Leadership Behaviors That Leads To Big Change
In business today, there is no offline and there is no downtime. Professionals are both exhausted and depleted. Being constantly tethered to our work through technology makes us overwhelmed and short-sighted, and deprives us of time for meaningful reflection or thoughtful connection to our professional communities, and often even to our own families.
For us to thrive –– not simply survive –– in this accelerating economy, we need to adopt intentional behaviors and practice them each day. This includes simply taking care of our rest and exercise, building our self-confidence and embracing challenges.
The reason New Year’s resolutions fail is not because the goal is too great or the intention is misguided. It’s because the discrepancy between where we are today and the envisioned future often appears so great that we cannot bridge the gap. If we resolve to spend five days a week at the gym and we currently spend zero, then the gap is so great that we cannot immediately and easily cross it.
You can develop leadership behaviours that are about small steps and tiny tweaks in how we treat ourselves, how we carry ourselves and how we think about other people and the world, that can change the way we think and behave.
Believe in Yourself
The respect and regard we have for ourselves is our self-esteem. The strength of our belief in our abilities to accomplish our goals and achieve our potential is our self-efficacy. These are two different things, and without self-efficacy, we are likely to fail in leading others. When we have a strong sense of self-efficacy, we take deeper interest in and make a greater commitment to our activities, we view challenges to be mastered, and we recover quickly from setbacks and pitfalls.
And while we often think we’re lucky or unlucky, we can choose to make our own luck by facing challenges head on, trusting our own intuition and expecting the best outcomes. And when we believe in ourselves, we find it easier to be true to our values and live authentically instead of trying to be who we think others want us to be.
Have you ever thought someone else could do your job better, or thought you got that bonus or promotion by luck? Have you ever been in a hurry to leave before someone finds out you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about?
The feeling that we are frauds when we succeed is known as “impostor syndrome.” It can be defined, according to the Caltech Counseling Center, as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.”
The interesting thing about impostor syndrome is that the more successful we become, the greater the likelihood we will encounter more bouts of self-doubt. The reason is that, as we enjoy greater and greater success, we encounter increasingly successful people with whom to compare ourselves. Here’s the secret: they don’t know what they are doing, either; they’re just winging it, too.
We should try to remember these truths: You do deserve to be here. It wasn’t luck. It was your tenacity and hard work. Ambition is a good thing. Strive for more. It’s okay to ask. And stop comparing — it’s self-defeating. Instead, start by trying to be the person you would like to work for. It’s kind of like trying to live up to, and become, the person your dog already thinks you are.
In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware describes her years of experience working with patients in their final days. The number-one regret her patients expressed was not being authentic and true to themselves — not daring to take on their dreams and challenges — and instead trying to live the life others expected of them.
Confidence, like art, we know it when we see it, and we know it when we feel it. The thing is, confidence isn’t summoned on demand from the heavens. Confidence isn’t brought on by clenching our fists. So how do we achieve and sustain it?
Building and maintaining confidence often requires individual acts of courage. And while assuming the best in others is important to the process, obstacles –– including stress-inducing bosses –– can present challenges. But, if we are persistent, we can overcome many of these. True and profound confidence comes from a lot of factors. Here are a few.
- Preparation. Being prepared ranks as one of the strongest confidence measures among professional athletes and can give any of us confidence, whether on the sports field, on the stage or at a workplace meeting. Preparation leads to competence, which in turn begets confidence.
- Visualization. Recollecting positive performances in the past can give us a confidence advantage. When we take a moment to recall a time in which we were previously successful, we fuel a sense of confidence that we can repeat that success.
- Great Coaching. Good coaches can instill confidence in many ways, but the greatest coaches are honest, specific and positive, all at the same time. They don’t ignore the behavioral or performance weaknesses of the people they coach but instead address those weaknesses head on and provide correctional advice that is both specific and positive.
- Social Support. No matter what we think, none of us is unique, and we can bet someone else is going through the same issue. Asking for help is the first sign of strength.
- Self-Control. Studies have shown that practicing small, consistent acts of self-control can bolster confidence and self-esteem. It’s a self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop.
There is a simple truth about people who become great leaders: They step up. It doesn’t start at the top. We have to make it happen. It starts with each of us and our own personal attitudes and behaviors.
Bolstering confidence takes constant, incremental and intentional effort. Creating confidence is the result of applied effort and work.
Our next leadership behaviour is to introduce ourselves, and others, to challenging circumstances and projects to build and maintain high-performing teams. By having the confidence to overcome small challenges in our daily lives, we are more ready to meet the larger challenges we face at work and in the rest of our lives. And if we can do that, we can influence those around us to also accept challenges that will lead to learning and growth.
