There’s a lot of talk about the move from management to true leadership, as well as the need to be human in the face of data and the impending rise of the robots. It’s easy to get lost in it all and hard to really understand why any of it matters.
The truth is that when people thrive, our organizations thrive too, so the sole function of leadership should be to enable people to be their best and do their best work. Leaders today are the creators and custodians of platforms for human success.
Here are 10 ways every leader can contribute to the platform, enable people to thrive, drive organizational success and get more from their own role. These are inspired by research which has encountered leaders across organizations of all shapes and sizes, with common factors in success shining through.
Things move fast in modern business, and the people who have the greatest insight are those closest to the customer. Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy, and the faster we can access it and use it, the more plugged-in our organization is to what the world needs from it. Take time every day to talk to your people, find out how they are doing, and what issues they face. Then offer support and congratulate them on their success. In workplace change, one of the major factors that contributes to things going wrong—which happens in 70% of cases (McKinsey, 2015)—is the feeling that management isn’t listening. Give people a voice!
“Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy.” –Andy Swann
Your job as a leader is to ensure you have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. If your recruitment process is right, then the people are right – there’s no need to micromanage every task. Trusting the individual to find their own best way to succeed, within the most basic parameters that they need to operate in, not only empowers them, but allows them to do their best work. It also reduces the workload of the leader – instead of box-ticking, you can be out there involved with your people and collecting valuable insight.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway
You’ve been researching personality and leadership for decades. What are some of the more surprising conclusions you’ve reached?
Surprisingly, that the same traits that drive individual and team performance and those that derail effectiveness haven’t changed in the last 50 years. While almost everything associated with the world of work now evolves very quickly as technology transforms every 18 months per Moore’s Law, humans are quite similar to Stone Age humans.
There are four key domains of personality in play: Grit: the Task Mastery Traits, EQ: the Teamwork Traits, Dominance, and Deference. Broad research identifies behaviors associated with Grit and EQ as key drivers for leadership, teamwork and communications. FortuneMagazine editor Geoff Colvin calls them “high-value skills.” Broad research also identifies behaviors associated with Dominance and Deference traits that derail leadership, teamwork, and communications. Others refer to these derailers by different names like over-aggression, difficulty managing emotions, failure to build teams, excessive caution, but they are rooted in basic dominance and deference behaviors.
Interestingly, Grit and EQ appeared latest in human evolution – called phylogeny – and also appear latest in individual development – called ontogeny. And a basic law of human development is ontogeny follows phylogeny. Neuroscience shows that for many people, the full maturation of the frontal cortex goes on into the mid-twenties … and for many people, this might be required for their full maturation and thus ability to access Grit and EQ. In contrast, Dominance and Deference behaviors are almost inborn and evident in toddlers – and in other animals. Some people develop Grit and EQ, but many do not.
One lesson for emerging professionals is to be aware of a need to think before they act to summon and leverage Grit and/or EQ – which may not be abundant naturally. One way is to suppress Dominance and/or Deference habits and behaviors if they are prominent, as they actively interfere with Grit and EQ. Grit requires planning and thinking about projects and work; EQ requires attending to and considering people and relationships.
“Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald
Share an example of a personality trait and how it impacts leadership.
Sure. Consider someone very high on Need to Control, a Dominance trait. They are domineering and bossy, opinionated and like to advocate ideas rather than listen or seek collective intelligence; they get impatient and are vulnerable to the confirmation bias; they may act before thinking it out. Not too surprisingly, Need to Control is negatively associated with leadership, teamwork and communications … Now, Skip, of course personality traits do not operate in isolation, so what also matters are the other traits in a Profile with Need to Control!
The LMAP assessment is a Circumplex model where traits are organized on a circular chart that represents how they interact with and are influenced by the presence or absence of other traits. I’ve been building systems like this since 1984 – how weird is that! Anyway, in my book and in our assessments, the focus is on overall Personality Profile – combinations of 13 personality traits – rather than one trait.
