Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Because Better is Better

How does your organization approach diversity, equity, and inclusion?

While many leaders believe they have taken adequate steps to correct or avoid inequalities in the workplace with policies, promotion, and training, all too often we hear about employees who experience some form of exclusion or inequity, including lack of promotion, outright harassment, and even worse.

Being excluded at work is not fun. Even in times when most people are working remotely, being left out can intensify a sense of alienation, which impacts our happiness and performance. This is even more critical for small businesses: according to a 2019 survey, 52% of small businesses report labor quality as their biggest challenge.

Imagine, then, the impact when co-workers and leaders ignore an ongoing problem.

What if the exclusion(s) were due to your ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation? How do you address diversity, equity and inclusion problems in your organization?

Social psychologist and researcher Robert Livingston, author of The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth About Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations, (Random House 2021) writes in the September-October 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review that the real challenge is not figuring out what to do, it’s our willingness. We’re able, but unwilling. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Trickle-Up Diversity

The concept that diversity will trickle up to the C-level suites is fundamentally flawed.

According to research conducted between September and November 2019 by Mercer, Caucasians fill 64% of entry level positions and 85% of top executive positions, demonstrating a promotion and equity gap. “The representation of people of color (both men and women) decreases incrementally as career levels rise.” Let’s Get Real About Equality (2020, p 22.)

Without equity and inclusion, diversity falls short. According to new research published by Columbia Business School, people need a sense of belonging. Given today’s challenges with an ongoing pandemic, and a polarizing political climate, is this even possible?

The biggest obstacle to hope and change is cynicism and apathy. Don’t let that happen in your organization. We can do better, and better is better.

We need to become aware of the problems, analyze the root-cause(s), practice empathy, and sometimes, make hard choices to the point of sacrifice. But in the long run, when we invest our time and effort in real strategies that work, the return on investment is worth it.

Increase Accountability and Transparency

We are making some progress when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.

As Harvard University psychologists Tessa E.S. Charlesworth and Mahzarin R. Banaji found in their research and published in What Works, “New data from nearly 6 million respondents shows that implicit (and explicit) attitudes/beliefs about minority groups can and do improve over the long-term (sexuality, race, skin tone, and gender roles).” They found that over a 10-year period, a widespread change occurred across most demographic groups.

What’s going on in your organization? Track your diversity and increase accountability and transparency with these steps:

  • Complete a SWOT analysis:
    • Collect data over time, including personnel transitions , discrimination complaints and outcomes, and employee surveys:
      • Create a template of questions to be answered anonymously; offer a range of answer choices, as well as an opportunity for a comment.
      • Ensure the survey reaches all employees and that they have adequate instructions and time to complete it.
      • Tabulate the results to establish your baseline.
      • Periodically, re-survey all employees with the same questions.
    • Analyze trends.
      • Compare your data over time, and compare it to other organizations.
      • Where are you seeing improvement in recruitment, hiring, promotion, pay, and retention?
      • Where do you need to improve?
  • Create goals. This is a critical step in the process: it lays the foundation for accountability and transparency.
    • Share your anonymous results with all employees.
    • Celebrate trends as they improve.
    • Establish SMART goals for areas needing improvement.
    • Educate all employees on how their attitudes and actions contribute to results, especially matters regarding inclusion.

Uncover Hidden Hiring Bias

While human bias can change over time, employee surveys often reveal slow progress, especially when it comes to promotion and equity. Here are a few suggestions that work in any organization, regardless of size:

  • Post the position in a broad range of forums, networks, or organizations, including those that work with the under-represented.
  • Don’t discriminate by asking for classification-specific applicants or referrals, rather, include a mission statement and/or diversity statement in your post.
  • Create a diverse interviewer panel, a consistent set of interview questions, and scoring criteria relevant to an accurate job description and essential qualifications.
  • Ask every applicant for their definition of diversity. As a follow-up, ask how they have promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion through their previous work experiences.
  • Document your recruiting, hiring, and promotion process. Retain notes from interviews or decisions on promotions.

If you haven’t already, identify a diversity officer or diversity task force to create hiring and promotion plans, and to review outcomes and disparities. Look to your managers, at all levels, as potential participants in the task force.

What You Need to Know about Hiring Technology

Hiring technology must be carefully designed in order to avoid pitfalls and achieve fair hiring: absent of disparate treatment and disparate impact. In assessing technology, look for:

  • Data that demonstrates fairness throughout all demographics
  • Candidate assessments and selections that are relevant to job requirements
  • Disparate impact testing prior to deployment
  • Ability to conceal demographic indicators from decision makers to enable objective human assessment
  • Tools that mitigate the risk of human bias in decision making
  • Tools that audit for disparate impact

Two important notes: beware of small samplings or group sizes in data sets, and review algorithms. This is critical to demonstrate fairness, objectivity, and relevancy, especially in terms of predicting outcomes and success.

Share your employment composition data and processes with all stakeholders. This includes the criteria for hiring, promotion, salary, bias/discrimination complaints, and how it compares to other businesses in your segment and geography.

Create Safe Reporting Alternatives

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, over 39,000 retaliation-based discrimination charges were filed in 2019. Unfortunately, many of our complaint systems are not working.

In What Works, researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev report that formal grievance procedures actually slow progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion of minority men and women in management. Instead, organizations and leaders can offer alternatives, including:

  • A neutral party to receive confidential complaints, such as an ombudsperson. Their role is to listen and provide guidance to resolve issues. Developing a pool of well trained and skilled ombudpersons can improve potential conflict of interest risk.
  • An external, third party mediator. Their role is to listen and advise. Mediators are commonly available through an employee assistance program.
  • A dispute resolution department, either internal or external. Their role is to represent—or arbitrate for—both parties in mediation on a variety of issues. However, when there is a power difference between parties, or when termination is the remedy, complaints may go unresolved in a satisfactory manner.
  • A transformative dispute resolution model designed to change the workplace. At its core, this model is designed to change the workplace by improving self-awareness, skills, and accountability through training, and sometimes, in policies and processes.

Of course, equity and inclusion ultimately depend on leadership attitudes. When leaders perceive complaints as threats, they miss the opportunity to gain valuable insights. By balancing speed with quality in finding solutions, they gain insights. 

Balance Speed with Proven Strategies

Leaders can create a culture of equality and inclusivity with best practices and proven methods that can be quickly and successfully implemented with little or no customization and at low cost.

  • Diagnostics: Assess the local context. Your diagnostics should include research on your own business, as well as the local, or relevant, geographic demographics and statistics, including pay scales. This is important for equality comparisons and goal setting.
  • Engage influencers:  Invite willing and able actors, especially managers, in the design process. Ask your managers to conduct reality checks: how does this impact current systems, processes, and ways of doing business?
  • Create your model of change: Take local context into account and identify a target of change. Understand the experiences of specific groups of underrepresented minorities, that one-size-does-not-fit-all, and that minority voices are not heard until they reach 30% critical mass.
  • Build momentum: Begin with the most engaged departments, teams, or individuals. Incorporate bystander training to equip and empower everyone. Celebrate accomplishments as progress is made.

The Key to Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are not the same. While companies can mandate diversity, leaders have to cultivate inclusion. This begins with a genuine interest in, and for, other individuals.

People instinctively yearn for inclusion; belonging is a part of our hierarchical needs to achieve our potential and peak performance. Our sense of belonging is relative to our sense of security and safety. Leaders who support diversity, equality, and inclusion provide a safe and equitable work environment.

Great leaders get to know individuals. They learn about their unique strengths, experiences, and needs. The best leaders demonstrate their understanding and care by recognizing individuals with respect.

Managers play a key role in this. As Michael Slepian writes for Harvard Business Review (August 2020), “Managers should not only signal that a social identity is valued, but also that the individual is valued, as a person, not just on the basis of the social group they represent.”