Often, the difference between teams that are successful and those that are not is in the way we measure success. Focusing on performance, rather than learning, is common, but that emphasis is misplaced. What is important is not how many sales we make or how many innovations we come up with but what we learn and how we embrace that process that keeps us on the path to innovation and success.
To maintain a challenging environment, we, as leaders, have to be on guard against complacency, an innovation killer. We also need to keep the fire lit under our team, reaching out to all members to make them feel they belong –– that they are valued and we trust them to move us forward to success.
While we, as leaders, should always work to build up our teams by offering them challenges, we also should be on the lookout for the best talent we can add to those teams. Our secret sauce is our people. But attracting and keeping the best people means continually offering them challenge and the right environment in which to meet it.
While meeting challenges is valuable in building character, we also need to reward that effort. Expressing gratitude for good work is critical for trust and well-being in ourselves and in our teams. Gratitude doesn’t mean just saying “thanks.” To show gratitude in a meaningful way, we must understand what drives our need for it, what drives us in our work and the rest of our lives.
Organizations have to get all the factors right. Without fair pay, there is a deep sense of inequity and loyalty erosion. Without clear goals, people feel adrift and without purposeful direction. Without praise, people feel neglected. But one factor outweighs the rest –– making meaningful progress. That quarterly bonus is nice, but we’re not going to stay if that’s all we’re getting out of a job.
While praise, incentives, equitable pay, interpersonal support and clear goals are all important, they are also all extrinsic motivators — they come from the outside, from someone else. A sense of satisfaction in making progress doing meaningful work is an intrinsic motivator. It’s a sense of joy and satisfaction that comes from within.
“It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things,” writes Robert Emmons, co-director of the Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude project at the University of California, Berkley, “No one ‘feels’ grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio.”
If we can summon the strength to reframe a negative experience into a positive one, we can grow in our own self-development. If a relationship really was toxic and we have the strength to see through the emotional pain of being dumped to be grateful that the other person was willing to confront it and end the relationship, then we can grow and move on. When we summon gratitude in the face of adversity, we turn meaningless cruelty into growth and strength.
You can spot a real expert versus a phony. Look for three little words: “I don’t know.” The phony will have all the answers, while the expert will admit what they don’t know. Real experts are relentlessly curious, even assertively curious –– that is, they will demand explanations for things that many others simply accept as rules.
Creativity consistently ranks among the most sought-after and valued characteristics of workers today. Executives know that the next killer app, product, service or innovation is going to come from relentlessly curious and creative people.
The most desirable professionals today are happy, collaborative and have hustle, but, above all, they are relentlessly curious and creative. These people are also assertive. Curious people are decision makers. They are influencers. In interviews, they often say they have direct influence over the outcome of decisions and change. If you think of the people in your company and community who consistently drive change, you will likely be thinking of inquisitive people — people willing to ask the hard questions.
These two behaviors –– deeply questioning and then taking action –– reinforce levels of creative engagement. This is because highly creative people also tend to be fearlessly persistent. They often describe themselves as “adventurous” and “risk taking.” They tend to follow their values, even when their path runs counter to what the group is doing.
There is good evidence to suggest that our own success can stifle the curiosity of those around us, so it’s important not to get too inebriated by our own sense of power and prestige. A powerful antidote to power poisoning is learning to take the perspective of someone else, to set aside our own agenda for a moment and consciously attempt to understand another’s point of view.
One way to fuel the creativity of those around us is simply to work on understanding and communicating back to them their own perspective. Perspective taking is the exercise of intentionally shifting from trying to convince others of an idea to trying to understand the ideas and perspectives of others.
The exercise of conscientiously taking another’s perspective tends to elevate communication and openness to new ideas, because other team members feel a greater sense of empathetic interest. This intentional act of seeking to understand another’s perspective has a direct and powerful effect on accelerating collaboration and innovation.
While it’s good to help our teams build their confidence and meet challenges, it’s also important to let them loose to explore and try their ideas on their own. When we feel like we own much of what we do, we tend to take responsibility and really love our work. And when we love our work, we learn faster.
Too often, hiring managers and recruiters brag about only hiring the best and the brightest from the top schools but then won’t give them the latitude to make even the most mundane decisions on their own.
In a November 23, 2015 interview, Bashar Nejdawi, executive VP of Ingram Micro, said that sometimes he knows a project or initiative of a junior team will fail. He has the experience and the insight to recognize that it’s likely to bomb, but he lets it unfold anyway. He believes that, as long as it’s not a mission-critical failure, it’s more important to let people go through that learning experience themselves. They need to have the experience of understanding firsthand that a particular process or initiative won’t work.
At some point we have to let go of those we manage and understand that the benefits of granting autonomy can yield big results in terms of company success.
