To be truly listened to is an amazing experience, partly because it is so rare! When another person is totally with you – leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathize – you feel seen and understood. When people feel that they are really being listened to, they open up more as they feel safe and secure and the trust between the parties grows.
Unfortunately, most people do not listen at a very deep level as they are preoccupied with the challenges of their fast-paced life. As a result, most conversations tend to skim on the surface.
The absence of real listening is especially prevalent at work. Under pressure to get the job done, we listen for the minimum of what we need to know so that we can move on to the next fire that needs fighting. So, what’s the consequence of this? Everyone is talking, no on is listening. As a result, employee engagement has become a serious issue in organisations today.
This is becoming a bigger problem in this COVID scenario as employees are dispersed and the conversations are very transactional and brief. Leaders seem to have become busier and more distracted in recent times.
How often are you as a leader distracted in a conversation or a meeting with your team? How often are you as a leader not psychologically present when you are virtually with your team? How often do you cancel, interrupt or shorten meetings with your people in favour of some other stakeholder, priority or task? How often do you make your people wait, ask, or even hope for your leadership? Ironically, now more than ever, leaders need to be deeply and continuously connected with their teams.
What your team needs right now is authentic and unequivocal leadership presence. So, turn off the noise in your head. Turn off the noise from your technology. Focus your mind and your time on the people you lead and they, in turn, will follow and support your leadership efforts.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to take the time to connect, to show that you care about your employees as people. Listening deeply will also help you understand what their challenges and expectations, and gives you a chance to share what your intentions and goals in a way that everyone can be aligned.
Listening is a skill that you can gain from training and practice. And who better to learn if from than coaches. Effective coaches tend to be gifted listeners and they hone their listening skills to reach a high level of proficiency. This enables us coaches to reach the inner recesses of your mind and help you get those deep insights.
In the book, Co-Active Coaching, Henry and Karen Kimsey-House explain the three levels of listening and how the art of listening can be cultivated.
Level 1 listening is an interaction where the primary focus of you as the listener is on your own thoughts, opinions, judgments, and feelings. You relate the words you hear to your own experiences or needs. For example, if we are buying a car, we will be listening at Level 1 to the salesperson to see how the car features will fit our needs and budget.
Level 2 listening takes the communication one step further. It involves paying attention to the tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. As you filter out your internal chatter and distractions from the environment, you are able to tune in to the meaning of the words, choose a way to respond, and assess the effect of the response on the speaker.
Level 3 listening brings an entirely new state of awareness to the conversation. It involves doing everything at Level 2, plus using your intuition and being open to receiving more information in any form that it presents itself. If you get a hunch, for example, while listening to someone, you could bring it up without being attached to it. Without insisting on being right, observe the effect it has on the speaker and be aware of where the conversation goes next.
For instance, you may say: “I understand that you are happy with the results, but I have a feeling that you have something else on your mind.” The response may be, “No, not really,” or “Yes, actually, I wanted to tell you about this issue that came up with our project.” It is irrelevant if you are right or wrong; what is important is the effect on the conversation.
So, there you have it – why it is important for you as a leader to hone your listening skills and how you can enhance your depth of listening. The art of listening takes time to develop, but it can be practiced daily. It builds trust and understanding and contributes significantly to your effectiveness as a leader.
If you want to discuss further, just schedule a complimentary consultation by clicking this link above.
Based on my inter-disciplinary work in leadership development, social and cognitive psychology, coaching, and my own experience as a leader and a coach, I have designed a model for leadership development that can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner. I call it the CARES Model of Leadership.
I talked about leadership credibility and being adaptive in the previous two blogs and in this blog post, I will talk about being resolute.
The dictionary meaning of ‘Resolute’ is ‘being admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering’. A resolute person has the courage to act with conviction in the face of uncertainty and risk.
In this VUCA world where there is constant change in the environment that we operate in, there can be many distractions, disruptions and disappointments. You may start the year with a well thought out plan but something could derail it completely – like the current pandemic for instance. How do you respond to that as a leader? What gives you direction? What keeps you going? These are some questions to ponder over to understand your style of thinking, decision-making and the strength of your resolve.
Leaders who are hesitant about doing the hard, but right, things will often fall short of getting the organizational results they desire. They may get pulled in different directions at different times and end up giving confusing signals to their employees. By not making the hard choices, they may even encourage their teams to stay within their comfort zone.
For instance, if a leader finds it uncomfortable to have difficult conversations with key employees who have a huge bearing on the performance of the organization, it is but natural that the outcomes will be compromised.
Another instance could be when a leader recognizes the need to develop new offerings to meet the changing needs of the market but finds himself or herself not ready to take important decisions about the allocation of precious resources to it, then the organization will find itself losing out in the medium term.
Being resolute is essentially having the courage to do the hard things day after day because the end results matter. In the environment that we operate in, if you as a leader are not resolute, your organization may not be able to take the necessary steps to stay relevant over the medium to long term. Is that something you want? I’m sure the answer is no.
I believe that being clear about your purpose and the purpose of your organization is the essential starting point for dealing with changes in the VUCA world. There are many paths to take to get to your destination but unless the destination is clear, you are unlikely to get there.
