We are currently living through a very unusual period as regards health, politics and society: all over the world groups of people who are more vulnerable than others – children, women, people with disabilities, the elderly, but also unemployed young people, immigrants, people of different religions, nationalities, sexual orientations or identities – feel more abandoned and isolated than usual right now. That is why we need leaders who are beacons in a stormy world, with an unpredictable economic horizon, where many are paralysed by fear and uncertainty and are struggling just to stay motivated. So let’s look for sources of inspiration that speak to our needs. We want leaders who listen to us, who give us hope, who are present. May they be our allies in this daily battle.
But what does it mean to be allies? We all often have a long mental or written to-do list. A list that may seem endless. The same goes for those in leading positions. Too often, we are so focused on what we need to do as leaders that we forget who we need to be as leaders. In an ever-faster world, where pressures continue to build, the ability to be centred and focused is becoming one of the key skills to progress. And focused on what? When I think about it, the people who really influence or inspire me are those I admire for who they are as individuals, for the values they represent, their character, their humanity and authenticity in everyday life, not just the results they obtain. I understand that I want to be like them rather than just do what they have done.
One of the things that really differentiates a Manager from a Leader is that the former is more focused on doing (getting measurable results, as fast as possible, in innovative ways, etc.), while the latter is more focused on being (being visionary, motivating, stable, coherent, strategic). Of course, being a Leader also means providing tangible results, but being an authentic leader, providing that inspiration and support to your team, is equally and usually even more important.
How can we do this? In two main ways:
- Deep listening. Of all the leadership skills, I find that listening is the one that is least well used by leaders.
- Authentic listening. Understanding what the other person is really trying to say, from their perspective. We often listen superficially. Feeling truly listened to creates a sense of belonging. According to Kotter International, 71% of the workforce does not feel involved, but companies with employees who feel involved – and therefore listened to – have a return for shareholders that is five times higher than the average.
So what makes a human being feel involved? Personal stories and connections, shared experiences and narratives. We must remain curious and ask for more information, we must know how to have deeper and sometimes even uncomfortable conversations, both for ourselves and for others. Why is this important to my boss or colleague? What is your real concern?
- Patience. Patience is essential if we are to exercise effective leadership, especially during a crisis. We need to be able to stay calm in the face of adversity and frustration if we are to instil calm in others. When your employees and colleagues, are tense, you need to support them, not get irritated – and not irritate them. Unfortunately, most of us don’t show this patience and don’t know where/how to find it. We must work deeply on ourselves to find the strategies that allow ideas and plans to take hold, to mature.
A final tip: before speaking, reacting, judging, advising, stop for a few seconds and think about your intention. Take the time to decide who you want to be in this interaction and what the other person needs. These seconds that you take to pause/visualise can go a long way towards making your words and ways of interacting more meaningful and in line with your intentions.