Most individuals don’t want to be asked to speak on behalf of their social group; they don’t want to be singled out in this manner. Instead, get to know the individual, and ask them to share their thoughts based on their strengths and unique experiences. People want their social group to be included and their individual self to belong. 

The Matter of Likeability

Navigating the lightning-pace of the 21st Century is not always an easy task, even with technological advances. Those who excel are skilled in decision making, forming emotional bonds, and influencing others. It often comes down to a matter of likeability.

Peruse any book store and you can find a plethora of titles encouraging us to care less about what others think; to not give a !@#$. This recent trend reveals our vulnerability to conforming, people pleasing, and lacking healthy boundaries. But the truth is, likeable people cultivate skills that support, encourage, and unite others, often toward common goals.

New research published in The Economic Journal finds that likeability is an influencing factor in interactions between women, as well as interactions between men and women, but not in all-male interactions. The researchers conducted experiments where participants rated the likeability of other participants, based on photographs.

Likeability is more than a display of niceness, agreement, or even our looks. And, likeability can be learned, practiced, and improved. It requires great self-awareness, self-care, and people-skills.

What is Likeability?

Likeability is the combination of who, how and why: who we are (our personality and physical traits), how we interact with others (our social skills), and why—our motivations.

  • Traits: a characteristic
    • Personality/Character traits
      • Sense of humor
      • Open-minded
    • Physical Traits
      • Facial features
  • Skills
    • Ability to listen well
    • Ability to express empathy
    • Self-awareness
    • Knowledge
  • Attitudes
    • Positivity
    • Beliefs
    • Values
  • Behaviors
    • Tone in communication
    • Credibility

Your credibility is a critical factor in your likeability. According to marketing expert Rohit Bhargava, author of Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action (Wiley, 2012), “People decide who to trust, what advice to heed, and which individuals to forge personal or transactional relationships with based on a simple metric of believability.”

Likeability is the congruence of values, attitudes and behaviors; it is proportional to your authenticity to self.

How Likeable Are You?

We like people who we find interesting, familiar, trustworthy, positive, non-judgmental, and authentic, who are interested in us and with whom we have similarities. To be sure, how we perceive others is our reality, and vice-versa: how others perceive us is their reality. Nonetheless, likeability does matter.

Subconsciously, we measure likeability by:

  • Friendliness
  • Interesting/Interested
  • Familiarity
  • Similarity (experiences, values, beliefs, physical attributes)
  • Positivity
  • Open-minded/non-judgmental
  • Authenticity/vulnerability

But what about those differences in values?

In 2017, the Pew Research Center published an article on the traits or characteristics of men and women valued most by (American) society. Surveyed respondents indicated honesty/morality as number one for men (33%), and physical attractiveness for women (35%). Also included in the list were:

Two questions arise from this survey:

  1. Is there a difference between what the individual values, and what they perceive is valued by society?
  2. Considering the aforementioned research published in The Economic Journal, how do we gauge honesty/morality based on a photograph, or physical attributes?

To be sure, our values, and differences in values, influence likeability. Scientific research has yet to identify exactly how much. We do know that likeability is the combination of characteristics including, (but not limited to) interest, empathy, and genuineness. Ultimately, likeability is defined and determined by the criteria of others.

"People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel." ~ Maya Angelou

How to Improve Your Likeability at Work

The best co-workers are those who are trustworthy, empathic, and connect with us. They demonstrate social sensitivity: they pick up on cues, maintain healthy boundaries, and connect on a deep level. They are competent, genuine, and likeable people.

Similarly, likeable leaders impress us with special qualities, many of which involve good looks, charm, communication skills, and a leadership “aura.”  But as Michelle Tillis Lederman wrote in The 11 Laws of Likeability(AMACOM, 2011), “The worst thing anyone can do when trying to establish a personal bond with someone is to come across as manipulative or self-serving.”

We seek to be led by those who look like us (or what we think we should ideally look like), with similar values and a shared vision. This psychological drive is called homophily. We also hope our leaders will have some positive differences from us; heterophyly. We want our leaders to be smarter, as well as more competent, visionary, and articulate, than we are. We believe this individual is like us at some basic level, but also capable of directing us to a place we couldn’t reach on our own.

Questions to Explore

To improve your likeability at work, ask yourself these questions, and then ask yourself “why”?

  • What stories do you tell yourself, about you, your family, your work? How we perceive others is our reality, and vice-versa: how others perceive us is their reality. If we remember that our perceptions are the map and not the territory, then we realize we can be flexible in changing our beliefs and considering alternatives.
  • What stories do you tell yourself about your strengths and weaknesses? When we see ourselves mastering skills and achieving goals that matter, we gain a sense of self-efficacy. This is the confidence that, if we learn and work hard in a particular area, we’ll succeed; and it’s this type of confidence that leads people to accept difficult challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks. This overlaps with self-esteem: a sense that we can cope with what’s going on in our lives, and that we have a right to be happy.
  • What are your values and beliefs? Do you consistently walk your talk? When a situation impinges on our deepest values, we often leap to a place of righteousness and passion. Preparation is key: know your boundaries, your strategies, and tactics, before you react.
  • What motivates you? While we may seek to satisfy our interests differently from others (theoretical, utilitarian, aesthetic, social, individualistic, and traditional or religious), everyone has four basic drives: to acquire, bond, learn, and defend. Recognize the drives behind your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.
  • What is your purpose? Do your values, beliefs, and motivations align with your purpose?

Work through these questions periodically to improve your self-awareness. A qualified executive coach can help you identify bias and blind spots. Learnability, adaptability and ongoing choices and actions (or lack thereof) have a considerable impact on your likeability. Improvement requires you to recognize your attitudes and behaviors, shift your mindset, and develop new behaviors.

Is Your Workplace Healthy?

