Often, I begin an executive coaching engagement or leadership development training with this series of questions:
- When you are operating at your highest and best as a leader, what are you doing?
- Who are you being?
- What is the impact?
These questions are designed to create awareness about what it means to lead with excellence. The second question, ‘Who are you being?’, is intended to evoke a shift in thinking and frequently causes my clients to pause and look a bit perplexed. Most leaders tend to power through their day, focusing on achieving goals and crossing things off the never-ending list of things to do. Few leaders take a moment to pause and consider who they are being, the energy they are projecting to the people around them and how they are making others feel.
For decades, we have known that a leader’s ability to relate well and bring out the best in people, teams, and organizations is a differentiating factor between good leaders and great leaders. A 2013 Zenger Folkman study of 50,000 managers found that a leader’s overall effectiveness is predicted more by warmth than competence. In fact, a leader seen as low warmth has only a 1 in 2000 chance of making it to the top quartile of the most effective leaders.
Today, the capacity for leaders to relate well by demonstrating care and cultivating a culture of connection and mutual respect matters more than ever before. As employees continue to embrace remote working, devote more time to their jobs, and navigate increasingly divisive social issues, they look to their workplaces for a sense of belonging. The latest Global Human Capital Trends survey reveals that 79% of employees believe fostering a sense of belonging is essential to their organization’s success, and 93 percent agree that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance.
Leading well from the top of an organizational chart requires accomplishing goals by inspiring others to be their best and creating an environment where team members feel connected, purpose-driven and appreciated. Soft skills like forming warm and caring relationships, fostering team play, and developing others become more critical than hard skills. The technical skills that enable a leader to be successful as an individual contributor or a member of a functional team are less important the further one rises in an organization.
Awareness of how one is “being” as a leader can be a blind spot for some, particularly those at the highest levels of leadership. To build awareness, I invite my clients to pause at the end of each day and reflect on these three questions:
- Was my impact as a leader positive, neutral, or negative?
- What emotional and energetic field did I bring to my interactions with others?
- How did I make others feel?
I also encourage my clients to regularly ask for feedback by assembling an inner circle of allies – mentors, peers and trusted advisors – they invite to provide real-time honest and candid feedback about how they are being perceived and the environment they are creating. This unfiltered feedback mitigates blind spots a leader may have about their ability to foster healthy workplace relationships.
Going back to the questions I initially posed, the “doing” part of leadership is easy to observe, yet it’s only part of what makes an effective leader. If a leader gets results by pushing through, around or over others, the results will most likely be unsustainable because the emotional toll of that leadership style fosters an environment of disengagement at best and contempt at worst.
The “being” part of leadership is about the emotional field a leader brings to their interactions with others. “Being” an effective leader is less about what the leader accomplishes and more about how the leader makes others feel as they are getting things accomplished. If a leader is coming from a place of respect, compassion, and curiosity – while ensuring key performance indicators are being met – the impact is profoundly positive and leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement, which ultimately leads to improved productivity.