So consider High Control and:
Add high Rigidity, Hostility, Competitiveness (Dominance traits) and I can guarantee there will be problems and it will be unpleasant.
Or add in Achievement Drive and/or Conscientiousness and/or Innovation – better yet, all three Grit traits – and you get a high performer, great at cranking results but not to lead and positively motivate a team – without at least average EQ.
Finally, take away Hostility and add in even-average Helpfulness or Sociability and it looks like the Profile of a super effective Managing Editor of a major newspaper I assessed, an introvert with high Control, Conscientiousness, Achievement Drive, Innovation and about-average Helpfulness: a great editor and leader in a tough business and a journalist coach and mentor for his direct reports.
For this fellow, the prominent Dominance wasn’t a derailer because he had just enough EQ traits to temper it… And managing editors of major newspapers must have strong opinions. But take away his average EQ and mentoring style and then his dominance would go unchallenged and impair his leadership effectiveness. I like how Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania Professor and Macarthur Genius Grant winner, says in her book Grit: “As a psychologist, I can confirm that grit is far from the only—or even the most important—aspect of a person’s character . . . There are many other things a person needs to grow and flourish. Character is plural.”
Some bemoan the constant interruptions and endless internet surfing. Others celebrate the new-found freedom and capabilities.
How has the digital age impacted our happiness?
Amy Blankson is one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between positive psychology and technology. She is the only person to be named a Point of Light by two presidents (President George Bush Sr. and President Bill Clinton) for creating a movement to activate positive culture change. A sought-after speaker and consultant, Amy has now worked with organizations like Google, NASA, the US Army, and the Xprize Foundation to help foster a sense of well-being in the Digital Era.
I want to start with the question that an entrepreneur asked you at one of your presentations: “Social media and technology are destroying our happiness, right?”
In recent months, I have seen a growing number of posts about how bad technology is for us. Technology is blamed for social isolation, disconnection, and corruption. But I’ve also heard and seen how technology can be used for good — a means to connect, to share knowledge, to empower, even to save lives. So, which is it: Is technology good for us or bad for us? Does technology make us less happy or more happy? As Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Technology is a tool, a means to an end–and WE get to decide how that story ends.
Fact: 95% of Americans spend 2 or more hours a day using a digital device.
Since technology can both bring joy and destroy it, tell us a few ways you’ve used it to your advantage. And tell us about what apps you’re using for happiness, productivity, and to “tune in, not zone out.”
One of my favorite examples of “happytech” is the Spire stone. The Spire stone is a small wearable that clips onto your bra strap or waistband to monitor your respiration and, in turn, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and increase the flow of endorphins in your blood stream. The Spire uses your breathing patterns to figure out when you are tense, calm, or focused, and provides gentle notifications to guide you when you need it most.
When I first started testing out the Spire stone, I had a particularly poignant experience. Last spring, my family jumped into our backyard pool to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. In an unfortunate turn of circumstances, my younger daughter jumped into the pool a bit too close to her older sister, landing on her neck and breaking her neck. I happened to be out of town when this happened, so I didn’t know how bad the situation was until I returned home and took my older daughter to the doctor. I was wearing my Spire stone the whole time and had managed to stay fairly calm through the doctor visit; however, as I was walking out of the hospital with my daughter in a giant neck brace, my Spire stone began to vibrate to let me know I was feeling tense. Pausing to think about what was going on, I realized that I was actually anxious about how other people would perceive me as the mother of a child with a broken neck. The nudge was just enough to help me reframe my thoughts to be more present for my daughter rather than worried about myself, and I was able to short-circuit an emotional response that might have taken me a week or more to realize before I had the Spire stone.
“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” –Robert Solow
Sometimes tech is fun just for the sake of the endorphin rush and the dopamine boost. But at what point do those focus-altering diversions cause us to lose sight over what we really care about? At what point do diversions turn into fixations that are distracting?