Businesses face challenges from numerous angles, and leaders are tasked with understanding and addressing them. Many resources and case studies have helped leaders learn how to deal with things like competitive analysis, gaining market share, employee engagement, cost reduction, and manufacturing efficiencies. But a hidden challenge has made itself more prominent in recent years, and much of it goes unacknowledged by management: the mental illness of employees.
Data continues to show that the mental health of an organization’s staff is critical in determining how well an organization functions. Weakened mental health is a silent enemy, and it takes a keen understanding of its nature, causes, and solutions to address it effectively. According to the Johns Hopkins Mental Health in the Workplace Summit, mental illness is the leading cause of disability for U.S adults under the age of 44.
Many leaders unknowingly run organizations hampered by employee disability due to mental illness. Some leaders don’t see it, others don’t want to. It is a very real issue that inhibits organizations, yet many in leadership fail to address. But with the proper approach, leaders can effectively help their people recover and maintain their mental health.
The Cost of Mental Illness
Studies show that people are greatly affected by their work environment. Their experiences, pressures, and failures take a toll, often chipping away at their mental health. As technology accelerates the speed of commerce—and as a result, its demands and shortcomings—a greater percentage of the workforce is squeezed in the vice we call progress. It has become a chronic problem.
The World Health Organization posted in a recent publication that worker mental illness, in its various forms, costs the global economy over $1 trillion each year. Employee absenteeism is more heavily caused by mental illness than physical illness or injury according to the Mental Health in the Workplace summit. One in five adults in the U.S. experience a form of mental illness and less than half are getting treated. A survey of office employees conducted by workplace consultants Peldon Rose reveal that three out of four employees would like their employer to oversee mental health initiatives, with workable plans and treatment opportunities. Ninety-five percent claim that their work environment is an important factor in their state of wellbeing and mental health.
Many leaders have a bigger issue on their hands than they realize: their workplace can cause their people great distress in ways that don’t surface to the passing eye. This, in turn, causes diminished effectiveness and organizational output. Attitudes suffer, and the cycle perpetuates. Mental distress causes abnormal behavior and responses. Anger, impatience, apathy, silence, and disengagement are observed responses by those experiencing mental illness.
The mental illnesses of concern aren’t degenerative clinical disorders. The most common problems involve depression, anxiety, and fear. These are no longer dismissed as emotional phases or passing stages. Experts have come to regard extended seasons of these as ailments, due to their lasting impacts, debilitating effects, and the need for treatment.
With mental illness in the workforce, organizations experience abnormal turnover, communication breakdown, dissatisfied customers, and shrinking profits. It benefits every leader to understand this growing issue and learn how to meet the mental health needs of their people.
The Causes of Workplace Related Mental Illness
People consider their jobs to be a significant part of their lives, and not just for the obvious income-providing reason. Naturally, their lifestyles depend on a reliable source of funds. But the study of human behavior indicates that people need their employment for more than income, whether they consciously recognized it or not.
Our jobs provide us with purpose through opportunities of accomplishment. Employment, when experienced in a positive environment, offers the all-important sense of value. Working people look to their jobs to find self-esteem and satisfaction by being needed and accepted as competent. These are fundamental needs, and when they aren’t met, the spirit suffers. Prolonged periods of emotional neediness inflict significant damage, where the mind responds unfavorably with numerous effects.
The human spirit reacts to its surroundings. When the workplace treats people poorly (or they have the impression they are being treated poorly), they respond negatively. The mind jumps to their defense and justifies an altered line of behavior.
Employees sense poor treatment when they are disrespected. This can involve being ignored, ridiculed, subjectively judged, or discriminated against. An employee’s emotions manifest as anger, resentment, or rejection. Worse than disrespect is abuse. A person who is reprimanded needlessly, insulted, antagonized, or threatened will develop a sense of inferiority or hopelessness. They may feel targeted, worthless, insecure, or fearful.
Poor treatment, and the pressures of a dynamic and demanding environment, cause some to wonder if they can cope. Survival mode is a desperate place to be, causing people to worry about losing their job and life-sustaining income. This weight also impacts their families. People experiencing these kinds of emotions can’t work at peak productiveness. Mental illness debilitates cognition, memory, and responses. It demotivates, destabilizes, and may be manifested as anxiety if relief isn’t found.
Depression can also set in. Experts understand depression to be a prevalent issue in the workplace. They know this from surveys, since it is by and large an unspoken subject at the employee level. This is due to the difficulty of self-diagnosis and the unwillingness to be open about personal problems. The subject is still difficult to raise in many workplaces.
Mental illness affects much more than a person’s work. It negatively affects their physical, family, and social health. This often worsens the mental health spiral.  Leaders who recognize the importance of mental health create an environment that supports it.
Addressing Mental Health
The primary step in treating or minimizing mental health issues within your staff is awareness. Leaders who understand the problem and know how to spot the telltale signs have a great advantage in creating an environment that can effectively address mental health.
Reactionary measures rely on leaders being observant. When an employee negatively changes their behavior, there are definite reasons why. Look for indications of depression, nervousness, or unusual emotional expression. For example, explore why normally out-going people become withdrawn. Attitude adjustments like apathy, disinterest, or unwillingness are red flags. Of course, it helps for the leader to get to know their people well enough to spot such changes in behavior or attitude.
Due to the prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace, it is wise for companies to establish employee assistance resources, either on-site or nearby. Give people the consideration they need when facing problems, and offer professional help. Corporate mental health policies add another layer of consideration by treating troubled employees with respect and support. A Fortune article by health and wellness expert Alan Krohll suggests reviewing and improving internal policies, and including all employees in the training. People are taught how to come alongside distressed coworkers and show them they are cared for.
Preventative measures revolve around leaders creating an enjoyable culture. Do you trust your people? Or do you micromanage and keep them under your control? Giving people the autonomy and freedom to make decisions prevents a controlled and powerless feeling. It gives their efforts meaning and assigns value to them. People sense themselves growing and enjoy being part of a group effort that appreciates their contributions.
A culture that supports employees—that offers direction, communication, and the resources needed to successfully accomplish tasks—gives people peace of mind. They know they are prioritized as valuable assets. This diminishes stress and worry, and forges positive attitudes, mindsets, and feelings. Leaders who respond to the project needs of their people provide assurances that their environment is safe. Safety offers stability and confidence, resulting in satisfaction rather than anxiety.
A qualified executive coach can offer beneficial counsel on maintaining a healthy culture. Give your people your best, and they’ll give you their best. Their mental health is worth protecting.

Building a Strong Culture

Some companies prosper and draw the business world’s attention. They continuously grow, innovate and impress. In contrast, others struggle, never breaking through to reach their desired success. The latter must deal with downsizing, financial shortfalls, market-share losses and tarnished reputations.

The disparities are glaring. While leaders of prosperous companies garner industry admiration, those who head besieged organizations wonder where they went wrong. They search for explanations as to why their operations haven’t fulfilled their potential.

Research in social science and organizational behavior points to a critical quality, one that most directs every company’s future: culture. A strong culture consistently leads to robust performance, while a weak culture suffers ongoing failures.

Leaders who discount the importance of culture are apt to bear predictable consequences. They must define, assess and strengthen their organizational culture to thrive.

Culture’s Impact

Culture is to an organization as personality is to a person. Personality describes how we think, act and respond to the circumstances we face.

Similarly, an organization’s culture determines how people act or work, what they believe or stand for and how they respond to pressures and challenges. Every company, without exception, has a culture.

Leaders unfamiliar with the concept of corporate culture or organizational behavior are out of touch with the daily workings within their walls. They fail to realize that culture drives:

  • How well (or how poorly) teams function
  • Whether customers’ needs are being met
  • Whether employees’ needs are fulfilled
  • Company health and well-being
  • Future outlook

Leadership expert John Coleman describes Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture (Harvard Business Review, May 6, 2013):

  • A unifying vision or mission that fashions one’s purpose and plans
  • A code of values that influences behavior and mindsets
  • Practices that support and enhance people
  • A recruiting process that matches people to the desired culture
  • A celebrated heritage that tells the company’s story and what it stands for
  • A beneficial working environment to optimize synergy

A trained observer, like an executive coach, can quickly assess whether one’s culture embodies these characteristics.

A strong culture can increase net income by more than 700% in an 11-year span, according to a 2012 study published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business.Other research confirms culture as a significant factor in determining success or failure.

Essential Skill Sets

Creating and sustaining a strong group culture is one of the most misunderstood and elusive aspects of leadership in today’s business climate. Some leaders are disinterested in their culture, with no desire to delve into an area that, for them, is mysterious and superfluous. Others recognize culture’s importance but are too intimidated to tackle it. Still others attempt to craft a culture, but their unfamiliarity prevents them from taking prudent steps—and they may even make matters worse.

A strong company culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s based on constructive relationships and interactions. But humans, by nature, fail to engage each other constructively. Selfish impulses and habits get in the way. Fears, stubborn beliefs, prejudices and pride also inhibit healthy group dynamics.

It takes focused and deliberate leaders to establish, nurture and grow a strong culture.
Leadership expert Daniel Coyle identifies three foundational skill sets or proficiencies in The Culture Code (Bantam Books, 2018). The principles are simple, but following them requires wisdom and empathy:

  • Define the organization’s purpose. Values and goals must be shared so everyone is on the same page. A strong culture begins with unity and a common purpose.
  • Foster mutual trust. Establishing a culture where people trust each other and their leader takes time, but it empowers people to excel.
  • Create a sense of safety. People instinctively yearn for safety, security, a sense of belonging and a personal identity. Employees who feel safe engage wholeheartedly, without fear of reprisal or condemnation. Leaders must provide a consistently safe environment.

