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16 - 6 - 2021 - Insights

Foster your leadership to become authentic – being real is the only way, for real!

It is important to develop leadership to support the organization's strategic goals. However, the resulting actions must be genuine, as only this will create trust and effectiveness. In this post, our director of strategic change programs, Tania Jarrett, ponders how we should develop leadership in a genuine way but also apply it to the requirements of each environment and the needs of people.

In my previous post, I talked about how during our strategy work, we at Insta have set out to work on the principles of leadership – what are the leadership cornerstones to catalyze us forward in our journey. We've done this through a dialogue-based approach and aim to create a common framework. In this blog post, I will move on to ponder how, based on these shared principles, everyone should find their unique way to develop and implement their own leadership style and voice.

I believe that cooperation between people will not work well if your actions and communication are not genuine. We detect very fast anything forced, mannered, or artificial. If, on the other hand, you are authentic, you are also credible. After that, you are impactful, which is a cornerstone of leadership.

Patrick Lencioni, for example, has adeptly described how you have nothing if you don't have trust; he also goes on to show how to build it, but also how to destroy it. Fear of being vulnerable can prevent team members from building trust with each other, and if you don’t show your vulnerability, you are not authentic. In my opinion, another common obstacle to creating genuine, connected leadership is the avoidance of accountability mentioned by Lencioni. It is natural for a person to avoid uncomfortable social situations, which prevents team members from holding themselves and each other accountable for their behavior and performance.

Define leadership guiding principles that fit you and the team through reflection

Once the leadership principles or cornerstones are defined in the organization, it's time for everyone to reflect on what this thing means to me, how this is visible in my everyday actions, and what I could do to improve. You can use a colleague or even a coach as a sounding board or just ask yourself open-ended questions in a peaceful moment. It would be essential to do such a reflection exercise regularly and even briefly. Often even one question can be the key to moving forward if you just pause instead of acting.

It is also worth reflecting together in the team. While this is an obvious idea, many teams miss these opportunities, for example, to avoid awkward conversations, and that is a huge pity. If we get started in developing moments of reflection even on a small scale, for example, in a steering group or executive team, you can consider after each meeting what already went well, how to improve next time, or how to act to advance the team’s goals. In a way, each team can create and articulate their leadership principles or ground rules in their context, and sometimes these can be extremely simple. On the other hand, simple is beautiful, easier to remember and internalize to the level of purposeful action.

In one of my previous jobs, the organization's executive team was an extroverted gang (myself included), so we had agreed on ground rules that, if you have something to say, you raise your hand and not just blast away stealing time from others or not listening to your colleagues. On the other hand, to honor each other's time, we had also agreed that meetings start and end on time and that if you become bored and think that the discussion has derailed or become too detailed, you will raise your hand again and say out loud that now you guys have lost my interest. It's so much better to put that hand up than to submerge in social media or email during a meeting! The quality of decisions is much better when participants are genuinely present and concentrating on solving shared issues.

After all, this should be normal interpersonal behavior, and sometimes people smile at such kindergarten rules being written. But that's the point: how do we face and treat each other – sometimes, we need to write these guidelines out as often we have different backgrounds and expectations. For real, again, it makes sense not to assume anything but clearly discuss and agree on shared ways of doing things.

The team can also plan a goal for the next, appropriately long period and track development. I would suggest choosing one or two goals so that there is not too much to be embraced at once alongside the “usual business” (yes, in parenthesis as also leadership is very much usual for me…). There should be regularity in reflecting and reviewing the development, but not necessarily as a strict annual clock or via a complicated time-consuming method. Still, I would like our steering groups to go through at least once a year how they have progressed in their chosen development goal and what they will focus upon developing next. What way of reflecting would work for you and your team? Especially one that would focus on improving things in the future?

Genuine interaction helps bring out different views

The world is constantly evolving, and people are different –this we all know. You need to be tuned for this kind of evolution, be interested in diversity and change. We need to develop both individual and organizational curiosity for the new and our skill to wonder. It has been studied that the best-performing teams are cognitively diverse and enjoy psychological safety.

Diversity is not just about having men and women, engineers and businesspeople, but it is also about how we think, act and include. An organization needs curious, encouraging, experimental, persuasive, forward-thinking people (and here I have listed just a few adjectives). Today, purposeful and even decisive leadership is visible in a desire to foster the creation of good results in a way where you are nevertheless encouraging, developing, and inquiring. I hope that we, too, are moving in this direction and that we will see even less caution, confrontation, or acting through the hierarchy in the future. Of course, administrative structure and even organizational levels are always there and needed in one form or another, but the structure should not dictate how we act or behave − we should also try to consider things based on the needs and specifics of the situation.

It is essential for a person to experience a sense of fairness and to be able to influence those things that are important to or affect them. I think genuine interaction or dialogue plays a crucial role here: people feel they see everything they need to see, understand why their work is relevant, and want to do their part. There must be an opportunity to ask, comment and influence.

One marvelous thing about authenticity in leading oneself and others is that the diversity in people brings along the quality of thinking - someone brings out a completely different perspective that would have passed you by. Improving the quality of thinking is one of my favorite themes, and it requires people in the organization to be truly present, listen and hear, and also dare to speak up when they disagree. Since we know how valuable an experience it is to be heard, let's have the patience to first create these spaces or situations and only then start to solve things together. The skill of respectful conversation should also be exercised and practiced even when you disagree, just as much in the work community as at home or in any other context. Not easy, I know, but worth the effort.

Role-based operations fitting the situation will allow you to use capabilities smartly

The courage to be in real interaction also gives rise to innovation because a leader is quite seldom, if ever, the best expert on the tasks in a team. You may have subject areas where you are an expert, but in practice, as a leader, your role should rather be the catalyst for the team's best overall performance. If you have a sailboat and a destination in mind, first, you should make sure you have a skilled crew and the right equipment. Then it becomes essential to have a common goal and solution-focused mindset so that you can navigate and solve the challenges along the way together. Different roles are taken as needed during the journey to use the best available abilities for each task.

Operating based on roles may be difficult to grasp in a hierarchical organization that is not yet accustomed to organizing more strongly around a project or need. It is about mobilizing the best resources available in the moment to do what is needed, working flexibly so that the work at hand progresses well. Sometimes the required resource can purely be time: someone else has more time to delve into the task. On the other hand, someone may have learned something that they can apply to a particular project, or simply someone may be immensely skilled in some role or job. In this way, we make extensive use of the organization's expertise, include and engage people through participation, and increase our resilience.

I think we all understand and use a role-based or coaching approach in one way or other. You can find a great example of a self-leading team in my work history from a paving team whose task was to lay down asphalt. They had talked about how they work and set out a shared way of doing things over the years, and so there was little need for a single individual to lead the team. They had an agreed frame of how they conducted their work and what would happen when someone was away or some other deviation occurred - they knew how to fill in for each other all the time. Such a team could be called transformative.

I consider the role-based way of working to be an essential theme for us at Insta, and we must adjust it to each need and situation. Therefore, for it to work, it requires each team to consider together how they will implement it in their context. This is a topic that I believe we will return to in the fall – how does this advance in practical terms!

Tania Jarrett

Tania Jarrett

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