The second aspect of being resolute is to be sharply focused on your destination at all times while remaining flexible in your ability to respond to changes. Many things will compete for your time and attention as a leader. Not getting distracted by things on the margin will require discipline and focus on what matters. This is what will keep your organization on track and moving towards its destination.
The third aspect of being resolute is to remain steadfast and unwavering, which means that when faced with challenges and hard knocks, you as a leader, don’t give up on your destination. You stay resilient and determined to move towards your destination.
Basically, you need to work on three areas:
When I talk of purpose, I am talking at two different levels – one is your purpose as a person and as a leader and the second is the purpose of your organization. Having clarity at both levels can really boost your ability to live your purpose and achieve success. Let’s talk about your purpose as a person – What gives your life meaning? What gives you a sense of fulfilment? What brings out the best in you? What makes you feel engaged and challenged meaningfully that while doing it you lose track of time? To figure out your purpose as an individual, it is important to know your values, motivators and your strengths.
What are values? Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. When you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. Let’s take an example. If you value transparency and open communication but work in an environment where people don’t share openly, you will feel really uncomfortable. If you value integrity but believe that to succeed in your business you need to adopt unethical ways, then you will find yourself not being able to work towards success. You will experience a sense of dissonance. Becoming aware of your core life values can help you make decisions that are aligned with your values. This will make it easier for you to make choices in life and at work. So take some time to reflect on what your core values are.
Next, to figure out what motivates you, explore why do you do what you do? What kind of activities inspire you the most? What kind of things are you willing to struggle for? What makes you feel alive? For different people, different things motivate them. For example, some people are motivated by a sense of achievement when they overcome challenges, others are motivated by how people around them perceive them, and yet others are motivated by a sense of power or control over their own destiny or over others.
If you enjoy solving technical challenges but find yourself spending all your time and energy on managing others, you may feel drained and lacking in motivation. If you value being appreciated but your organization prefers to only reward you financially, you will feel demotivated despite doing well financially. Finding out what motivates you can help you choose to focus on what energizes you. So, figure out what motivates you.
Finally, your strengths are things that come naturally to you. Because they come easily to you, sometimes it can be difficult to identify and you might take it for granted. You might have strengths that you don't even realize are strengths, such as empathy, a can do attitude, or the ability to learn things quickly. The best way to figure out your strengths is to reflect on your successes and identify what within you helped you be successful. You can also ask your colleagues, friends and family about what they think your strengths are.
Once you know your values, motivators and strengths, see the overlaps between them. This can help you figure out your purpose. Your purpose is basically what you want to do with your time that is important for you and that you’re really good at. Articulating your purpose and finding the courage to live it is the single most important developmental task you can undertake as a leader. It is the key to accelerating your growth and deepening your impact as a leader.
Once you have clarity about your own purpose, articulate the purpose of your organization. The purpose of an organization can be distilled in its mission – why the organization exists – what problem does it solve for whom and how. However, having a mission statement that exists only on paper and not in the mind and hearts of the employees is of no use. Try to articulate the purpose of the organization in simple, personal language that anyone can understand and that employees can relate to and take pride in.
For instance, look at Google’s mission - To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Another example is that of TED Talks – it’s as simple as – spread ideas. Yet another example is Kickstarter - To help bring creative projects to life. Such a simple and yet powerful organizational purpose can align employees and help you as a leader focus on your destination. While strategies and organizational structures keep changing in response to market changes, the purpose of the organization tends to be enduring and can keep organizations on the right track. So, that’s all about getting clarity of purpose.
Directing attention toward where it needs to go is a key role of leadership. Leadership talent lies in the ability to shift attention to the right place at the right time, sensing trends, emerging realities, and opportunities. As a leader, your field of attention—that is, the particular issues and goals you focus on—guides the attention of those who follow you, whether or not you explicitly articulate it. People around you make their choices about where to focus based on their perception of what matters to you as a leader.
This ripple effect puts an extra load of responsibility on you as a leader. You are guiding not just your own attention but, to a large extent, everyone else’s as well. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, after having been ousted in 1984, he found that the company had a plethora of products— computers, peripheral products for computers, twelve different types of Macintosh. The company was floundering. His strategy was simple: focus. He decided that instead of dozens of products, they would concentrate on just four: one computer and one laptop each for two markets, consumer and professional. He saw that deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. And the rest is history.
Being able to focus on what is important is the hallmark of a resolute leader. So, take time to reflect on where your attention is and how it’s impacting your organization. Choose to focus your attention on the organizational purpose and you will see everything fall in place.
Every leader faces adversity. The test of your leadership is not whether you will face challenges but in how you will respond to them and how quickly you can put them behind you. Your strength is not developed in adversity but rather it is revealed in adversity. The strength that gets you through adversity is developed over time and is a kind of maturity factor of your leadership. As a leader who is resolute, you will not back down in adversity but will see it as just another milestone in your growth as a leader.