Post Your Purpose

Without a fundamental purpose, organizations cannot steer efforts in any general direction. Employees need a reason to serve, shared goals, a common cause and focus. They need to know what their organization stands for so they can embrace its stance.

Leaders are charged with creating a vision of the company’s future. They’re required to disseminate and promote it so others can fall in line. Purpose or mission statements are noble callings to serve, respond to and meet the public’s needs.

A purpose can tell a story, hinge on a legacy or chase a dream. Each unites people as they endeavor to achieve something together. Culture is enhanced by accomplishing something that’s possible only when everyone shares the same purpose.

Effective leaders know that hitting people over the head with mission statements causes more harm than good. People respond best to small, frequent, unobtrusive reminders of their purpose. Offer frequent encouragement and feedback.

Leaders can work with a qualified executive coach to hone the following vital skills:

  • Clearly state individual and collective priorities. People want to know what’s expected of them.
  • Overstate priorities to ensure everyone is in sync. There’s no need to be forceful or indignant. Aim for supportive and motivational.
  • Provide high-feedback training, as Coyle calls it. This allows people to fail and find ways to improve. Culture blooms when people are empowered to learn and grow. Be sure to celebrate small victories.

Train to Trust

A strong culture depends on an environment of trust, where people can count on each other, take risks together and benefit from the resulting successes. Leaders who inspire authenticity entice people to step out of their comfort zones and enjoy the spirit of cooperation.

Leaders enhance trust when they’re transparent and humble. Display humility by expressing a need for help. People are drawn to leaders who are willing to exhibit fallibility. Admitting weaknesses and setting aside insecurities reveal a real person who can be trusted.

Trust builds teamwork, which inspires cooperation and a vital interconnectedness. Trust is founded on relationships—and the stronger the relationships, the healthier the culture. Once again, leaders can benefit from the assistance of an experienced executive coach to optimize their people skills and relational intelligence.

Great leaders are comfortable dealing with subordinates when problems arise. They approach difficult situations and challenging employees face to face, with care and honor. They’re firm but fair. Trusted leaders prioritize relationships and make sure employees feel appreciated.

Leaders gain employees’ trust through active listening. When you thoughtfully address people’s situations and allow them to speak freely, you cultivate greater trust.

Giving honest feedback to employees further raises the trust bar. Be candid, sincere and helpful. As Coyle suggests, provide “targeted” or specific feedback. People want to contribute the best they have to offer and be valued resources. They need detailed critiques and a chance to earn your approval. Avoid judgmental comments so you can nurture their self-esteem.

High self-esteem allows employees to show initiative and avoid the need for continuous oversight. The best cultures feature self-directed teams whose leaders interject only when necessary. Employees become more invested and engaged in their work, which makes for a strong culture.

Provide Safety

All humans want to feel safe. They need to feel they belong, are cared for and valued at work. Leaders who provide purpose and a trusting environment are in the best position to offer a sense of safety.

People feel safe when they can trust their relationships without concerns over politics, personalities and resentments. They want to know their relationships will last and grow stronger. Employees who feel safe invest in the team dynamic and perform better.

Leaders build a strong culture when they emphasize relationships and set an example. Show interest in your people, and emphasize that everything done within your organization is built on relationships.

Leaders who foster a sense of belonging build strong cultures. Coyle provides the following helpful strategies:

  • Receive people’s ideas and proposals with an open mind. Make them feel glad for contributing, not regretful. Let their voice be heard, and remind them that you need their ideas because their perspectives have value.
  • Express thanks, which affirms the importance of relationships and provides motivation. If everyone’s efforts are important, a healthy codependency and unity develop.
  • Accept bad news, and don’t shoot messengers. People who face threats for being truthful will learn to be silent. This kills a culture.
  • Roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Leaders who place themselves above ordinary tasks erect barriers. When everyone is equally willing to contribute, teamwork expands and a sense of safety prevails.
  • Don’t pad bad news with good. Beating around the bush or hedging your delivery signals disingenuousness, which spells danger. Say it like it is, but do so sincerely and considerately. Being truthful tells people you have their best interests at heart.

Optimize Your Management Team

Extensive research reveals startling conditions in typical organizational settings. Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report, last updated in 2017, confirms a strong correlation between company prosperity and middle management abilities.

Through the Manager Report and numerous surveys, Gallup has exposed lingering trends in employee disengagement, distrust and dissatisfaction, which directly hit the bottom line. Managers are 70% responsible for employees’ attitudes about their jobs, affecting their attendance, quality of work, willingness, loyalty and customer feedback. Gallup’s No Recovery Report found that the American GDP per capita has slowed its growth from 3% to 0.5% in the last 50 years. The growth in personal productivity has essentially stopped, even with the advent of improving technology.

This puts the onus on top leadership to make sure their management structure is as effective as possible, a condition that statistics say is rare. Surveys indicate only 10% of people have a high talent to manage effectively. Unfortunately, they also show that about 82% of the management segment is chosen from outside this small window.

When top leaders prioritize the quality of their management team, their organizations thrive. When they don’t, they struggle, sometimes marginally, sometimes catastrophically. Leaders enjoy the highest levels of success when they put the right people in the right roles, and train them to develop and engage their employees. Each of these steps require a thoughtful approach with diligent upkeep.

Find the Best Management Candidates

Leadership mindsets have changed over the last few decades. In the 2018 article, Want to Improve Productivity? Hire Better Managers, Gallup managing partner Vipula Gandhi describes the traditional leadership philosophy of control and privilege. Experience shows that this has always been detrimental to organizational life. However, employees no longer accept controlling environments or stern practices. Leaders with controlling methods suffer from high employee disengagement, inefficiencies and turnover. This is not a recipe for success.

Another frequent practice is placing people into leadership roles based on their seniority or past accomplishments, with a high emphasis on their technical skills. Unfortunately, effective leading is much more dependent on people skills. Employees respond much more favorably to managers who know how to relate with them than those who have technical savvy. Technical skills can be honed to lead technically, but people desire managers who can lead personally. People skills are heavily influenced by personality, which is much harder to adapt. Many technically capable managers have poor people skills, and thus have poor followings with the associated fallout. 

In order for leaders to run the most effective organizations they need the most effective management team, which calls for putting the right people in management roles. The right candidates have the strongest people skills, so it is important to stress this attribute in the recruiting and placement process. Technical skills are necessary, but weighing them too heavily is a critical mistake.

Unlike technical skills, people skills are more difficult to assess on paper. This is why getting to know candidates personally is critical. Interviews are valuable to grasp a candidate’s soft skillset. Here are some areas to explore with a candidate, whether they are internal or from outside the organization:

  • What is their philosophy of leadership?
  • How does their character convey positivity and motivation?
  • How do they exhibit pride, humility, respect, accountability?
  • What kind of wisdom, discernment and insight do they have?
  • Are they personally interested in people, and enjoy engaging, supporting and encouraging them?
  • How do they value their staff?
  • Do they care about employees as people or just physical resources?
  • What kind of collaborative spirit do they have?
  • Do they seem interested in benefitting themselves or others?
  • What is their definition of fairness?
  • Will they fit into the culture?

Many of these answers can be sensed through conversations or what-if scenarios by asking candidates to role play specific situations. Make sure their people skills are strong enough before offering them a management position.

Training Your Managers

You want your employees to enjoy their jobs and that means enjoying their managers. To enhance your organization, you need your people to be engaged and willing to follow their supervisors. Only the managers with high people skills can ensure this, and only the managers who continuously develop these attributes become highly skilled.

Even good people-oriented managers have room to grow and improve. The most successful leaders make sure their managers are on a path of growth by providing opportunities to train and learn. Most organizations offer technical training, and this is important. However, too many leaders underappreciate the need for their managers to train in people skills. Leaders who emphasis a people-first culture raise managers who excel in these areas.

