12/07/2013 - 06:45

Build leadership on solid foundations

12/07/2013 - 06:45


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Effective leaders need to be skilled communicators, particularly when under pressure.

Build leadership on solid foundations

Effective leaders need to be skilled communicators, particularly when under pressure.

Is there anything more detrimental to the health of an organisation and business, or more conducive to turmoil and chaos, than destructive office politics, particularly that coming from management?

Albert Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”, meaning that to do better we need to learn and raise our awareness.

Further, you could say that we can profit from solving current problems and doing better.

Leading consciously is a conversation; a two-way process of shared meaning and understanding, not a one-way transmission of information ending in periodic bouts of turmoil and chaos. By fostering dialogue, combined with rigorous self-examination, effective leaders raise awareness and facilitate input into finding constructive answers to a range of issues.

• What is the context that we (as an organisation) need to work with and influence?

• What is the significance of current events and where are these events leading us to?

• What ethical issues are salient? What do we believe is the right and best way forward, for all?

• As leader, what constitutes my leadership here and now, what does the situation require?

• Am I aware of the emotions affecting my perspective now, or am I sending out mixed messages?

• What and how will I communicate right now for the best outcomes?

By creating forums for dialogue around such questions effective leaders use team learning to facilitate the creative process of finding new and better ways. This learning journey, plotting emerging futures together via respectful sharing of perspectives, is built on the foundation of three core individual and organisational values:

  1. Total engagement with work (merging all of self with task);
  2. Faith (trust in your own abilities and the integrity of the organisation’s vision); and
  3. Humility (letting go and ‘lightening up’).

If these three are missing, the consequences can be dire. Consider the experience of an incident controller at a catastrophic event like a fire. Surrounded by bedlam and with smoke making visibility almost impossible, this leader must oversee the emergency management team and coordinate communications with a range of stakeholders including the general public and the media while directing a safe resolution to the crisis.

If the incident controller makes decisions simply to make him/herself look good, they forfeit the wisdom that comes from total engagement with the task at hand. They lose focus and send out mixed messages undermining clarity in the management team (aka ineffective strategic and operational decisions).

If the incident controller is not convinced that the outcomes of their decisions will be supported by the organisation, they will struggle to have faith in their vision and strategic decision-making. Self-protection may lead to suppression of the truth, leading to confusion. (interdivisional conflict, lack of role clarity)

If the incident controller lacks humility, he or she may tend to dramatise events, assigning blame to deflect attention from their own poor judgement. Simplicity and speed is blocked, resulting in disaster (fatalities).

Imagine living with this kind of tension. Strategically and operationally, ineffective ‘fire-fighting’ is the daily norm for many of our leader/managers.

What are some basic actions leaders can take now to build learning in their teams and rise above the self-perpetuating negativity of politics and crisis management?

• Remember, what we believe we see – find a coach, build self-reflective practice into your life and work ongoing to continually build self-awareness so you can lead with clarity, confidence, consistency and courage

• Listen to and integrate different perspectives, stand in others’ shoes to see the whole picture and let go the inevitable biases of ego.

• Control the impulse for spontaneous communication; stop and think before you speak, choose your words mindfully.

• Engage others by learning the art of leadership as a conversation, not just information transmission; ask questions and have the courage to be open-minded.

• Be prepared to discuss and identify what is the right action to take; that involves working with the context - considering all stakeholders, the situation itself and the trends affecting it.

• Allow some space regularly for facilitated team dialogue sessions for both wellbeing and performance improvement, it will be well worth the investment, time and effort.

• Structure a process for learning from mistakes, be open to new and better ways.

Sarah Newton-Palmer is director of Perth leadership firm Intus Consultancy.


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