In my penultimate article from 2015, I made the point that in answering the question “where do we go from here?”, we have to look back on the journey we’ve taken and what lessons and insights we’ve learned that can help us as we move forward.
So for my first piece for 2016, I thought it would be a wonderful way to illustrate this idea by doing just that – of looking back at the past 52 weeks of leadership articles and leadership podcast episodes shared here on my award-winning leadership blog in order to discover what were my Top 10 leadership insights that garnered the most interest among my readers.
As I wrote in that earlier piece, our future success hinges on how well we connect where we need to go with what we’ve learned so far. To that end, as we make plans for what we’d like to achieve in 2016, here’s a look at my Top 10 Leadership Insights from 2015, insights that can help you to use your leadership to not only drive success in your organization in 2016, but create that kind of environment that will allow your employees to thrive under your care.
Leadership Insight #10 – Our words do not simply impart information; they influence how people see the value of what they do.
“This is exactly what we see lying at the heart of every study looking into what’s behind those persistent low levels of employee engagement in organizations around the world – a lack of genuine communication between leaders and those under their care.
Time and again, there are study findings released that demonstrate that people want to know that their efforts matter, if not also why they should care about our vision. They want to understand the connections between their efforts and the larger shared purpose that defines why we do what we do.
And this is understandable if we appreciate that – thanks to the faster-pace by which we now have to operate – it’s become harder for people to make those connections for themselves.”
Leadership Insight #9 – People don’t get excited about being efficient; they get excited about doing work that matters.
“This is the real differentiator between those organizations that are not only succeeding but thriving, and those that are just trying to get through the month or even the week.
The expectations created by leaders in these thriving organizations revolve around making sure that people not only do work that matters, but that they have the opportunity to do their life’s work.
These leaders recognize that their role is to inspire and empower their employees to bring their best selves to the work they do by creating an environment where people can leave work every day knowing they did something worthwhile.”
Leadership Insight #8 – Your employees need to see that you care about them as much as you care about your goals.
“They need to see that you’re paying attention to them, that you’re tapping into your innate sense of curiosity to not only better understand their reality, but to learn more about what they care about. That you want to discover what gets them excited about the future and what they want to help create or be a part of.
That’s why we need to ensure that the underlying truth of our leadership is that we’re driven not by our own personal needs and interests, but in how we can better connect what matters to our employees with what matters to our organization – that we have that genuine desire to show them that they are important and that what they do matters.”
Leadership Insight #7 – Our compassion motivates us to listen and learn about what our employees need to be successful.
“Numerous studies have shown that employees have higher expectations of their leaders to not simply be effective at managing tasks, but at developing people. But how can we develop people – how can we help them be better than they are today – if we lack the compassion to care about their reality and what they need from us to be successful?
How can we bring out the best in those we lead if we’re willing to hide behind the constraints of today’s workplaces as the excuse for why we’re not tapping into those hard-wired behaviours of empathy and curiosity to ensure we are in fact creating an environment where people can not only succeed but thrive?
If we look at those examples of successful leadership – whether it be leaders we worked under or those we admire from afar – a common behaviour we see shared among them is how they were active listeners. It didn’t matter what position you held or what role you played as they had this way of making us feel important. The reason for this was simple – they were genuinely interested in what we had to say because they cared about our experiences and our reality.”
Leadership Insight #6 – Leadership is not dependent on your title, but on your ability to inspire people to follow you.
“Albert’s story is an important reminder for all of us that if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the busyness of today’s noisy world – or like in Albert’s case, to focus mostly on ourselves and what we personally want to achieve – we can very quickly find ourselves losing touch with how to engage and empower those we’ve accepted the responsibility to guide and to help to succeed in their collective efforts.
As much as we might like to assume that there’s an event we can point to and say that’s when things flew off the rails, more often than not, people fail at leadership in those small, everyday moments. In those moments where they fail to demonstrate to those they lead that they matter; that their contributions and efforts are valuable and important, and that we care about their successes.
To put it simply, leadership is not found in grand gestures, but in those moments where we reveal what we care about.”
Leadership Insight #5 – Leadership is not about accepting mediocrity as our status quo, as the way things have to be.