You may find resources within your staff that have the right experience to conduct training for your managers. If not, find external resources to conduct training in your facility or one nearby. Many executive coaches or teachers have the ability to offer training in soft skills. Here are some areas where training is beneficial:

  • Listening and feedback
  • Delegating
  • Negotiating
  • Empathy
  • Collaboration and multi-discipline interaction
  • Transparency
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Interviewing for job openings or promotions
  • Approachability and conversation
  • Firmness with fairness
  • Conflict management
  • Stress management
  • Running a meeting
  • Accountability
  • Coaching and mentoring

A trained manager is able to pass on that training to their people. This is why coaching and mentoring skills are so vital for a manager to enhance the effectiveness of their staff. The most successful organizations engage managers capable of raising future managers.

In addition to people skills, being trained in company policies and procedures plays a vital role for managers to relate well with their people. Here are some areas of specific training that allow managers to assist their people on a personal level:

  • HR policies / internal staff-related policies
  • Employee development and promotion policies
  • Employee career planning and training policies
  • Performance review and assessment procedures
  • Corporate vision and mission philosophies

Well-rounded managers are best able to address the needs of their people and maintain their engagement, motivation and effectiveness. Some types of training may need to be offered as a regular refresher. A priority on training creates a culture of excellence.

Keep Your Managers Engaged

Another important aspect of optimizing your management team is to keep them highly engaged. Gandhi sites a significant Gallup finding in that 85% of employees are not engaged at their jobs. This translates into dire disabilities for leaders. If, as indicated earlier, 70% of employee attitudes are impacted by their managers, then it’s clear that manager engagement is critical.

Few leaders recognize this. Of those who do, many struggle with thinking of ways to engage their managers. If you understand what kinds of things engage employees, the same applies for managers. Each want to be a part of something great. They want purpose, enjoyable relationships, the ability to succeed and recognition for their achievements. The degree may be different for managers and their employees, but similar nonetheless.

Your managers desire opportunity for growth, both personally and corporately. Provide a path to achieve it: Lay out plans to groom managers for advancement. This includes challenging projects that call for higher levels of responsibility, technical skills and people skills. Experience overcoming challenges empowers and qualifies managers for more. Cross-training is another way to enhance the skills of managers, and many experience a greater appreciation for their company.

Managers raise their engagement by being informed and included in leadership matters. Let them in on corporate plans and visions, and invite participation in activities that are normally above their level. This helps managers feel valued and appreciated. They can bring additional perspectives to leadership discussions, with insight from the working end of the operation. Opportunities to create and deliver presentations to higher-level leadership and other departments also increases motivation and gives managers a sense that they have much at stake in their careers.

Make manager engagement a priority by including it in performance evaluations. Most effective are 360 evaluations that incorporate anonymous feedback from all levels including supervisors, colleagues, employees and customers. See how people really view the manager’s engagement.

Leaders who optimize their management team find sustainable success and satisfaction in ways that outshine all other strategies. The employees with the best managers have the best experiences and the best futures.

Balance Your Leadership Skills

Vast amounts of information are available pertaining to the definition and components of leadership. It is a complex topic, based on the challenges of human behavior; that varying, uncontrollable and often mysterious element that makes leading far more than following guidelines.

Great leaders know that there are crucial skillsets to be mastered early in their career, and others that take time and experience to enhance. Knowing just the theory isn’t enough to be successful. Leadership success relies on a blend of perspectives and skills, all aimed at bringing out the best in everyone.

Leaders benefit by first acquiring a high-level understanding of what effective leadership is, and what it isn’t. There are many ideas on leading that need to be “un-learned” and replaced.

The Meaning of Leadership

Many people embark on the leadership path with an unfortunate mindset about leadership. Historic self-serving mindsets have contributed to the high degree of employee dissatisfaction and disengagement today. Some experts argue that this trend hasn’t changed much in several generations.

A majority of leaders don’t receive leadership training, according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey. Many years of data reveal the flaws in traditional leadership thinking. Employees have long indicated what leader character traits engage or compel, and which alienate and cause them to leave.

Contrary to old-school thinking, leadership does not succeed when leaders focus on “what’s in it for me”. Leadership prospers only when it aims to benefit the organization; the people they lead. This bashes the notion that leadership is about the four Ps: Power, Prestige, Perks and Privileges.

True leadership is not about titles, seniority, authority or compensation packages. It’s not about promotions, accolades or being admired. These self-centered behaviors alienate employees and cause multiple dysfunctions throughout the organization.

Leadership author and speaker Kevin Kruse defines leadership as, “a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a goal.” To put it simply, leadership is the ability to compel people to follow a vision. Leaders employ skills to unify people and guide them along a plan that offers a prosperous future.

Most experts regard leading as the ability to deal with people, visions and ideas, while managing is the ability to coordinate things or tasks. It is widely accepted that effective leadership requires a blend of the following skills:

  • Leadership skills
  • Management skills
  • People skills

Leadership Skills

Fundamental leadership skills are necessary to direct an organization and ensure its future. Leaders are the vision setters. They assess the business climate, see opportunities and chart the course.  Leaders analyze trends, capabilities, resources, competition and markets. Making sense of all this input and fashioning it into an achievable plan is at the heart of leadership skills.

Skillful leaders create a diverse, yet cohesive leadership group of individuals who can collaborate and synergistically refine the vision. Once a vision is agreed upon, the leader engages the entire organization. Part of the skills of leadership is selling the vision to the staff.

A leader who sells a vision understands the needs of all stakeholders, from employees to board members. Ideally, the vision points the way to security and offers direction, affirmation and prosperity.

Selling a vision requires corporate communication skills that stir passion and inspiration in others. Skillful leaders tap imaginations, trigger feelings and link to benefits. It takes skill to properly deliver a message that conveys this.

Management Skills

A vision released for implementation requires significant planning and coordinating. These management skills are used by leaders to take the vision to the next phase: action. During implementation, leaders continue to employ their leadership skills of inspiration and selling, but they now share the stage with management skills.

Managing a vision project gets into the finer details, where action plans, schedules and goals are needed. Specific skills are required to coordinate the many facets of a vision project. Delegation is required to cover all the bases. Many things need monitoring including deadlines, budgets, manpower and the problems that spring up.

Problem-solving is a valuable management skill and can keep a project on track. Issues continue throughout a vision-implementing journey, requiring a leader skillful with mitigation. This includes the wisdom to bring in the appropriate resources.

Another management skill that makes vision implementation successful is the ability to assess progress.  This requires perspective, strong analysis skills and insight. Leaders with great management skills know how to make adjustments and keep their staff at peak performance, without losing interest or motivation.

Undergoing significant change while implementing a vision can sidetrack an organization from its everyday course of business. Leaders with strong management skills recognize this and account for it. They keep their hands on both steering wheels to ensure normal tasks are completed and customers are happy.

People Skills

The most important set of skills successful leaders balance with their leadership and management skills are people skills, or soft skills. “Soft” in this context doesn’t mean weak or vulnerable, but simply refers to a departure from the quantifiable, formulaic or repeatable nature of the facts and figures in leadership or management issues.

People skills deal with the variable, emotional and uncertain aspects of human nature. They require caring about people with a personable approach. A leader’s character and personality play an important role in the effectiveness of their people skills.  Those who have great people skills have a loyal following with employees who perform at their best.

Prominent speaker and author Tony Robbins professes that the current difficulties with employee dissatisfaction are heavily impacted by the lack of people skills at the leadership level. Leaders who regard people skills as unnecessary or unimportant handicap their careers and the performance of their organizations. 

