“When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”
Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
In creating an environment where you can be your best self, it helps to think back to a time where you actually were your best self.
What was it that enabled this to happen?
The chances are that the environment was in tune with your values, beliefs, identity and aspirations. (If you’re not sure what yours are, please email me and I will provide some exercises to help you identify them.)
Once you’ve established your values, beliefs, identity and aspirations, it’s important to be clear about the purpose of what you do – whether that’s the big question it sounds or whether it’s the purpose of a change initiative or project you’re working on.
Be clear what you are trying to achieve and then practice an inspiring two-minute ‘pitch’ to help inspire others. (If you find out their own values, beliefs, identity and aspirations, you can tailor the message whilst maintaining your authenticity).
Here are some thoughts that may help you, inspired by my experience in leading change and coaching others to lead organisational change:
- Accept that you can’t be in perfect control all the time. Particularly with large-scale transformation, we start on a path and then iterate as we go – it’s not possible to have all the answers at the beginning, in the same way that business isn’t static whilst we are implementing change. So, be clear on the overall outcome but let go and focus on creating the environment that feels safe for people to co-create. For more on this, please see my newsletter on psychological safety
- Building on the previous point, in order for you and your people to be your best, you have to take risks and accept imperfection. The best teams are those where the leader ignores weaknesses and allows things to be imperfect (see also the TED talk below)
- Play to people’s strengths, dividing work based on their interests. When you do this, people can relax, be who they are, and bring their best self to work. The result is a more stimulating work environment with more creative outcomes
- Communicate often, particularly success stories and progress to metrics. This is often forgotten (I usually find it’s because everyone is so focused on fixing what’s not working, to the exclusion of celebrating what is working and building on this), but it’s an important tool to sustain momentum and demonstrate what you, as the leader, value. It helps keep people on the path to your purpose
This topic links to last month: Start with why – how great leaders inspire everyone to take action
Give and take
Adam Grant’s book Give and Take suggests that the more you give, the more successful you will be, while takers are selfish and ultimately unsuccessful. Use a giver mind-set intelligently – don’t just give, give, give if you find others just take, take, take. Giving needs to be balanced between genuinely wanting to help others, and not being a pushover.
As a leader, try to spot those who are the givers on your team and make sure they are recognised, but also supported so they learn to ask for help for themselves (givers find it hard to ask for help as they don’t want to “bother” others). Be wary of any takers on your team, as they are the ones who are in it for themselves and are therefore hard to trust.
Based on Grant’s book, I have adapted some recommendations that complement my experience:
- Test your Giver Quotient by asking for feedback. To what extent do you selflessly give to others (e.g. time, knowledge, ideas) without thought of a payback? Reflect on this feedback and determine what you want to do with it. Maybe you could take a few minutes each week to think about who needs your help, and then act on it? Or perhaps there are people in your network you could connect to each other, for their mutual benefit?
- Run a weekly session (or whatever frequency works best in your business) to allow people to ask for help with their challenges. Maybe it could form part of your regular team meeting? Role model asking for help yourself
- Divide work up based on interests, strengths and aspirations – make sure you know what these are by getting to know your people
- Encourage a culture of appreciative feedback – either by informal practice or by using a system that enables employees to send acknowledgements to their colleagues. Many companies already have a system; maybe yours does too?
- Listen more than you talk (we were given two ears and one mouth, after all!). Practice what Grant calls ‘powerless communication’ – that is, change your habits from talking to listening; self-promoting to advice-seeking; and advocating to inquiring. Set yourself a goal in meetings for the percentage of time you will talk. You may find your insight will deepen as you listen more and others fill the space with their thoughts and ideas.
Rate your answers to these questions, where 1 means ‘never’ and 4 means ‘all the time’:
|Have you created a purpose for your organisation that serves something bigger than just focusing on what you do?|
|To what extent are you encouraging a culture where people feel safe asking for help? Have you created a climate where people seek and give honest feedback?|
|When things go wrong or not according to plan, is this seen as positive and a learning opportunity? What behaviour are you modelling on these occasions?|
|How well do you know your employees? Are you aware what motivates them? Do you allocate work according to their strengths and personal or intrinsic aspirations?|
|How well do you deal with ‘takers’ (people who are in it for themselves)?|
Based on your answers, what will you increase/sustain and what will you change? How can you help others based on your natural leadership strengths and where can you get help to work on the areas you want to develop?
Teach girls bravery, not perfection
We’re raising our girls to be perfect and our boys to be brave, says Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code.
“To truly innovate, we cannot leave behind half of our population. I need you to tell every young woman you know to be comfortable with imperfection.”
I think this can also apply to men – it’s not just women who want to be perfect and are sometimes held back by their desire to get it right/perfect first time.
This may be a slight tangent to this month’s topic, but I think it’s valuable nonetheless for removing potential biases in what we expect others can achieve. Wouldn’t it be an amazing personal legacy if you helped your team members to aim higher and achieve more than they dreamed possible?
I hope you have found this month’s newsletter interesting. For more information, please see my previous articles including:
- How and why to collaborate
- Why you should celebrate your failures
- High-performing leadership teams
- How your mindset can enable or limit you
- Are you at risk of burnout?
Next month, we cover futurism – developments you might need to be aware of, to help future-proof your business.