“After all, if we consider any of those leaders – either from the past or in our present day – who we admire and continue to hold up as the gold standard of what a successful leader looks like, in every case you will find leaders who refused to be defined by their circumstances.
Indeed, successful leaders understand that we’re defined by how we thrive in spite of our circumstances; that we don’t hang our heads in accepting a mediocre or unsatisfactory status quo, but instead encourage those around us to believe in our potential to challenge our present in the hopes of transforming our future.
In several of my talks, I remind the leaders in my audience that it’s our responsibility to ensure our employees are part of something that’s bigger than themselves; that they know they’re a part of a grander vision to make things better than they are today because this is what ignites that passion, that drive in each of us to fully commit ourselves to the journey we’re about to undertake.”
Leadership Insight #4 – The emotional environment our leadership creates serves to shape the realities of those we lead.
“It influences not only what our employees focus on as a result of our actions and words, but also what it brings into the forefront from their past experiences. Of what actions and behaviours they see as being truly valued in our organization, as well as what they understand to be the keys to moving up the organizational ladder.
Our emotional memories help to reveal what we value, what matters to us and what we care about, elements that are becoming increasingly important to the process of how to build and sustain employee engagement around an organization’s shared purpose.
By connecting what matters to our employees with the long-term goals of our organization, the motivation and drive to push ahead, to take on the challenges of today to achieve the successes of tomorrow becomes an internally-driven process, as opposed to one that requires the addition of new perks and rewards to keep employees engaged and interested.”
Leadership Insight #3 – Leadership is not about you, but about your ability to bring out the best in those you lead.
“When I think about what made Dan one of the best leaders I ever had the pleasure to work with, I don’t think about what achievements our organization attained under his leadership. But what does come to mind is the way he made me and so many of those who worked under him feel about our contributions, our abilities, and ourselves.
No doubt this is why when Dan announced his decision to leave our company to lead another organization, many of us were hoping we might be able to join him in his new endeavour – not because of the work he’d be doing in this new organization, but because of how he helped us to see the greatness that existed in each of us and how we could make that a part of the work we do.
Dan was the kind of leader who understood that it’s a leader’s job to help their employees grow into shining stars in their organization. And that’s exactly what each of us felt like under his leadership – that his focus wasn’t on his own accomplishments, but on how he could inspire us to bring our full selves to the work we do because we knew it mattered.”
Leadership Insight #2 – Creating an environment where employees thrive is an emotional construct, not a technical one.
“We need to have a greater awareness for what would compel our employees to commit their talents, creativity, and insights to our shared purpose. And we need to understand what would encourage them to see the obstacles they face as an opportunity to stretch themselves, something that we can only discover by building emotional competencies in our leadership.
By becoming more mindful of how we show up in those daily interactions, of how much we’re really paying attention to better understand what matters to our employees, we can ensure that we’re not simply working on the things that get our attention, but on creating those opportunities where our employees can do work that matters, not just for our organization, but for our employees as well.
Of course, for us to better connect the work our employees do with what matters to them, we need to nurture relationships at a deep emotional level with those under our care.”
And here is the top leadership insight I shared in 2015 on my award-winning blog, from a piece that was inspired from a recurring theme found in many of my conversations with leaders throughout North America.
Leadership Insight #1 – As a leader, it’s your job to protect your team so they can do the work they’re meant to do.
“At the core of every successful endeavour there is a leader who understood how to foster conditions that will help them to bring out the best in those they lead. Key to creating those conditions was the efforts these leaders made to shield those under their care from political manipulations and ego-driven initiatives that risked taking the wind out of their collective sails to succeed in spite of what stood before them.
In looking at the actions and behaviours of revered leaders from around the world, we find unmistakable proof of how their focus was not on themselves – on building or strengthening their reputation, power, or prestige.
Rather, these leaders understood that the key to creating a compelling vision or goal that others would want to be a part of requires that we put our focus on how to create a supportive environment; that as leaders, we need to care more about doing right by our employees, than on being right.”
It’s been an interesting exercise to look back on the past 52 weeks and the various leadership insights I shared over the course of 2015 to discover which messages resonated the most with my readers. I’m looking forward to seeing what new insights will come forth through my work and conversations with various leaders over the next 12 months and what that will reveal about how we can continue to evolve into the kind of leader our employees need us to be.