The surprising technique encourages engagement and provides a safety net
Jeff Manchester has worked with more than 1,000 presidents and CEOs as a strategic advisor. A partner at Shift 180, he is a master at INpowering individuals and teams to maximize their true potential.
We caught up with him recently to talk about the importance of stepping back in order to lead, whilst he touched upfront on the rise of psychological safety in organizations.
“I think there are times when leaders need to be out in front, so to speak, for both the organization and the troops,” explained Manchester, who is also the co-author, with Shift 180 partner Barry Kaplan, of The Power of Vulnerability: How To Create A Team Of Leaders By Shifting INward. “The organization needs that, they need to see direction, vision and were they’re going, they need to be reassured around the alignment of goals and values. However, the strength of ongoing management and leadership is when the leader can then step back from always having to be out in front and cultivate a culture that allows for the rest of his team to step into their power and to come forward with their thoughts and opinions.”
Manchester added that he believes there are many times when a leader feels the need to have to be the saving grace – an active voice in all leadership components.
“What we’ve found is that a key to the true success of unlocking all the potential in an organization is to foster that same leadership, talent and capabilities in everybody who’s working for them,” he continued. “We’re all leaders at some level. And if I’m not tapping in to every one of the gifts that my team mates bring, then I’m not bringing out the best of our organization.”
So, bearing that in mind, what is the key to authentic leadership? Well, for Manchester, it’s all about showing empathy and vulnerability.
“I think it takes a certain vulnerability for a leader to be able to step back a bit, and lead from behind, whilst encouraging his team to come forward with thoughts and idea,” he told us.
“And even at times for the leader to say: ‘I don’t have the answers here. I don’t know the best direction; how do I get clarity on which way to go’. Well, part of the way we do that is we help to foster a real team environment so that everyone can have their voice in the game, which will ultimately help us make better decisions.”
And what drives all of this? A sense of connectivity drives company-wide success and allows employees the freedom to really engage and bounce ideas off each other.
“I don’t think you can overstate the importance of being connected,” added Manchester. “The key to the larger success of the company really starts, I believe, with deeper levels of trust. And so, the only way we can build trust with one another is if we find ways to connect and share and be more genuine, not just about concerning what’s going on with work, but about who we are as people.
“Because there’s an interesting paradox about trust; and that is if you don’t know about my spouse or my kids of my dog, all you really know about me is what I do at work – and I’m not going to trust you fully because you don’t know the most important parts of my life. When that happens there’s a natural barrier to deeper levels of trust; so, this whole connection is to open up those channels of sharing, our values our beliefs, those are important in a team.”
And Manchester was quick to point out a new emerging trend in workplaces, that allows for a more free and open exchange of opinions and ideas.
“I think this whole notion of safety has been really crucial. Many organizations are starting to take notice of Google’s Aristotle project, whereby they surveyed 180 of their teams internally to understand what are the key success factors for those teams and what will help those teams be successful and what was the most important factor in their success.
“And the surprising results, or at least in that organization, was that the single most important factor was psychological safety. And so, that’s something we’ve been working with alongside organizations for a long time now. What it simply means is that I can express my ideas and opinions in front of my team mates and I won’t be rejected. Or I can challenge my boss with an idea and won’t be fired.
“It’s life-giving, for people to be free to say what’s actually on their mind. They’re now encouraged to speak their truth in a way where they get the benefits of everyone’s diversity and though-processes.”