Strive for Authenticity
It’s quite common for people to conceal parts of their identity for fear of being stigmatized. At work people often hide their religion, political values, sexual orientation and health conditions. People even conceal what might seem to be quite benign things, such as parental obligations to fetch a sick child from school or take them to a dentist appointment — all out of fear of being branded as not professional, not dedicated or, most important, not like everyone else at work. It’s an effort to get along, to be part of the group, to fit in.
Once we start to conceal personal identity traits, it also becomes harder to honestly and genuinely connect with others. The result is that we lose a sense of belonging, which is at the very core of one of today’s buzzwords: engagement.
To bring out the best in people, we need a culture that not only allows but actively encourages expression of who we are. And the very best bosses and leaders understand this by creating an environment of inclusiveness and acceptance, because those basic fundamentals of inclusiveness, social acceptance and assuming the best in others are the building blocks for accelerating innovation.
When we perform tasks or engage in activities because, as part of an organization, we go along with the idea that “we’ve always done it that way,” or because the person with the greatest seniority in the room suggested it, we’re acting out of conformity.
Conformity can be a great thing — it can enable teams to soar and military groups to function seamlessly and efficiently, and allows decisions to be made faster. It means acting in accordance with social standards and conventions, which can offer safety, convenience, efficiency and harmony within a society.
But it is not conformity but rather positive and creative deviance that drives change. On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, at age 42, refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. In her own words, she was “tired of giving in.”
We are all vulnerable to conformity and, to stay on the creative edge while truly participating in group decision making, we need to be aware of our vulnerability to it. We need to cultivate healthy skepticism toward our own group, and to be willing to disappoint or surprise people in the name of being true to ourselves and for the sake of innovation. It’s the difference between belonging to a group and simply fitting in. When we feel a strong sense of belonging, we feel enabled to be ourselves, wholly and authentically. That sense of belonging gives us better confidence to think and act authentically.
Be Fully Present
While leadership sometimes requires action, it sometimes means simply showing up and being fully present. Let’s explore the concept of being fully present and, closely associated, the state of mindfulness, and how being fully present and mindful affects the quality of our relationships with others.
The definition of “mindfulness,” a concept with Buddhist roots, varies depending on the source. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Mindfulness is also about relationships. In fact, Dr. Richard Chambers and Margie Ulbrick write in their book Mindful Relationships: Creating Genuine Connection with Ourselves and Others, “mindfulness is relationship” — with ourselves and the world around us, our environments and the people we interact with. It’s about how we experience our bodies and our emotions, and each other.
Sitting with a loved one, or alone, watching and enjoying a sunset is a mindful moment. Walking our dog in the park, or preparing a meal or listening to music can all be mindful experiences if we are fully present, focused and undistracted. At work, we can be mindful, sitting quietly in a meeting and listening thoughtfully to the ideas and opinions of a colleague if we are undistracted and listening with unbiased openness.
For decades people have attempted to do everything faster, even reading faster in vain attempts to absorb information faster. But a growing body of new evidence suggests that the path to heightened comprehension and immersive learning is by reading slower, not faster.
The fact that greater comprehension and content cognition comes from slowing down makes perfect sense when we understand that, at a fundamental level, mindfulness is — in the words of Ellen Langer, one of the world’s foremost scholars on mindfulness — “the process of actively noticing new things.” It makes sense because to notice new things we must be present, open and aware.
Mindfulness teaches us to understand our lives as one integrated whole. Showing up each day with mindfulness and presence, and modeling the behavior you believe in, is a small act of leadership.
One of the greatest predictors of effectiveness, happiness and success in work is our capacity to inspire others. Inspiration is rooted in passion, in curiosity and in our desire to live our lives to the fullest. To inspire, we must be inspired, and to be inspired, we have to take time to notice the acts of leadership readily available in any situation.
Slydial is the app that lets you go straight to voice mail, safe from the possibility that someone might actually answer your call. Slydial exists in part because of the energy vampires in the world — those people you dread talking to because they leave you depleted, bummed out, frustrated or annoyed with every conversation. However hopeful you remain, they will figure out how to suck the energy from the conversation.
To avoid being an energy vampire, we should ask ourselves, “When people leave an interaction with me, do they leave feeling more or less energized?” According to Rob Cross, associate professor at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, our ability to create energy in the workplace, with our colleagues around us, is a more powerful predictor of our success than other criteria, including function, title, department, expertise, seniority, knowledge and intelligence. These are all descriptors. Creating energy is a behavior, and it can be learned. The ability to generate energy in those around us is so important that many successful executives and leaders place it at the top of the list as the most important attribute in team members.
Inspiring others by energizing them doesn’t have to do with backslapping or pumping people up with platitudes or grandiose conference-room speeches. We can all become energizers by developing the characteristics energizers have in common such being fully present, being open to possibilities and adding value instead of trying to top others.
History is littered with disasters that came about because the wrong person was in charge at the wrong time or because who should be in charge was unclear. Sometimes these disasters occurred through miscommunication and sometimes because leaders neglected their roles.
