The recent pandemic and the following 'new normal' have brought drastic changes in our operations and business functions. As a result, there are more reasons for leaders across segments to evaluate if their leadership style has been good enough or requires a make-over.
As leaders, one of the most critical factors we keep mulling about is workforce productivity and associated concerns. Perhaps we need to relook at something fundamental to our mindset before dealing with the team's productivity. As leaders, do we radiate an approach that inspires productivity and purpose? Is there a sense of purpose seen in us by our team across any organisation? Do we demonstrate the empathy essential to leaders, or are we constantly living in silos? Are we competent enough for be in the state of "Leadership"? Do we as leaders restrict ourselves with a mindset that limits our potential? A Bonsai mindset!
Let us take some inspiration from nature. We know Bonsai are trees and plants grown in containers to look beautiful even with restrictions. However, they are never allowed to grow to their potential and give shade to others; they are just pleasant to the eyes. So are we, as leaders, compromising on our inner voice to please others? Are we getting into Bonsai mode?
Some salespeople complain that their managers just keep talking about ambitious goals. The moment a salesperson brings a potential opportunity that involves risk, but at the same time high rewards, their manager does not show willingness. The leader here is in comfort with the status quo and is not ready to try something rewarding for the future. We should not confuse "Thinking Big" with "Talking Big". Many leaders talk big, but they back out the moment you tell them to take a risk at their level. Such leaders are operating from Bonsai mode.
Organisations juggle with contradictory expectations. Leaders are supposed to be the messengers who can address the issues that need attention (For example, if the revenue growth is good, ability to figure out what is missing in the customer acquisition process). However, Do they get the board of directors' support once they communicate some harsh realities about their business? Organisations want to encourage change, but simultaneously there is a tendency to dismiss the change agents. Are the organisations encouraging leaders to behave like bonsai trees? Mighty trunk but no deep roots. The self-limiting direction also gets complicated because of the intentions to "Protect" some people from a very objective review of their performance and capabilities. If we are ambiguous at the top layer about defining the "Real" version, we can surely expect chaos down the line.
As leaders, our ability to inspire productivity in our teams stems primarily from within, moving outwards and influencing those in immediate proximity. No amount of motivational speech can come close to what conscious leadership can bring to the table. Conscious leadership, in simple words, is our ability to stay tuned to understand and act upon business priorities. A simple example could be a leader who is constantly searching for the best talent in his team, without entirely depending on HR to do that for him.
However, we need first to analyse ourselves and do the required inner work that will allow us to be our most powerful, authentic, and confident version. Our energy and involvement in making things happen is the most significant proof of our leadership stature.
It makes me think about a story revealed by Dr APJ Kalam related to launching a satellite by the ISRO in July 1979. Dr APJ Kalam was in charge of the project at ISRO, and when some members expressed reservations about its readiness, he overruled them and ordered it to go ahead. However, the launch unfortunately failed; instead of going into space, the satellite plunged into the Bay of Bengal. As a team leader, Dr Kalam was humiliated by the failure and terrified by the prospect of announcing it before the press. However, he was saved from embarrassment by the chairman of ISRO, Satish Dhawan. The latter went before the media to say that he reposed complete faith in his team's abilities despite this failure and was confident that their next attempt would succeed. Now, such a level of mutual trust can foster a higher level of productivity.
When a leader starts promoting self-limiting behaviours, you will notice an army of "YES" men around the leader. Business priorities take a back seat, and sycophancy becomes the organisation's culture. At some stage, an organisation starts contradicting the very purpose of its existence. All such erosion of values can happen with "Numbers" showing that everything is “right” in the organisation. Over time, such mindset limitations get reflected in the top line and bottom line.
Do we want our people to view things with objectivity? Do we want them to take bold initiatives to grow and sustain their business? If yes, the leader should quality time listening to his team and guiding them to take progressive steps. But Firstly, a leader has to assess their mindset. The tricky question for a leader is to ask, "Do I have the growth mindset required to build the organisation's future?" Any effort to build a growth mindset down the line will fail if the leader shows tentativeness. On the other hand, sincere efforts made by the leaders to challenge themselves create a good ambiance for building a growth mindset.
"The more we give love, the greater our capacity to do so," said Dr David R. Hawkins (American Psychiatrist and mystic, author of a bestseller Power vs Force). But for how many leaders love for a purpose comes naturally. Can self-limiting leaders build commitment, involvement, and sincerity levels to drive their teams? Do the leaders encourage themselves to embrace a higher level of consciousness to elevate leadership quality? For sure, this elevation can naturally boost workforce productivity.
Joseph Folkman (well-known psychometrician) in his work about Executive Excellence reports that "Improving nine leadership behaviours" has the most significant impact on employee satisfaction and commitment":
- Inspire and motivate others driving for results
- Providing Strategic perspective
- Walk the talk
- Develops and supports others
- Building relationships
So, the crux for building higher productivity levels lies in building trust and love for a purpose. The team members should see the benefit of doing a particular task and receive positive accolades to get further encouraged. Similarly, leaders should give direct inputs critical to building a better quality workforce.
On a philosophical note, Saint Kabir Das says-
Bada hua to kya hua, jaise ped khajur
Panthi ko chhaya nahi, fal lage ati dur.
Meaning: The date palm tree looks enormous and tall, but neither can give shade to anyone, and the fruit also grows at a very high altitude. Similarly, if we are very resourceful but are unable to do good to anyone, then there is no use in growing up like this
Some questions for our reflections-
- Do we find it challenging to overcome the mindset of cloning behaviors?
- Do we welcome diverse perspectives to build cooperation?
- Are we caught up with our cognitive biases?
In my view, the critical requirement for business leaders is to ensure that there is enough willingness for sharing resources, build grace to accept changes, and remain authentic even in most testing conditions.