Leaders with good soft skills have a personable way of engaging people. This begins with a focus on helping others, getting to know them and attempting to meet their needs. In response, people are drawn in and extend trust and loyalty. People skills include respectfulness, positivity and fairness. Traits that overlap this leadership-skill category are integrity and setting the example of morality in the organization. A leader’s behavior and mindset establish a culture that drives the personality of the company.

Personal communication skills help a leader connect with people as they actively listen, follow through on commitments and offer encouragement. A leader who is transparent, accountable and open to feedback earns significant trust. This is the kind of leader most people dream of having.

Leaders who balance the three primary skillsets have the most well-rounded and successful leadership careers. They lead people who pull together, go above and beyond and prosper, both individually and corporately.

The Problem with Problem-Solving Leaders

Many employees long for leaders who can solve workplace problems—from flawed systems and procedures to inconsistent policies and managers. They want their leaders to see through the trees and attack forest-sized issues, with the discernment and authority to fix them one by one.

While this sounds great on the surface, employees who report to problem-solving leaders cite challenges that dwarf the problems themselves. Organizations typically benefit from resolved difficulties, but unsound methods or mindsets can exacerbate even the most mundane issues.

Troubleshooting leaders often have skeptical views and have a hard time trusting the workplace culture. They equate run-of-the-mill difficulties with threats to themselves and their companies, prompting over-analysis in their quest to find ideal remedies. Their problem-solving attempts can stymie operations and push people beyond their breaking points. Qualified leadership coaches specialize in helping leaders overcome these tendencies and establish healthier approaches to troubleshooting.

Are You an Obsessive Problem Solver?

Problem solvers look at circumstances with a critical eye, never assuming systems work as well as they should. They’re motivated by risk mitigation and view problems in procedures or systems as weaknesses that jeopardize their future.

Setbacks or glitches are acute sources of personal pain, according to Dr. Beatrice Chestnut, author of The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace(Post Hill Press, 2017). Problem solvers persistently look for hazards and make every attempt to minimize, if not eliminate, them to improve workplace conditions.

If you can relate to this description, you may have problem-solving tendencies that detrimentally affect your people. If your critical eye always focuses on what can go wrong, you’re likely causing difficulty for others. You may be an obsessive problem solver if you cannot stop yourself from asking diagnostic questions and exhausting all troubleshooting options. You may feel uncomfortable until all uncertainties are eliminated. You cognitively understand that this is impossible, but you’re nonetheless emotionally compelled to try.

Mixed Outcomes

When obsessing, troubleshooting leaders disrupt the normal pace of business and frustrate their people. They:

  • Are deep thinkers who tend to perseverate over data, diverting their attention away from people and communication priorities.
  • View circumstances with skepticism and need assurances that systems and products are at optimum states, which can drag down those around them.
  • Taint their mindset by overstating negative and minimizing positive aspects, which leads to poor decisions.
  • Are easily paralyzed by analysis and avoid making decisions, thereby blocking progress.
  • Have little trust in processes and procedures, as well as those who adhere to them.
  • Wear people down with endless questions as they seek complete resolutions or fixes.
  • Tend to challenge authority by questioning their motives in supporting the status quo.
  • Can invent negative outcomes to affirm their discomfort with ideas or methods, creating greater challenges.
  • Lack flexibility and a willingness to accept new ideas.

At the same time, problem solvers have some positive traits that benefit their organizations. Leaders who focus on troubleshooting:

  • Are great lessons-learned resources, full of advice on how to avoid past mistakes.
  • Have excellent analytical and problem-spotting skills. They catch errors most people overlook, which reduces waste.
  • Are prepared and calm when trouble arises, as they planned for it.
  • Are unafraid to discuss the elephant in the room, tackling significant issues no one else wants to mention.
  • React honestly, without hedging, grandstanding or bragging.

How many of these traits hit home?

Ideally, problem-solving leaders’ positive traits will outweigh their negative behaviors. Self-awareness can help them minimize damage to their organizations.

Outward Signs

Certain observable behaviors expose a problem-solving leader. Taken to extremes, they can wreak organizational havoc.

Adamant troubleshooters have a reputation for being great problem solvers and often catch the CEO’s eye. They may have earned approval by preventing a huge crisis or finding a way to solve a cost overrun. Their detail-oriented behaviors follow them into leadership roles, where their effects on people are more prominent.

Problem-solving leaders are visibly satisfied by troubleshooting. They’re highly engaged as they calmly and systematically respond to challenges, approaching the process with a self-appointed sense of duty. Problem solvers probe situations with strings of questions, some of which seem irrelevant or exasperating.

Skeptical troubleshooters find fault with existing products or processes, believing it’s incumbent upon them to offer solutions. They confront established viewpoints, assuming they have a noble purpose: to heroically correct problems that plague the organization. Their defiance rubs people the wrong way. Tensions flare when troubleshooters focus on perceived threats but ironically overlook the disunity they promote.

To make their case, problem-solving leaders overstate consequences and minimize advantages, which weaken their trustworthiness and credibility. Their critical perspective prevents them from making decisions, as their quest for ideal solutions is virtually unattainable.

Data-driven problem solvers value numbers over people. They’re resistant to intuition and gut feelings, searching for solutions that can be validated quantitatively. Progress is delayed when hard data are unavailable, which creates rifts with people whose experience and input should be valued and trusted.

A Complex Mindset      

When we work for problem solvers, our survival depends on understanding how they think and feel.

Troubleshooters feel threatened when things go wrong and problems have no readily apparent solutions. They fear their analytical skills—and, by extension, they themselves—are inadequate. A loss of control over circumstances adds hopelessness to the mix.

Many problem solvers deal with their insecurities by fixing things and bringing order to their world. Their mindset is fairly concrete: Everything needs to be fixed. Trouble lurks around every corner and must be snuffed out. These leaders have an innate protection mode.

Problem solvers rarely recognize their fears or desperate need to feel safe, but they’re keenly aware of their preparedness. They’re always ready to dissect problems methodically. They pride themselves on their diligence.

Troubleshooting leaders are often the odd one out, taking a minority view. They notice how few of their colleagues grasp their insights, which empowers them. Their research often leads to predictions, which take the form of warnings to heed their advice. Setting themselves apart from others affirms their belief that their contributions are important.

Problem solvers revel in hard data. They dismiss others’ intuition as inferior to facts. Gut feelings are deemed inappropriate and risky. They require a high level of certainty. But when data are hard to obtain or seem misleading, these leaders struggle to make decisions. Pulling the trigger without enough assurance seems riskier than doing nothing. Appealing to their common sense proves fruitless.

Over-analysis is never a problem for obsessive troubleshooters—the more, the better. Extended analysis may uncover other problems—an effective bonus in the war against trouble. Discovering hidden problems is a delightful find for them, akin to uncovering a treasure no one else has spotted.

Problem solvers have trouble taking criticism, which they view as a roadblock to progress or a detriment to morale. But they often accept it as the price to pay for fulfilling their role as protector of the people. Criticism would be far worse if their careful analysis failed to catch problems.

When working with problem solvers, try to understand their perspective and appreciate their gifts of discernment and analysis. Know that they don’t intentionally bog things down with their hyper-focus. Their goals are honorable, though they may pursue them in disruptive ways.

Minimizing Challenges

Problem-solving leaders shouldn’t be expected to forsake their analytical skills or interests, but they can certainly use them in more helpful ways. All organizations have problems, requiring people with keen eyes and minds to solve them.

Problem solvers can learn to develop good personal relationships with peers and subordinates, thus ensuring greater trust in people, processes, practices and products, Dr. Chestnut suggests. An experienced executive coach can help them reduce skepticism and embrace challenges realistically. Rewarding relationships help dull fears of trouble and build greater confidence in well-managed systems. Getting to know problem solvers and hearing them out helps them appreciate relationships and focus on people over data.

