Why do our organisations too often lack vibrancy, engagement and the sort of dynamics necessary to stay agile in our turbulent markets? What leadership qualities actually drive our businesses forwards?
Admittedly these questions are too complex to answer in a simple sentence. Hence, let me shed light on the crucial leadership aspects that no business should dare neglect.
We live in a time where it is now recognised that an individual, especially a leader, whose responsibility it is to drive up the business cannot pull off viable solutions all by themselves. However, this was not always the case and the idea of hero fixing and tackling all issues that your business faced on your own was widespread. It was the theory of the ‘Great Man‘, that Thomas Carlyle, a writer, teacher, and celebrity of his time, popularised in the 1840s. Some 170 years, several outdated ideas later we acknowledge that those times are fortunately over. Today we have started to understand that we depend on each other more than ever before in human history - the complexities of our business world brings with it the need for higher degrees of diversity and, in parallel, of interconnectivity - thus creating the following dilemmas: Firstly, we cannot advance and build on past victories without reaching out to others. And secondly, business leaders cannot just take a lone decision without running into a higher risk of failure.
With this realisation, that despite new challenges close and trustful collaboration is essential in today’s world, we need to strengthen the mindset that we cannot just develop ourselves in isolation. We need to think beyond ourselves and take responsibility for helping others to develop, as well. This is what collaboration is all about: Collective learning, building together a culture that focuses on mutual learning and growing a common understanding for our complex business challenges.
Helping others to grow their potential is the single most important quality a leader can develop to become effective in the long run, not just for a few quarterly wins. A set of distinct skills are required to live up to this kind of mindset – let me share two of them:
What must a leader do?
First, a leader must master the skill of accompanying others on the job. This skill is very different from coaching or mentoring, as it takes judgment when to provide support. For instance, when a direct report or colleague is in the middle of being stretched by a challenge and during such crucial learning episodes, accompaniment allows for instant feedback, reflecting a fresh experience, asking for advice or simply sharing first impressions of the situation. It allows for learning while being in the flow of performing, similar to a sparring partner in the field of sports.
Second, sometimes a person needs to be empowered to start moving outside her comfort zone. One corresponding skill to learn is how to entrust a person by making him or she feel that they are an integral part of the bigger picture. This requires one to sincerely believe that the person can accomplish the task as well as or even better than oneself. It rests on the trust that the other will see this as an opportunity to live up to it. It can inspire a person to be more courageous and try out new things, new approaches, and new behaviors. Thereby, empowering the person to develop further.
A best-practice approach I often use to develop the people in organisations is to make them ask each other two distinct questions: First, what can I do to enable you to do your job even better? Second, how can you support me in doing my job even better? I often observe quite fruitful conversations through these triggering questions and they have a transformative effect in at least two ways: They tend to turn one’s attention to the fact, that our individual performances may not be sufficient if we can’t rely on others’ help. Moreover, it makes us realise that we are all sitting in the same boat – as a team, a business organisation, a country and as part of the human family.
Together we can always gain far more than to be subject to the illusion that we can be independent of all else. Today, leaders are advised to swiftly learn how to spur collaboration, mutually grow potential across the lines and embrace a mindset that allows for vibrant and agile corporate community cultures to emerge. This is one of the main challenges of our time.