk the talk
If leaders want their people to walk beside them and contribute to their vision, then showing the way is what is required. It’s so difficult for leaders to create inspiration in the fast-paced and noise-polluted environments in which they work, but by doing what they say they'll do, they create greater engagement. When people feel a strong sense of belonging at work, they're more likely to be both productive and innovative, with research showing that workplace belonging, leads to a 56 per cent increase in job performance. Teams want to know that the leader they re working for and with is willing to learn and be better. One study – I Follow, Therefore I Lead
– showed that leaders who put themselves in a ‘follower’ position were able to foster a shared identity within a group and motivate others to work together. We want to see our leaders evolving and achieving more through action than we thought possible. Unfortunately, if people see leaders not doing the learning and work that’s required for organisational success, they can use it as an excuse for their own poor behaviour. ‘Well if he’s not prepared to put in the effort, then neither am I'.
We see leaders of today investing in all kinds of wellbeing programs for their people and proactively looking for ways to develop emotional intelligence and industry knowledge. With over 20 years’ experience in working with leaders globally, what we know with confidence is that those investments won't pay back if leaders aren’t giving us a reason to feel proud that we report to them. So, what can leaders do to ensure they're being who we need them to be?
- Do what other people aren’t prepared to do – The world is full of leaders who initiate but never deliver what they promise. Successful leaders do what’s required. They keep going even when it’s hard and they don’t want to.
- Pay attention – You're constantly receiving messages from your people, clients and key stakeholders. People are telling you what they think and are reviewing what’s working and what’s not. Give your people permission to tell you the truth and really listen to their feedback.
- Be resolute, committed and courageous – The reality is leaders don't have the luxury of playing small. People respond to and get excited by leaders who can create, feel and deliver on whatever the vision for success looks like. Show them how it’s done!
- Build a tribe – The most successful leaders around the globe surround themselves with people who hold them accountable, challenge their thinking and believe in the potential of what's possible. The tribe has an important job. They celebrate the wins and call out the misses.
And if this article isn’t enough to get your brain ticking over on what this means for you, consider the consequences of not getting this right. Being a high-impact, results-driven and values-led leader is a big ask. When you consciously work through who you are now and design and decide who you want to be in the future, you're serving the future version of you.
– The Coach Place team
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