Sometimes we become so engrossed in our diversions that we don’t notice that they are no longer making us happy anymore. Like Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, we get our legs going so fast that it actually takes us a moment to realize that we have run right off the Happiness Cliff. Let me assure you that this never turns out well for poor Wile E.
According to the Law of Diminishing Returns, many diversions can actually be beneficial for our productivity and happiness—up to a point. Beyond that point, the diversion simply becomes a waste of time and eventually a time suck that becomes harmful to our productivity. To avoid falling off the happiness cliff, start your day by setting your intention for how you want to use your time. When you start to find yourself engrossed in a task, pause to ask if your technology use is helping you tune in (helping you to achieve your intention) or causing you to zone out. If your answer is the latter, then try to set a time limit for yourself to engage in that activity so that you don’t get sucked in and lose focus.
Happiness Tip: pause to see if you are tuning in or zoning out.
What does the latest research tell us about our ability to train our brains to be more positive?
The latest research from the field of positive psychology reveals that training our brains to be more positive is not only possible, it’s actually essential to striving after your full potential. Why? Because when your brain is positive, it receives a boost of dopamine, which turns on the learning centers in the brain and makes you able to see more possibilities in your environment. In fact, a positive brain has been linked to: 37% higher sales, 3x more creativity, 31% higher productivity, 40% increase in likelihood of receiving a promotion, 23% decrease in symptoms of fatigue, 10x increase in the level of engagement at work, a 39% increase in the likelihood of living to age 94, and a 50% decrease in the risk of heart disease.
Research: Positive people have a 40% increase in likelihood of a job promotion.
Leadership is not a position. It’s not a title. It’s not a job. Leaders are people who make an impact, influencing others to action.
That’s why I was intrigued to read a new book by Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch, and Sean Lynch. Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success recognizes that leaders are found almost anywhere in the organization. I recently spoke to Sean about their new book. He is a senior consultant at Lead Star and specializes in designing and delivering leadership programming. He holds a BA from Yale University and served as a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force.
“A leader is someone who influences outcomes and inspires others.”
A Spark is someone who doesn’t just accept what is given to them. Sparks realize that they can do things differently to create the change they’d like to see. Sparks understand that they have both the ability to influence and inspire, and they look to influence and inspire those around them. Sparks create their own opportunities and are identified by their actions, commitment, and will, not by a job title. Sparks choose to lead.
“Credibility is the foundation of your leadership style.”
At times, we place leaders on a pedestal. We think they are larger than life or different from us. But leaders are people. We have relationships with people, and trust is a foundational component of all relationships.
We can all be better leaders in the various roles we fill. Leaders influence and inspire others to work together toward a common goal. In order to be influenced and inspired, we must trust the leader’s competency, character, and intentions.
“Leaders influence and inspire others to work together toward a common goal.” -Sean Lynch
Character and credibility are two keys to creating trust.
Character is important because, before we can lead others, we must lead ourselves. We must get in touch with our most deeply held values and intentionally act in accordance with those values. If we talk about work-life balance, and then regularly call co-workers after hours and email them on weekends, others will see that our actions are at odds with what we say we value. People will question who we are, how we might act in the future, or how we might act under pressure. They will lose trust in us.
Determine your most closely held values and what matters most. Honestly assess where you have compromised your values, and identify ways to lead more consistently with your values.
“Character and credibility are two keys to creating trust.” -Sean Lynch
You can’t force people to trust you. You have to earn trust in ways that are meaningful to others. Credible performance builds trust. Here are some examples.
Start by understanding and meeting the standards of others. We usually strive to meet standards that we think are important. Yet, every time we interact with others, we are being judged. And the standards others judge us against may be very different from our own standards. If timeliness is important in your organization and you are constantly late for meetings, you are not meeting the standards of others and demonstrating credible performance.
