A global pandemic, digital transformations with the rise of AI, employee turnover, economic uncertainty, climate change, war even. And that’s just the last few years.
Leaders face unprecedented challenge
Leaders today face more challenge, more complexity and more volatility than ever before. Leaders operate under some of the most difficult economic, social and political pressures ever seen. They must be everything from bold visionaries, effective strategists to inspirational team leaders whilst also delivering business results month on month, quarter on quarter. And they face high expectations from a whole range of stakeholders – whether that’s delivering results to shareholders, providing competitive products and services for customers, operating sustainably and in service of the community and, last but certainly not least, delivering stable, meaningful work for employees.
It’s in this context that employees’ expectations on leaders are also changing. We are now in a world where the boundaries between personal and professional lives have blurred even further as the blessing and the curse of hybrid working has become the norm. And where employees are less reluctant to settle for anything less that contributing to meaningful, important work. We’re in a world where employees expect their leaders to show up as people first, business managers second.
Evidence and research tells us the most effective leaders lead with heart
From our recent Meeting the Moment survey of 1,000 employees based in the US and UK across a range of industries, business sizes and employee roles. We asked questions about the threats and challenges their companies were facing, the changes they were going through, what employees felt their leaders were doing well, and the impact this has on employee satisfaction, engagement and business performance. We found:
- When leaders don’t role model the right behaviours, this has a disproportionate impact on the satisfaction and retention of employees – more than under-resourcing, economic uncertainty, internal volatility or change, or a lack of a shared mission, vision and values. In other words, if leaders show up in the right way then employees will still believe in and follow them, even through a myriad of issues facing an organisation.
- The critical times for leaders to show up well is when there is a high degree of change or stress on employees – large scale transformation, M&A, change in strategy. Employees want leaders to show up with heart.
- The most important behaviours for leaders to display are listening, empathy, transparent communication and displaying trust that empowers people to take action. In fact, these are the behaviours that employees expect more of from their leaders:
- 4 in 5 employees believe leaders could demonstrate more empathy, and that leaders are not available or visible enough
- 3 in 4 employees believe leaders could demonstrate more empathy, and that leaders are no available or visible enough
- Only 1 in 4 believe leaders are excellent at articulating the vision and strategy
Leaders may be measured on business performance, but they can’t succeed without an energised, engaged and empowered workforce committed to the company’s purpose and their role in delivering the strategic results. A workforce that feels listened to and cared for as humans and that feels trusted and safe to collaborate, innovate, and learn, often during times of change. Evidence shows that the best leaders, those with the most impact, are those who are not just high-performing, but those that lead with a big heart and humanity.
Leadership development needs a rethink
Traditional leadership development has equipped leaders with the skills to build strategies, set objectives, track and measure performance and solve problems. However, frameworks, models and theories that serve a purpose in the classroom quickly get dusty in the real-world where leaders rely on their instincts, the views of those around them and the data in front of them.
Leadership development needs to do a better job at supporting leaders to be more human. We need to do better at equipping leaders to understand what motivates and drives their people. We need to curate the experiences that will push leaders to shift their thinking and see their role in a new way. And most of all, we must provide leaders with the skills and tools that allow them to focus on the people who deliver for their businesses, over the task, in the moments that matter most.
Nurturing high-performing leaders with heart
So how do we do it? At United Minds, we support leaders to first understand the psychology of their own habits and behaviours. What drives and motivates them, what holds them back, what’s behind their behaviours? By understanding how mindset affects behaviours – for both themselves and then for others – leaders can determine the actions that are right for them as individuals to show up authentically and that can be adopted straight away to shift outcomes.
The reason this approach is powerful is that it nurtures the essence of being a leader. It nurtures those core leadership skills that can be applied regardless of the environment. Whether it’s financial pressure, organisational restructure, the introduction of technology, leadership transition, organisational culture and employee retention issues, or outside-in economic, societal or environmental forces. By focusing on a leaders’ psychological awareness and behaviours, we are nurturing the leaders our businesses need today regardless of the challenge they face.
That’s why, we believe that more human leaders are better able to take on the challenges they face in the real-world. When we upskill leaders to understand their psychology and to lead with both heart and compassion, we’re equipping them to navigate and perform effectively, regardless of the challenge they face. And when we get it right, we get leaders who can drive business performance and a great employee experience.
Our three-step model to developing high-performing leaders with heart
Via our collaboration with Professor Thomas Roulet, Professor of Organisational Sociology & Leadership at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, and based on his research and thought leadership, we apply a three-step model to the development of high-performing leaders with heart.
We start with the individual – the first critical step for any leader wanting to be effective and impactful in leading teams and organisations.
- Leading self
Leaders must first and foremost get absolutely clear on their own purpose and vision. Through self-awareness and reflection, leaders can understand the psychology of their own habits and behaviours. Then they create actions that can be adopted straight away to shift those behaviours, showing up in the organisation with a conscious and authentic leadership style.
- Leading others
An effective leader aligns a team around their vision, provides focus and empowers their people to take ownership and make the decisions that will deliver high-performance. Through behaving with heart, compassion and great communication, leaders can support their teams through change and transformation, as well as create trusted relationships and safe environments that facilitate collaboration, creativity, innovation and productivity.
- Leading organisation
With these foundations in place, organisational performance follows with a leader strategically positioned to drive results, nurture and drive an enabling culture through leadership role modelling, as well as clear, purposeful, strategic communications, and create the energy that will continue to drive a business forward as it continues to change, transform and evolve.
At United Minds, we are a group of HR practitioners, psychologists, coaches, business consultants, communicators, and change managers. It’s our purpose to make business more human and we believe that starts at the top.
That’s why we love partnering with our clients on leadership alignment and development programmes that nurture high-performing leaders with heart. For us, that’s leadership impact.
If you’re interested in learning more about what we do, get in touch.