Six ways to be a more thoughtful leader

When you ask employees what they want from their leaders the answers are relatively consistent, and simple

Six ways to be a more thoughtful leader

Leadership and decision-making go hand in hand and as technology changes how we live and work, the nature of those decisions and how to lead can appear more complex, according to Michelle Gibbings, author of Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one.

However, when you ask employees what they want from their leaders the answers are relatively consistent, and simple.

Gibbings cited Georgetown University’s, Associate Professor of Management, Christine Porath, who found that respect tops the charts for employees.

Her survey of 20,000 employees around the world, conducted in conjunction with Harvard Business Review and Tony Schwarz, concluded that being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, having an inspiring vision, receiving feedback, and having opportunities for learning and development. 

The research found that respected employees reported:

  • 56% better health and well-being
  • 1.72 times more trust and safety
  • 89% more enjoyment and job satisfaction
  • 92% greater focus and prioritisation.

When leaders respect their employees, they care about how they are treated, have compassion when they are struggling, and are committed to their growth and development.

This doesn’t mean they shy away from tough decisions.

They make decisions using both their head and their heart. It’s very easy to make head-based decisions, and there’s lots of tools that help leaders do that.  For example:

  • Listing the pros and cons
  • Doing a cost - benefit analysis
  • Exploring the risk - reward trade offs
  • Mapping a decision tree
  • Generating options for debate, and then voting to determine the agreed approach

Gibbings said that heart-based decisions go beyond thinking with your head or relying on instinct.  They challenge the leader to approach the decision differently by looking at the issue through multiple perspectives. 

With a heart-based decision you ask yourself:

  • If I was courageous, what would I do?
  • If I put the needs of others before my own, what would I do?
  • If I put this decision through an ethical framework, would it change?
  • If I took a compassionate approach, what would I do?
  • If I respected the other person involved with (or impacted by) the decision would my actions change?
  • How will I feel about this decision in a month’s time, a year’s time, ten year’s time, and so on?
  • Will I be proud to share my involvement and part in this decision with the people I care about the most?

Gibbings said it can be uncomfortable to answer those questions, and it takes commitment to follow through on what those answers highlight that the leader should do or not do.

To make this easier to do, it can help to lay the groundwork by considering these six ideas, according to Gibbings:

  1. Be prepared to self-reflect – so the leader is in tune with how they are feeling, thinking and ultimately reacting to what is going on around them
  2. Welcome all types of news – even news that is difficult to hear.  Not only is the leader’s reaction a test of their character, it sets the standard for what happens in the future and how likely team members will be in raising issues
  3. Beware of gatekeepers - whilst support staff will often be acting with good intent, if access to the leader is heavily controlled and limited they will miss out on important connections and conversations
  4. Take the time to walk the floor - casually walking around the office and incidental conversations are an invaluable way of finding out what is going on
  5. Don’t silence the dissenters - it is often the person with the dissenting opinion or the one asking the probing questions who can help the leader shift perspectives and make a wiser decision
  6. Build the emotional quotient – seek ways to build connections with the team, spend time with them and actively demonstrate care

The benefits from this approach are the flow on to team engagement and motivation, she added.

“The leader’s team will recognise and appreciate the efforts to connect with them on an emotional level and know the leader has their back,” said Gibbings.

“With that support in place, they’ll be more willing to innovate, learn and try new things as they strive to secure progress.”

Gibbings cited the words of author, John C Maxwell, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

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