If you examine leadership training courses from a few years ago, the agenda divides into two halves – sessions devoted to professional mastery – management, strategy, and vision-setting – and sessions devoted to personal development – assessing strengths and weaknesses, dealing with leadership overwhelm, or improving interpersonal communications. It’s as if two different people are showing up to be trained – one a performance-driven executive, the other a human being. This segregated view of leaders, and how they should be developed, is no longer relevant. Moreover, it’s detrimental. Massive disruptions to the workplace are upending the role of leaders and demand an integration of both the performance and human aspects of leadership.
With new hybrid workplaces, employees are looking for leaders who can make tough decisions and drive results, but at the same time create an environment which provides flexibility, connection, and a sense of belonging. It’s no longer sufficient to just focus on one type of leadership. Leaders need to do and be both.
What Does Both/And Leadership Look Like?
The warped speed at which the world of work is changing has already forced leaders to pivot fast, take bolder actions and make decisions quickly. Leaders need to perform like never before with speed, drive and expertise. These performance factors for leaders need to be well-honed and at the ready. But these are no longer enough.
As hybrid work revolutionizes the workplace, employees are grappling with overwhelm, disconnection and anxiety, and 41% are considering leaving their organization. The blurring boundaries between work and home are driving exhaustion; the realities of physical distance are causing disconnection and mistrust; the perpetual uncertainty is leading to anxiety and fear. With this backdrop, a new set of people-centered leadership qualities are paramount:
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- Sustainability: How to lead others to execute without driving burnout.
- Openness: How to respond adaptively to change and uncertainty and help others to do the same.
- Vulnerability: How to show your own weaknesses and fears to make it safe for others to be vulnerable too.
- Optimism: How to inspire hope by focusing on possibilities even while accepting realities as they are.
When leaders are able to practice these very human traits and embed them into their standard management approaches, a whole world of opportunity opens up for both the leader and the organization. Recently, Potential Project released the findings from a large study of 2000 global leaders across 15 industries. We looked at the interaction of performance factors – the ability to do the hard things of leadership – with human factors – the ability to show compassion and care for others. What we found is that when leaders are able to do the hard things in a human way, employee job satisfaction increases by 86%, job performance increases by 20%, and burnout improves by 64%.
Becoming a Both/And Leader
Bill George once said, “the hardest person you will ever lead is yourself.” This is especially true when pressures mount, and time shrinks. During those times, muscle memory kicks in, and it’s easy to default back to what you’ve done in the past.
Mastering a both/and way of leading requires practice so that it becomes the default approach.
For our past book, The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results, we spoke with Vince Siciliano, the former president and CEO of New Resource Bank, now part of Amalgamated Bank. He shared his experience of neglecting human factors in his leadership to focus solely on executing a major turnaround and the employee morale issues that followed as a result. He was leading by the book and trampling over concerns of others who were not ready to move so fast or didn’t understand the reasons for change. “There was a gap between my internal reality and my external behavior,” he said. “My ego had run amok. I was leading from my head and not from my heart.”
Siciliano explained that in all his years of leadership training and experience, he’d never been asked to consider who he was at his core, what he valued, and what it really meant to be a leader.
And that is where you start in the journey… inside, with the mind. Why? Because the mind drives our behavior, and our behavior shapes the people we lead. And the people we lead create the culture of the organization and determine its performance. When you learn how your mind works, and how to rewire it for agility, sustainability, or vulnerability, you can face a changed world head on.
As a first step, it’s crucial that leaders invest in becoming fundamentally self-aware. Self-awareness is getting to know yourself, moment by moment. It is knowing what you are thinking while you think it and what you are feeling when you feel it. It’s the ability to keep your values in mind at all times, and the ability to monitor yourself so you can manage yourself accordingly.
In our experience, the practice of mindfulness is foundational to self-awareness. It helps you avoid your compulsive reactions and replace them with more useful behaviors. And it helps you stay true to your values. The more time you spend training your awareness, the more you become aware of what’s happening in the landscape of your mind from moment to moment. You can then pause in the moment, make more conscious choices, and take more deliberate actions. You will also find it easier to be gentle both on yourself and on others. These are powerful skills to have as a leader.
Here are some things you can start to do today:
- Commit to practicing ten minutes of mindful awareness training on a regular basis.
- Identify one autopilot behavior you would like to change; set an intention to notice when the old behavior arises, pause, and choose a new response.
- Write down the values that are most important to you in your work life and as a leader; consider when these might be challenged and how you will respond.
It’s an exciting time to be a leader when the “rules” of leadership are being broken and new models are emerging. Take advantage of this time. Step forward and begin… inside.
For more on both/and leadership, and how to be a more human-centric leader, we welcome you to explore our forthcoming book, Compassionate Leadership: How to do hard Things in a Human Way, publishing on January 18th, 2022.
Moses Mohan, Partner & Global Head of Leadership Solutions at Potential Project, co-authored this content.