Building a culture of strong leadership may be the best way to happier, more fulfilled employees.
Ask a group of business owners or employees for their definition of leadership and you’ll net a range of responses. But they all boil down to a few principles—autonomy, collaboration, mentorship, consensus building, listening and a commitment to the customer experience.
We all know what good leadership looks and feels like at work. Turnover is low, productivity and profitability is high and there’s a sense of pride among all people across the company. Yet too many of us also know what bad leadership looks and feels like, especially as “Sunday-night stomach” kicks in, bringing a sense of anxiety about what the coming work week will bring. Work doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. And it isn’t when you foster a culture of strong leaders. Here are five ways to help put those principles in action and create a culture of leadership.
1. Understand the need for strong leaders and strong managers.
Not every good manager is a strong leader, but all organizations need both types of people. Critical to cultivating an environment that embraces both strong leaders and strong managers is to avoid an “up-or-out” culture that’s built around aggressively climbing the ladder. Not everyone is going to move up and that’s OK. Strong managers that embody a very good day-to-day acumen of supporting your business needs can be as important as having leaders to shape the future.
Shift the reward criteria and watch how quickly managers become leaders, companies become visionaries and customers become advocates.
2. Know when to seek collaboration and when to build consensus.
The nuances between the two are subtle, yet can have a remarkable difference on a project’s outcome. Collaborative styles are ideal for longer-term initiatives, where decision making is spread across the company to establish goals and policies for the organization, for example. Consensus-building is most successful when it’s employed by small, agile teams who build fast solutions and prototypes to drive productivity. It’s also a great way to pilot potential leaders as they learn to build consensus among smaller teams with less at stake.
3. Be open to different leadership styles.
This isn’t just about nurturing different approaches to getting the job done. Sometimes it’s about shaking up the dynamics completely. For example, consider the rise of “holocracy,” which eliminates titles and instead organizes teams into self-governing circles with explicit responsibilities and expectations that are focused on getting the work done. This, in theory, heightens the commitment to improving the customer experience, boosts loyalty by eliminating hierarchies, and increases productivity by giving a voice to everybody in the organization.
4. Tear down traditional corporate walls.
There’s often a reluctance to let “outsiders” in to learn about your company and product direction—and for good reason. But taking an all-or-nothing approach to including partners and customers as stakeholders can limit your organization. It can stunt your ability to accelerate growth, gain valuable market insight and build trust. Instead, try creating circles of trusted advisors, including customers and partners that can help shape your company’s direction and inform how to lead in your industry. Don’t forget, these so-called outsiders also have a stake in your future.
5. Never compromise the customer experience.
There are few companies on the planet that would advise otherwise, but what does it really mean to “never compromise the customer experience?” Put another way, are your leaders equally rewarded for meeting quotas and shaving margins as they are for customer satisfaction, retention and growth? Shift the reward criteria and watch how quickly managers become leaders, companies become visionaries and customers become advocates.
All this talk about leadership might beg the question about who follows if everybody’s leading. The reality is that the lines are now blurred as more voices are encouraged to be heard. This doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily lose traditional corporate structures, even though some might be completely upended. What it does mean, however, is that it may be time for your organization to rethink how it defines, values and rewards leaders.
Author: Jane Hiscock || President, Founder Farland Group.