Problem-solving leaders can develop better people skills and recognize how others respond to their actions. A coach can guide them through this process, helping them see how defiant or critical questions invite resistance. Leaders can learn to present their ideas more effectively, with everyone’s best interests in mind—a decidedly more palatable proposition. They can work on accepting feedback and consensus. They can express their intentions honorably and seek collaboration sincerely. Ultimately, they’ll learn to work the relationship side of the equation and be rewarded with better professional experiences.

Chronic problem solvers make the greatest strides in overcoming their foundational fears by seeing, admitting and facing them. A coach will point out that searching for problems is a sign of anxiety or negative thinking. A leader’s confidence is the best weapon to override fears and build positivity.

Uncertainty is a given in leadership and life, and self-assurance is vital to achieving success. Problem solvers know they have the skills to identify and mitigate risks, but they also want to trust their abilities to tackle major issues and decisions. Problems are plentiful enough; no one needs to go looking for more. Train your staff to tackle lesser problems, and delegate appropriately. Qualified employees with excellent judgment can lighten your load and any associated anxiety.

Problem-solving leaders must find an effective balance between their analytical skills and everyday time constraints by allowing others to help them. With a healthier mindset, free from fear and anxiety, they can manage problems constructively and unify people, without frustrating or discouraging them.

Patient Leaders Prevail

Most leaders would agree that the pressures and expectations of business have increased dramatically in the last decade. Results, profits, and value for shareholders often take top priority, and it seems everyone wants everything faster. With technology evolving quickly and the drive to do more with less, many leaders act like things can be accomplished with the push of a button, and when they’re not, they demand answers.

In the process, leaders lose sight of treating people with understanding and support, which burdens everyone with stress and dissatisfaction. Leaders who are unfamiliar with the specifics of how projects are accomplished lack one of the most powerful management tools: patience.

The Misnomers About Patience

Everyone seems to want instant rewards. The reality of instantaneous reward is seldom realistic. The more complex the circumstances, the more time required to implement true solutions. Patience is the combination of understanding that many things take time and the willingness to allow that to play out.

In this fast-paced culture, patience is often seen as an inability to act. This stems from the incorrect assumptions that all direction is immediately evident, or all choices are obvious or no deadline ever dare be missed. Seasoned leaders know better.

When a leader takes time to choose a direction it isn’t always because of insecurity or the inability to grasp the specifics. Getting to the bottom of things often takes great effort and time to assure the most effective decisions can be made. Accounting for past lessons learned is also a significant process. Many corporate directions have failed because plans were rushed.

Another incorrect view of patience is common with that of other “soft” skills; they are associated with leadership weakness. Leadership expert Ritch Eich describes in Industry Week how patience is lumped into the same category as empathy, approachability, listening and transparency. The old-school mindset leads from intimidation, ego and control with little to no consideration of employee needs. In subservient cultures under old-school leaders, workers have little say and few options.

Today, great leaders recognize that employees don’t put up with this. Talented people are hard to find, and retention is key for success. The old leadership mindset requires an entire paradigm shift; respect and support of employees is critical. Soft skills, including patience, are now employed by the best leaders to engage and inspire employees. They know productivity is vitally dependent on employee satisfaction. People on the receiving end of impatience won’t take long to dislike their jobs and find a better one somewhere else. Leaders who have patience are among those who forge the strongest teams and succeed from that strength.

Patience is seen by many as slowing things down, risking the quick completion of critical projects. Impatient leaders see a need to keep the pace of progress hot; they make rapid decisions in order to obtain rapid results. In reality, haste generally raises the likelihood of mistakes and oversights. This can cause major delays when work needs to be redone or cleaned-up. Paradoxically, slowing things down can speed productivity. A leader’s patience in getting things right offers an effective use of time and talent.

Patience for Positive Change

Thankfully, many leaders have recognized the need to change their cultures. Bottom-line priorities of profits and market share are no longer goals unto themselves, but a result of a healthy employee culture. Satisfied and engaged workers enhance the organization and dramatically boost the chances for success.

Change is critical, and it is difficult. People resist it. Wise leaders know that change takes time. Culture shifts can’t be rushed without suffering. Transitioning from close-mindedness to open-mindedness, from a “good-enough” approach to one of excellence, or from market follower to market leader all require a thorough and deliberate process. Patience is needed to allow people to adapt, retrain, rethink and become convinced of the benefits to the company and themselves.

Many cultures are exclusive, patterned after the “old-boy” club where leaders have all the say and privileges and employees are excluded from the decision tree. A top leader needs great patience to turn this around, where employees are included and accepted and a political system becomes more equitable. This may include replacing some leaders who can’t (or won’t) make the needed changes in character. It all takes time to be done carefully.

Change also breeds conflict. Resolving conflict properly requires the patience to listen and work through difficulties, especially ones centering on personalities. Getting to root causes takes time, as does finding the best workable solutions. Many times, the causes lie under the surface, unseen under the layers that need to be peeled away like an onion. The process is one of stepping back to assess, followed by continuous adjustment and understanding, all under the guidance of the leader.

Typical everyday problem solving also requires a leader’s patience to accurately evaluate the situation and guide everyone to a common solution. Sometimes solutions need to be revised to work out the kinks. Rushing this process often causes more difficulty than the original problem.

Patience for Continued Growth

Fulfilling a vision for an organization requires planning, risk, communication, commitment, motivation, engagement and patience. None of this can be rushed. Great leaders make the critical assessments and necessary adjustments, take the appropriate pauses, provide the crucial resources and guidance and allow people the time to adopt new ways. Many corporate plans are dashed when results are forced too quickly. Haste breeds resistance and resentment. Visions are rarely achieved under those disadvantages. As business strategist Glenn Llopis asserts in Forbes, patience is a great sign of a leader’s maturity.

Leaders must also be relationship builders if they are to succeed. No plans, changes or growth are accomplished without the teamwork and unity that strong relationships afford. It’s been said that good leadership requires good followership. In other words, without inspiring people to follow and contribute, a leader can make no progress. Followers are developed only through meaningful and gratifying relationships. This is a slow, deliberate process. Leaders who have the patience to connect with their people can develop the relationships that are critical to meeting their objectives.

Relationship-building involves time-consuming activities like listening, offering and receiving feedback, personal coaching and mentoring. The trust earned in these processes permits the influence a leader needs to prosper their organization.

All of these circumstances involve highs and lows, trials and victories. Leaders with the determination to stay the course, stick to their values and see the changes through come out on top. Patience is a leader’s greatest tool on this journey. A motivated and empowered staff bolsters the rewards that make a leader’s patience well worth having.

Are You A Born Leader?

The debate whether leaders are born or made has been waged for many years. The question centers around how various leadership qualities are acquired. Perhaps a more pressing question for hopeful leaders is, if they don’t inherently have the needed core skills, can they be learned?

The answers, while not endorsed unanimously, are based on a number of observed realities. Of the many skills required to lead well, it’s hard to imagine anyone being born with them all; they are too intricate and diverse for one personality. Most experts agree that a number of leadership attributes require experience to possess.

Dr. Ronald Riggio sums it up well in his 2009 article for Psychology Today, entitled, Leaders: Born or Made? He points out that research reveals all leaders have qualities that are both inborn and developed. In other words, it takes a certain type of person to fit the leadership mold, and that person must learn skills in addition to any that come naturally. Data reveals that leaders are split, with approximately one-third being “born” and two-thirds being “made”. What this means is that one-third rely most heavily on the skills they are born with, while two-thirds rely most heavily on the skills they develop.

Dr. Connson Chou Locke, in her 2014 Harvard Business Review article, Asking Whether Leaders Are Born or Made Is the Wrong Question, explains that inborn skills, which are mostly revealed in a leader’s personality, lend themselves to a leader’s emergence. These are the qualities that present a person as eligible for leadership and place their name in leadership discussions. On the other hand, developed skills are mostly revealed in a leader’s decisions, and facilitate their career’s effectiveness. Which category do you fall into?

