Paying lip service to leadership

A lightbulb moment.

Leadership: a word thrown around our world very loosely today with good intention, supported by a raft of articles, memes, videos and commentary that is never-ending. Don’t just be a manager, be a leader! The new rock stars of business hold court while the world of social media fawns over their names hoping to gain the clicks that support their relentless advertising placement but to what end?

What is the actual value of this torrential outpouring of words and images if the business machine continues to talk the talk but walk a different direction? Words like agile, lean, wellbeing, people first, flexible and more are rolled out over and over around the walls of the empire and yet are we honestly seeing a culture change? Amongst those yellow stickers plastered across meeting rooms throughout the world, what difference do they make if the business does not support actual change by supporting its leaders ‘to’ change?

Often the focus of changing a business culture is lead from the top. Decisions made in executive meetings using phrases such as ‘we must remove the silos’ ‘our biggest asset is our people’ ‘wellbeing matters’ ‘let us move to flexible working environments’ and yet time and time again nothing really changes. Oh, its all with good intention no doubt, and on that day in the meeting room may be the heart of some in the right place, while others smiled and agreed (so as not to be seen as the odd one out).

Still, the staff continue to come and go with the ‘leaders’ confused as to why their ‘new’ initiatives have not worked, why those new ‘statements’ spread around the walls and emails of our offices have delivered very little in the way of actual change. ‘Why are they not getting it, why are the staff not changing’ the minutes of our meetings reflect.

Why in this time of unlimited access to learning, knowledge and that flurry of ‘be the best leader’ communique that bombard our senses does this lack of change continue to be seen around the world?

In my opinion, the leaders of today often lack empathy and the support actually to change themselves.

Large Hannah LIght Bulb Wellington

Indeed, they want to be the next ‘uber-cool’ manager, oh yes the intention was there in that meeting, surrounded by the same group of peers that also paid lip service to this new bright ideal. Yes, they signed off on the ‘brave new world.’ The problem is often; they do not know how to change themselves, and often the business does not know how to assist them in doing that. Yes, they attend expensive courses, watch more videos and read more and more ‘uber-cool’ articles, and yet they continue to act in a way that only they know how to act and that has worked for them in a bygone age.

Often they expect their ‘people’ to change and then wonder why they don’t. ‘But we told them we were moving to agile’ (or whatever new term has coined) we say, and wonder why it’s not working? We even give the modern world a name ‘The XY way’ ‘The ABC vision, putting people first.’

It is not working because ‘you’ the leader have not changed yourself. 

Change is difficult, in fact altering your very being, your beliefs, your style, the actions and behaviours that have not only supported you along your pathway in life but have got you to this position today, is a huge ask. The older you get, the harder it is to change. It has been a proven fact for time and memoriam. We don’t like change; it scares us; it makes us uncomfortable primarily when it may involve self-reflection and having to build emotional skills that have never ‘fitted’ our needs or core personalities.

We have become very quick to ‘farm out’ the emotional support of our staff to the world of external councilling organisations, none of whom have any real understanding, background or experience in the environments we work. For some, they say to the individual ‘here are some tools to help YOU cope’ and yet the root of the problem, often a lousy leader never changes. And this brings me to the reason for writing this article and the words I wrote earlier.

Surely, as leaders, we have some fundamental responsibilities to the people we say we lead? How about starting with empathy? And if your not the type of person or organisation that truly understands what this means (or pays lip service to this may be to look good in some media article) or attract new staff because you’re not even noticing the turnover of your people?

It is about time you put away your yellow stickers outlining new processes and procedures and how ‘cool’ you want to be and start to learn what genuine human empathy and interaction is. Its time to eat your dog food and stop just paying lip service to the word leadership.

Start to learn, model and ‘do’ and trust me when I say this is not just a ‘pale male stale’ trait as we often hear or a ‘boomer’ issue. Empathy is a 21st-century social issue and is not focused on any gender or age bias. We are becoming detached while we tell ourselves we are more engaged than ever before, and as leaders, this is the rock that our organisations, and we perish.

Before you send people off to expensive third-party support organisations to clip some ticket around how you support ‘wellbeing’ in the workplace, maybe you have to start to ‘listen’ instead of just hearing? Listening is that first stage of empathy. Comprehend what that other person is saying to you, between the lines, about themselves and heaven forbid you may find out how they feel. Remember we ‘all’ feel and we all deserve to matter, especially in the workplace and especially by our leaders. Don’t forget that your leader should be doing the same for you.

Senior leaders, step out of that old fashioned hierarchy of expecting your other leaders to feed up the intel to you about how it’s all working out in their teams. Open your door, make yourself available, model your leadership skills to other leaders and all staff. Oh yes, you’re essential, and yes your busy and yes it may make your other leaders feel uncomfortable, but then if you show them empathy, it may start to change for everyone along with your bottom line.