by Janine N. Truitt
From time to time, we invite guest contributors to provide their personal perspectives about trending HCM topics. The views, opinions, and comments expressed below are solely those of the author and do not represent Ultimate Software. This post was commissioned by Ultimate Software and the author has or will receive compensation for their work.
A recent national study conducted by Ultimate Software and Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) found that 80% of employees felt they could do their jobs without their managers. According to Adam Rogers, CTO at Ultimate Software in a February 2018 article on Forbes.com called “Employees Don’t Trust Their Managers, And It’s Hurting Your Bottom Line,” there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the majority of today’s organizations are led by people who aren’t particularly skilled or good at leading others.
I can cite statistics and data on leadership all day for those in the business world who prefer more proof of the presumption that poor leadership exists. However, for the rest of the workforce nothing I have said so far is poignant because you have either known someone who has experienced this, have personally suffered in silence from a poor manager, been forced to leave an otherwise great role because of a toxic leader, or are currently nodding your head as they read this because a few doors or cubicles down from you sits a sub-par leader.
There is a lot of thought put into what constitutes good and even effective leadership. There are countless books, courses, podcasts, blogs etc. on this topic. Yet, year after year we will inevitably read about or hear firsthand about how leadership is abominable in certain companies, sometimes impacting entire industries.
What are the issues?
If I may, let’s examine the current state of the workforce. I think we can all agree that technology has made for a much more autonomous workforce. According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce Report, “3.9 million people in the US telecommute at least half of the time.” Varied work arrangements that allow for more of an independent contribution to the workforce don’t necessarily align well with traditional leadership structures based in top-down direction and emphasis on traditional leadership roles and management. Still, in an overwhelming number of organizations, the management training and leadership development does little to address this growing trend of the gig economy and the autonomous worker.
Speaking of the file and rank of leaders and how people rise to the top of the high-potential list, why are we still rewarding people with leadership roles based on likeability, the school they attended, or how much money they make a company? Are these the only qualities that make for a good manager or leader? The statistics on leadership illustrate a picture in which it appears that many companies are handpicking leaders they prefer to work with versus people who have a natural ability and the heart to lead others in a way that resonates across different types of people.
Now that I’ve managed to get the word “heart” into the same sentence with leaders, what of empathy and emotional intelligence as it pertains to leadership? We have tried the authoritarian model of leadership for decades expressed as “I own you and you ought to be happy to have a job.” In earlier industrial revolutions, this style may have been warranted as more things were manual and the workers understood their role in a given company as a mere means to an end. As we face the fourth industrial revolution (and all of the technological advancement and facilitation that it will inevitably bring with it), we are also bringing along for the ride a more savvy employee who requires more (and dare I say it, deserves more). An evolving world and metamorphosis of humanity requires conscious leadership.
What is “Conscious Leadership”?
To answer how we achieve “conscious leadership” it helps to examine something old, but wildly new for many companies and that is the impact of human nature and psychology at work. It’s interesting that we seem surprised that work is blending more with personal lives than ever before. At a minimum, we take a snapshot of what our people think by asking them about how they feel about the work they do and the teams they work with annually. We rarely, if ever ask them if they feel the work they do aligns with their value system. I don’t know of many companies that genuinely seek to know their employees outside of the skills they have in an effort to understand how they think about life and their purpose in the world. More specifically, we don’t typically create a safe space for people to either discover their shadow beliefs or behaviors in an effort to highlight the glory of our differences instead of casting those innate differences as negative attributes. For clarification, shadow beliefs and behaviors are rooted in the parts of ourselves that we hide, repress, or deny.
To become a conscious leader you must not only create a safe place for other humans to show up as their whole selves, but you too must be whole and self-aware. By “whole and self-aware” I mean you must be able to own the good attributes of yourself as well as the challenging ones. You must also be committed to continuous learning of who you are as well as unlearning and shifting who you are (which may be triggered by the very people you lead day-to-day). It’s hard enough to have to face yourself and own who you are, but it becomes a harder pill to swallow when your direct report has to point it out or leave your company because of your leadership style.
It is important to note, authority still lives within this paradigm of conscious leadership, but it is achieved by exhibiting empathy towards others, owning the humanness of your own existence instead of operating within the typical all-knowing, infallible leader archetype. Your ability to be vulnerable and demonstrate authenticity while utilizing influence over control is where we start to see the benefits of the conscious leader.
You may be thinking, where do I begin in pivoting towards this path of conscious leadership?
Here are five steps you can take to get started.
- Identify the deficits in the current state of leadership within your company and acknowledge it. This means owning what you are doing well in leadership and also unpacking what doesn’t work well and how it needs to change.
- Release some control of the outcomes. Part of being a conscious leader means you understand that you don’t always have all of the answers or best approaches to achieving an outcome. Tell your people the company is striving to be better and that you realize this can’t be achieved without their input. Rely on them for ideas. Ask them questions and take deep breaths through difficult answers. Thank them for their input and reward the input by making actual changes. Let them lead the change at times so they can relish in the fact that they have contributed to the solutions.
- Commit to examining your own leadership makeup. Do you know who you are? Would you operate with the same value system and approach if you didn’t have that title or has the title created some unnecessary layers in how you relate to others?
- Discover the underpinnings of your values and belief systems. What do you believe in? How do you see the world? What attributes do you value in others and which ones do you distance yourself from? Having answers to these questions can start to illuminate how you relate to others and where you may find difficulty in leading and understanding others based on your belief systems.
- Build and champion a company culture that allows for employees to show up as flawed human beings. We have spent so much time creating different archetypes of the “best employee” via lofty job descriptions that we have forgotten we employ human beings. Everyone falls short and every leader and organization needs to be able to empathetically manage the nuances of human behavior.
I will argue that you can’t effectively lead another if you don’t have a sense of self. When you know and own your own flaws it is a lot less likely you will chastise another or treat other people as if they are dispensable or useless. Conscious leadership may become a new buzzword over the next few years as any new concept does, but it helps if you remember the golden rule in starting down this path, “do onto others as you would like to have done for you.” Conscious Leadership is really that simple at its core.
Examining your leadership practices through the lens of conscious leadership allows everyone in your workforce to truly see and be seen as unique individuals while providing a realistic outlook on how we can all better relate to one another at work and beyond.