Praxis is the Greek word for practical application. Practical leadership needs everyday demonstration. Research from the Hay group indicates that building a healthy climate at work through becoming a more effective leader can increase bottom line performance by up to 30% and leader’s style accounts for up to 70% of the variation in climate. If you want to be the leader, you must “do” leadership. If you want discretionary effort from your employees and to drive performance, you must build the right work climate through leadership.
We are experiencing an unprecedented, anxiety ridden business climate. Dennis Nally, PwC’s Global senior partner, spoke with author and psychologist Bob Rosen about our times: “The amount of external change that we’ve had to deal with in such a compressed time period is more than we’ve ever had to deal with before.”
So, let’s get back to praxis. How do you, as a leader build a more effective climate? Here are eight suggestions:
· Get out of your office. Your staff and your clients need to see more of you, not less. Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., an instructor at the Harvard Medical School until 2004 emphasizes the importance of face-to-face communication. He speaks of the human moment,”an authentic psychological encounter that can happen only when two people share the same physical space.” According to Hallowell, the human moment has two pre-requisites: people’s physical presence and their emotional and intellectual attention. George Washington visited with each of his cabinet members to ask their advice before he made any important decision. Mohandas Gandhi, the revered liberator of India, walked side-by-side with his colleagues to the Indian Ocean to protest the British monopoly on the sale of table salt. Albert Einstein, the twentieth century’s most famous physicist, developed his theories of relativity working with two close colleagues around dining room tables and on walks. Rudy Giuliani was seen all over NYC on 9/11 and the days that followed.
- Recognize that you have the spotlight – all the time. Be conscious of the impact of your position. If you’re the leader, people are watching you constantly and trying to elicit meaning from your every move: Why is she talking to him? What’s he laughing at? Why did he walk past me and not say anything? Did she read my last email? Why is X in his office? How come she came in late/early today? Never be cavalier or thoughtless about your positional power.
- Over-communicate. Explain to your staff everything that you can in as many formats as possible (email, direct discussion, voicemail, newsletter). When you can't disclose something, explain why you can't discuss it. Explain matters to the degree that is possible and also let your staff know when there are things you simply don't know. Listen carefully to their responses.
- Get over the idea that discomfort will leave your life. In western society, it’s a natural urge for us to move toward comfort – typically because most of our basic needs have always been easily met. Find a way to challenge your self with some healthy anxiety every day. Embrace discomfort, and ponder the biblical idea that the comfortable need to be disturbed, and the disturbed, comforted. Need an idea? See the next suggestion.
- Be open about your mistakes – admit fallibility. The Red Arrows (Britain's Royal Air Force display team) aim for the perfect show: they prepare and rehearse intensively. The most important part of their rehearsal is the debrief. They ignore rank – if the squadron leader erred, they say so. The team effort is more important than the ego of one person. In the Red Arrow’s world, the leader does not need to make a public confession. They whole team knows what happened, talks about it and then figures out how to improve collectively. Being open about your mistakes is a quick way to build trust.
- Be laser focused on what's working. People will continue to do good work in hard times, and need to hear about it from you. Use “atta-boys” and “atta-girls”. They cost nothing but your effort.
- Be zealful and optimistic. Don't censor your vision. Discuss enthusiastically the things you truly believe in; the vision you have for a client, the confidence you have that the team is fully able to accomplish it’s agenda. Actively build confidence in your vision and in others.
- Alleviate stress. Tension can be overwhelming in tough times. Create enjoyment in your workplace and build space for light moments. If you're not a fun person by nature, delegate and ask for help from someone who is attuned to what works in your culture. Not everyone has the same stamina, and if you are wired motivationally with a utilitarian mind-set you may not recognize when you and others require release.