The key to a beautifully crafted machine is that every part works and is in the right place — in the role it fits. The same is true of teams in the workplace.
Next time you’re standing at the gate waiting to get on a flight, watch when the crew shows up. Watch how they interact with one another. Do they laugh? Do they ask questions they don’t know the answer to? Does it sound like they are listening well to one another? Or do they ask questions out loud — to no one in particular — and answer themselves?
They are all pros and they work at the same airline, but there’s a very good chance they have never met one another. Yet, it turns out that how these professionals interact in the first few minutes will tell you a lot about how effective they are going to be shortly as a team up in the sky.
Mary Waller, a researcher at York University in Toronto, has been studying something she and her colleagues call “swift-starting expert teams.” These teams are everywhere — TV news crews, emergency-response teams, event organizers. They are composed of highly specialized professionals who assemble for a specific job or task and often have little or no previous interaction with one another but do share the following characteristics: They are competent and familiar with complex work environments; work quickly under situations of time pressure; have a stable role on the team but ad hoc team membership; and have complex, interdependent tasks that rely on interactions with teammates.
It turns out that how members interact with one another during just the first 15-20 minutes is highly predictive of how they will perform as a team for the entire duration of the job. The reason is that interaction patterns established early in these relationships usually persist throughout them, on any operation in which they serve together.
If we keep our team communications consistent, targeted and balanced, our teams will soar. Team rituals –– however small or humble –– will help us better define who is doing what on our teams.
Positive deviance refers to actions that, although outside and even disruptive of the norm, have honorable intentions and positive outcomes.
On Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made its third and most devastating landfall, with sustained winds of more than 125 mph. Inside the headquarters of Hancock Bank in Gulfport, Mississippi, Katrina’s 30-foot storm surge had driven four feet of water throughout the ground floor and destroyed the elevator system. A tornado had ripped out 13,000 windows on the face of the building and blown glass, furniture and debris throughout the interior. The bank had a one-inch-thick steel roof that had been peeled off by the gale-force winds, and in the basement, the central data center was flooded and blasted with falling sheetrock as the interior walls crumbled and fell.
The following morning, the bank executives huddled over the hood of a car in the parking lot. Serving customers from Texas to Florida, Hancock Bank was one of the primary banking providers in the region. But without power at its branches or ATM facilities, there was no way the bank’s customers could access their funds to buy basic needs. The executives then did something remarkable: Reminded of the original charter of the bank to serve communities first, profits second, they asked their branch managers to open no matter what.
Without power or lights, and some without doors or windows, that afternoon 10 locations opened for business. Several of those locations served customers from card tables in front of the shattered bank. In exchange for an IOU on a Post-it note, with only a name and an address if they had no identification, each makeshift bank provided $200 in cash to anyone who asked for it. That’s right — in the critical week following Katrina, without requiring either proof of identification or verification of account information, Hancock Bank pulled cash from destroyed ATM machines, dried it out and put $42 million into the local economy.
According to bank CEO George Schloegel, less than $200,000 was not returned. And in the five months following the disaster, 13,000 new accounts were opened, and bank deposits grew by $1.5 billion. Yes, billion. Hancock Bank had definitively become the bank of the community.
That’s the power of knowing the right thing to do and actually doing it, no matter how far it deviates from business as usual. It’s what happens when leaders are courageous enough to disrupt the status quo, deviate from the norm in a positive way and live their values.
Take a Break
In our work to commit constantly to acts of intentional and incremental leadership behavior, we may overlook a seemingly small act that can reap huge benefits — taking a break. Hitting the pause button can help us gain a new perspective, refresh our creative energy, relate better to our team members, and spur innovation.
Ryan Sanders cofounded a staffing company, BambooHR, about five years ago. Tired (literally) of the go-go workaholic mentality he saw in the 1990s, he now enforces a 40-hour workweek at his company, which has specific policies to keep its employees from working overtime. If you are a BambooHR employee at your desk at 5:30 p.m., Sanders will probably visit you and ask what’s up. But if your work problem persists, you could be fired. One of his software developers nearly lost her job after putting in a few 60- to 70-hour weeks.
BambooHR understands what should be clear to all companies: When we are exhausted, our work quality deteriorates and our decision-making ability falls off a cliff. There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
We can create more positive futures for ourselves and for those around us through small, incremental steps taken each day. You may think to yourself, “But I don’t live in that world. I live in the world of rushing to meetings and oceans of emails and stress!” We can all move into a calmer, more fulfilling and more impactful life. And the path to getting there is filled with small but highly intentional choices made consistently over time.
It is not intermittent, extraordinary actions that separate great leaders from everyone else; rather mindful leaders consistently do the simple things — like knowing when to take a break — extraordinarily well. When we start by doing the small things well, big things can happen.