During the past year, leading effectively has taken on new significance and become even more difficult. An effective leader is able to achieve and sustain desired results. But recently, the goalposts have constantly moved.
Challenges that now add to the complexity of effective leadership
- A higher level of uncertainty
- More hybrid workplaces where work and life blend together
- Growing demand for work cultures with a higher focus on holistic wellbeing; and
- Higher standards for environmental, societal and governance (ESG), just to name a few
Although there isn’t a single right way of getting results, there are underlying foundational principles that will always enable leaders to be more effective. When these principles are ignored, leadership becomes ineffective, creating high costs.
Research by Gallup found that poor management leads to employees being actively disengaged. Teams are less productive and less profitable. There is also higher turnover, which can equate to 1.5 times the annual salary of every employee who quits.
Let’s have a look at a typical situation where ineffective leadership negatively impacts results.
Tony is a CEO who recently held a video conference with his team. He didn’t place any importance on the following observations:
- Peter’s video conference background looked different
- Ruby didn’t turn on her camera
- Barbara’s breathing was fast, and her eyes were red
- Bruce resisted all ideas
- Tony himself felt a heavy pressure on his chest and shoulders
The whole meeting felt disjointed. Conversations dragged on without any tangible outcome, and there was no commitment from the team to the project discussed. Tony felt tired and frustrated afterwards.
We have all been in meetings like this one.
The truth is, Tony didn’t show up as his best self. He didn’t notice the impact his lack of leadership had on his team or the meeting’s outcome. He was unaware of what was going on in Barbara’s and Peter’s lives. He didn’t know where Ruby was taking the call, and he had no idea about Bruce’s motivation to resist everything. Overall, Tony was highly unaware on several levels.
But what does it mean to be aware?
'Awareness' is often misunderstood as being either strongly connected to mindfulness or focused on knowing specific facts.
In fact, awareness is a lot more than that.
Awareness is about noticing what truly matters
Awareness is the ability to feel and notice. It is being cognisant of events, people and environments, and making sense of these data points.
Your level of awareness depends on how well you can use and understand your senses. It is your ability to observe and direct your thoughts. It’s also the knowledge and wisdom you have acquired.
However, we live in a world of sensory overwhelm. To survive, we filter incoming sensory stimuli and numb our senses. This means that we miss subtle yet important data from our environments and bodies.
This becomes obvious once you spend a few days in nature. Your senses re-sharpen, and you notice a lot more detail. Coming back to a city after this relaxing time can be quite shocking!
Our senses need time to detect and focus on the right data. So, to be more effective leaders, we need to slow down and notice the facts that matter by becoming more attuned to the three levels of awareness.
Leading effectively at the three levels of awareness
Effective leadership requires a renewed, holistic perspective that puts equal importance on three levels:
As a leader, if you are not acutely aware in these three levels simultaneously, you cannot notice what truly matters. You will experience greater stress, your people will disengage because they feel you don’t respect them, and your efforts to find solutions will become unfocused.
How to fulfil these three levels of awareness
- Lead your SELF with self-awareness
We can only give what we have got. So, before you can lead others, you must first lead yourself. Notice what is happening in you, for you, with you and around you, at any given moment. Do this with an open mind, without judgement.
Self-awareness is observing sensations in your body and noticing any emotions and thoughts that arise. You know what mindset you act from. You feel your location in space, sensing any influences from the environment. You analyse your energy levels and know exactly what state you are in.
- Lead your STAKEHOLDERS with communication
Communication is an exchange process that must be based on respect, curiosity, discovery and shared meaning. Calmly observing the other person and being aware of what matters to them is the foundation for meaningful connections. You need this to activate the very best in them.
- Lead in SYSTEMS with context-awareness
When you realise that everything is connected and influences your results, you become aware of the whole system. You notice and understand all levels and perspectives of your unique context and the context of others.
So, if you ever feel a bit like Tony, trying to lead but continually frustrated with a disengaged team, perhaps your awareness needs some fine tuning. Are you putting equal importance on self, stakeholders and systems? With greater awareness at these three levels, you will become a more effective leader. You will experience less friction and more flow, leading to sustainable high-performance, reduced risks, and lowered costs in your organisation.