Maintain a narrow “Say-Do” gap. Keep the difference between what you say you’re going to do (or what you are supposed to do) and what you actually do as narrow as possible. Be consistent. When you promise the report by Thursday, do you follow through? Or do you let it slide and hope no one will notice?
Clearly communicate intent and expectations and ensure people understand. Often we assume that people know what they are supposed to do. Don’t assume. Communicate what to do along with expectations and intentions. Bring clarity and focus by constantly, continuously communicating expectations and intent. Ensure everyone is on the same page so that people can act in ways that are consistent with intent even when you’re not around.
Finally, hold people accountable to those clearly communicated and well understood standards, intent, and expectations. Holding others accountable isn’t personal. With clear, well-communicated standards, intent, and expectations, holding people accountable is merely comparing their performance to the standard, intent, or expectation.
Daina Middleton takes on the topic in her new book, Grace Meets Grit: How to Bring Out the Remarkable, Courageous Leader Within. In her book, she demonstrates the inherent value of both feminine and masculine leadership styles and how all of us can benefit from an understanding of the value of the different strengths of the sexes. Daina’s experience includes over three decades of business leadership experience in a male-dominated industry. She shares her firsthand observations and stories to help everyone become more effective at leading others. Daina is also an advocate for a more inclusive and practical approach to working together.
I had the opportunity to ask her more about her work.
Women CEOs lag men CEOs in terms of tenure by 2 years.
What’s wrong or missing from the ongoing discussion of gender in the workplace? Why is current gender bias training falling short?
The good news is the gender equality conversation is actually happening. In fact, Google Trends indicates gender equality has actually increased over the past decade. And the equality discussion certainly must continue because the pay parity gap remains large despite the focus on equality. However, a focus on equality is insufficient because equal literally means the same. While their contributions are equally valuable, men and women bring different behaviors to leadership and this is a very good thing. Women are often measured against male leadership behaviors – mostly because men are still largely in charge. The result is unfortunate because there are many benefits to both the male “Grit” style of leadership as well as the more relationship “Grace” approach. Obviously, I am over generalizing to make a point. Most of us have both male and female qualities, and the best leaders strive to cultivate both within themselves as well as within their organizations.
“Inspiring leaders know that trust is vital to inspiration.” -Daina Middleton
Grace and grit. Would you give us a little background on each and how they fit into your model? Do you find that naming grace and grit causes a backlash at all in terms of stereotyping?
A person’s leadership style is based on his or her communications style. Women tend to use communications to establish intimacy and build and maintain relationships. This is what I refer to as the Grace style of leadership. Men (the Grit style), on the other hand, tend to use communications to drive immediate, tangible outcomes, preserve status, and avoid failure.
The male leadership style is an exclusive club, even though it’s often not intentionally exclusive. And, while both women and men bring equal value to the workplace, equal does not mean they are the same. Many times, these differences cause misunderstandings in the workplace at best. At worst, I have actually seen a great leader lose her job because her boss, who was a man, thought she didn’t know how to make decisions because the way she approached decision-making was different from his own. This is what first sent me down the path to beginning a new gender dialogue that allows us to have meaningful conversations about how women lead differently than men. Only then will we understand the value both bring to the workplace.
As I mentioned above, calling Grace the more relationship-focused female style and Grit the status-conscious, immediate action male style of leadership provides us with a non-confrontational approach to talk about our differences. Bias training is largely focused on helping men understand what it’s like to be a woman. Do you think men will remember this in the heat of a challenging business situation? Probably not. And in fact, all the research shows bias training has largely been ineffective in changing behaviors in the workplace for exactly this reason. We all have both Grace and Grit within us. I, for instance, have a more Grit style approach, which at times can be abrasive. My team recently reminded me of this by asking if I had left Grace at home that day. Their question prompted me to think about my behaviors and adapt them for the situation. All great leaders have good awareness of their own style and the needs of others and have the ability to have productive dialogue around them.
ILM Survey: 1/2 of women doubted their job performance compared to less than 1/3 of men.