As a leader, you can benefit in a number of ways by assessing your skills. Which were you born with, or put another way, which are a part of your personality? How did these play a part in your transition into leadership? Which of your skills did you develop, either by experience or dedicated training? How have these enhanced your effectiveness as a leader?

Leading With Innate Abilities

If you were born with core leadership qualities, people have long noticed how you seem right for the leader role. Your character lends itself to many of the behaviors expected of good leaders.

Extraversion: People who are naturally outgoing draw followers. Boldness and assertiveness are greater qualities yet, sought for leadership because of the demands of the role.

Intelligence: People with high logical and creative intelligence have a distinct advantage in the complex, fast-paced business world. Having good social intelligence, or people skills, is an extra bonus, since many of the challenges in leadership require effectively dealing with people.

Handling stress: If you are naturally even keeled and have a high threshold for stress, your leadership will weather storms that other leaders can’t survive. This affords leaders high levels of trust from their people.

Decisiveness: Drawing sound conclusions from natural confidence and insight helps a leader be decisive. This is a natural quality vital for running an organization with timely and effective direction.

Leading With Learned Abilities

A number of key leadership skills are learned or developed through experience, training or coaching. This is promising for many leaders who want to improve beyond their natural abilities and current skill set.

Problem solving: Gathering information and logically processing viable solutions is a skill primarily learned through experience. Quite often, a crisis-oriented environment sharpens this skill the fastest.

People skills: Some relational skills can be natural, such as an interest in people. But many leaders struggle with emotional intelligence: reading people, active listening and showing empathy. Until leaders learn and master these relational skills, more fail than succeed.

Business communication: The art of communicating in writing and formal speaking is typically a learned skill. Communication is complex, and many aspects need to be considered to properly convey ideas or requests to effectively influence people.

Self-assessment: This is perhaps the most difficult, yet vital, achievement a leader can have and it rarely comes naturally. It is normally developed through specific coaching or training. The most effective leaders learn how to become self-aware and identify strengths and weaknesses. They know their passions, motives and values. They understand, and maintain, trustworthiness. Effective leaders sharpen themselves with these evaluations.

Taking Stock of Your Abilities

A leader’s prospects for success depend heavily on how well they make use of their natural talents and the skills they’ve developed. Well-rounded leaders who make effective use of both inborn and learned skills have the greatest success. There are very few leaders who can rely on only inborn or developed skills and successfully lead others.

Assessing your skills can help you focus on your strengths, as well as the areas you may want to improve. An objective evaluation of your skills can either enhance your candidacy for a leadership role, or further fuel the leadership role in which you’re currently engaged.

With a colleague or executive coach, devise a self-development plan. Get feedback from trusted co-leaders: seek honest impressions on areas where you excel, and where you can improve.  

So, are you a born leader?

If it is asking whether someone will emerge as a leader among a group of peers, then those types of leaders are born. But if it is asking whether someone will perform effectively in a leadership position, then that is dependent on the context, the type of job, and the person’s ability to develop leadership skills. ~ Connson Chou Locke

As a leader, your prospects for success depend heavily on how well you make use of your natural talents and the skills you’ve developed. Take the time to learn as many leadership skills as you can.

Overturn Negative Thinking

There is nothing more detrimental to an organization than a leader with a negative mindset. In their view, efforts are rarely good enough, things just don’t ever seem to go right, plans will likely fail, people are unreliable, or problems are beyond fixing. 

Do you work with or report to someone like this? Or, more importantly, are you known for being a person like this? If so, there are ways to address it.

Negative thinking, sometimes seen as pessimism, can be a pervasive handicap, not only for a leader, but also for everyone down the line. Organizations with a negative attitude at the top will end up in ruin, according to John Maxwell, author of the book entitled, Attitude 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know (2003, Thomas Nelson).

Negative and positive thoughts have a way of fulfilling themselves, since our beliefs, hopes, fears, plans, responses, and abilities are shaped by how we think. Of all people, it’s the leader whose mindset has the greatest impact, making this the most critical area to be addressed, for the benefit of all.

Effects of Negativity

Negative thinking is generally caused by anxieties, which in turn have their roots in emotionally damaging experiences, either in childhood or adulthood. Continual disappointments, stresses, or pain tend to lead to a negative mentality over time, and this would be tough enough if only one person were affected.

But the greatest tragedy of a leader’s negativity is that it affects everything and everyone. Attitudes spread quickly, often leaving no trace of a source. They go unnoticed, as a subtle, silent killer.

Teamwork is destroyed when negativity causes people to dislike each other, find fault with each other and resist each other. Performance and progress are inevitably slashed. Productivity, quality and delivery follow a similar demise. Turnover and burnout are inevitable.

In short, bad thinking generates more bad thinking and bad responses lead to more bad responses. If it isn’t dealt with in a timely manner, the cliff can’t be avoided.

Assess Your Thoughts

As situations impact you, try to take a step back and sense what’s happening. What kinds of thoughts come to mind? Are they negative?

A tougher challenge is to determine the legitimacy of your perspective. Are your thoughts based on the facts of past experiences or just your impressions of them? Are you letting stories replay themselves in your head to influence your viewpoint? It’s easy to do. Ask yourself if what you’re experiencing is really that bad. It rarely is.

Recognize that past negative outcomes seem more prominent in our minds than positive ones, thus people tend to more heavily emphasize the negative. Realize that you are just as vulnerable to this trait as everyone else.

This can help you question the validity of negative thoughts or impressions. Maybe they’re flawed. Try to set them off at a distance, just for a moment, and give them a subjective evaluation. Seek a true sense of reality.

Many leaders don’t make the effort to do this. It’s simply easier to complain or brood. Rather, work through the issue. Let an experienced coach help you. You can become consistently conscious of your thought process, giving you the beneficial ability to step back and assess.

Take a Look at Your Responses

Think back to similar circumstances and try to see a pattern of how you responded. Does this specific issue always set you off, or make you feel defeated? Did every attempt to follow a similar plan result in failure? Did you get blamed every time things like this didn’t work out? This review can help you realize that the answer is no.

Psychologist and author Martin Seligman, known for his work in the subject of positive psychology, is a pioneer of this approach. A pattern of negative behavior, once identified, can be challenged. Injecting realism, especially with the insight of others, will help with a fair comparison of past negative and positive experiences.

By exposing negative thoughts as invalid, they lose their power. Positive viewpoints are given more credit, resulting in a broader, balanced perspective. There is no need to automatically fall back to a negative mentality, as it certainly does no good.

Reframe Your Thinking

With a rational approach of exposing some negative thinking as false, positive thoughts can fill the gap. With enough practice, negative thinking can be disconnected from the routine. You can acknowledge that it’s detrimental to you (and everyone else), and it should raise a red flag.

Your review of the past proved that good things did happen, and they can again. Your past difficulties don’t necessarily impact your future challenges. It may seem like another trial is coming your way, and it smells familiar. But strive for a positive way to look at it. Put to work what you learned in the past to forge a better viewpoint.

Dwelling on the negative will never help you overcome any trial. Let the negative angst go. Trying to wrestle with it only invites it to continue to jab at you.

A Leader’s Responsibility

As a leader, your role is to rally your people to a common vision, by helping them attain their goals. You can’t do this with a negative mindset. You owe them the most positive experience possible, so everyone can succeed together.

Think not only of yourself in your mission to overturn negative thinking. Think of them. They’re looking to you to lead them well. That’s a big calling. It can only be fulfilled effectively from a positive frame of mind, which is contagious.

With a more realistic perspective and the valuable input of others, you can adjust your viewpoint, approach, and actions. You no longer need to assume that things will always be painful, but legitimately believe things can, and will, get better.