So how can you build this kind of resilience? In this VUCA world when crisis, industry volatility, societal shifts, or workplace pressures result in stress, it’s time to think about how to increase your resilience: the ability to bounce back from obstacles and setbacks. As a first step, it’s helpful to identify those situations in which you feel overly pressured. What triggers those feelings? Once you figure out what situations trigger stress, you can examine your thoughts about the situation.
Reframing the situation is a great way to deal with stress effectively. Reframing requires examining a situation from a different perspective and asking what else could be going on. For example, if a valued staff member resigns, you might focus on the loss, or you can choose to reframe it as a chance to hire new talent. There are some basic questions you can ask yourself: “What are the benefits of this situation?” and “What might my interpretation of the situation be missing?”
It is also important to get enough rest so that you’re physically in a good condition and feel energetic. If you’re not physically fit, your body and mind are already not in a position to cope with stress. Adequate sleep can result in enhanced attention and creativity — 2 capacities needed in positions of leadership. If this is not something that is possible for you to follow, you could also explore activities like walking, mediation and mindfulness.
Learning to focus on the positive aspects of any situation can also help build resilience. Researchers have found that when people are in positive states of mind, they think more broadly than when they’re in negative states of mind. Positive emotions can build sources of resilience that you can have in reserve when facing adversity at work. You need resilience not just at work, but also in your personal life. Having this sort of inner strength is helpful for all that life can throw at you
So, there you have it – why it’s important for you as a leader to be resolute and how you can become more resolute by working on getting clarity of purpose, focusing your attention on what matters and building your resilience.
Resolute leaders know how to navigate through adversity, have the discipline to lead themselves and others, built relationships with people around them, and have a clear view of where they want to go. When your values are aligned with your vision you can proceed with confidence in knowing that today can be good and tomorrow can be even better.
In this VUCA world, with constant change in the environment, there can be many distractions, disruptions, and disappointments. How do you respond to that as a leader? What keeps you going?
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Your team is the same but has had to suddenly get used to working remotely due to COVID. Many of you may never have thought that one day you will be leading your entire team virtually – not just for a few days but for months at a stretch with no clear end in sight.
So how have you flexed your leadership style to suit this now virtual team? Or should I ask, have you flexed your style?
Virtual teams have been around for a while and there has been a lot of research as to how effective virtual teams are vis-à-vis collocated teams. Researchers have found that there is no difference in terms of productivity, quality and successful outcomes between co-located teams and virtual teams provided that there are 4 factors in play. These are:
Team size matters whether or not co-located – smaller teams work better than larger teams on various dimensions such as trust, productivity, and knowledge sharing.
Management style matters – if teams are to be dispersed or virtual then you need to select team members for their ability to build relationships over distance and for managing working well alone. Leaders of virtual teams need to have the ability to build trust, respect and empower others. So 'good' management is more important in virtual teams than co-located ones.
Social and community spirit matters – whether dispersed or co-located teams that have a sense of team identity, trust each other and get on well socially perform better than teams without any one of these. In part this is factor is related to management style.
Technology matters – where communication is facilitated through various forms of technology – collaborative platforms, webchats, SMS, phone, etc then the virtual team members must have excellent skills in using it and the technology needs to be effective and reliable. Face to face is easiest for communication as you are picking up nuanced non-verbal signals among other things.
What the research shows is that for virtual teams to work well there has to be a conscious and ongoing intentionality to make them work well.
It is easy for team members to feel isolated and anxious and so as a leader you need to actively address this challenge. The leadership skills required to succeed remain the same in a virtual scenario but they have to be executed differently in a virtual environment. You need to continue being authentic, connecting with others, promoting inclusiveness, networking, and build relationships and trust as always, but the actions associated with these skills must be deliberate and intentional. You as a leader at a distance need to work harder at relating to your team members’ needs and aspirations to have the same level of positive impact that you would have had in a collocated scenario.
This may require you to check in more frequently with the team. I am not talking about work reviews. I’m talking about the casual conversations that you would have had in meetings, in the corridors, at the coffee station or even the parking lot. These personal connections build trust and relationships - but these do not just happen. You need to deliberately put a system in place for you to be able to do it consistently. The challenges for you is to create a sense of connectedness in a distributed work environment. The good thing is, as you do more of it, it becomes easier over time.
Some key areas for you to focus on are:
How well do you use technological tools to communicate and also the frequency of your communication? Also, how well do you listen? Your team follows your lead so if you want the team to listen to each other, you need to listen deeply and ask questions to increase understanding, given the lack of visual information.
An understanding of virtual team dynamics is critical for leaders and team members to be effective. As a leader, you need to be listening hard to identify signs of low trust in virtual environments. Successful leaders use strategies like regularly scheduled celebrations, fun, and creative reconnecting activities as part of scheduled meetings.
The goal of any team is the work product, not the time spent at the desk working on a project. Leaders who are more adept at keeping teams focused on business goals generally demonstrate a higher level of success. It also means that clear metrics, roles and responsibilities, and feedback are critical to producing high-quality deliverables.
So there you have it – what’s needed for you to succeed with virtual teams. We didn’t plan for it but it has happened and now that some months have gone by, it would help for you to reflect on how you’ve been approaching this and how you might want to approach it better. If you want to discuss further, just schedule a complimentary consultation by clicking this link above.
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