It is no secret that our leadership practices are failing to keep up with the reality of how employees in the 21st century want and expect to be led. One only has to look at survey after survey on employee engagement to know that today’s workforce continues to tell those in leadership that they want a different style of leadership than the traditional command and control structure of generations past.
Gen X and Gen Y employees are well educated, more independent and work in a more thought-driven environment than their predecessors. Gen X and Y employees come into the workforce with different expectations for their leaders, and expect more from the organizations in which they work. For those in leadership, thriving and success as a leader means adapting your style of leadership to one that helps your team work smarter, and tap into their desire to create value and do things in a smarter way.
Why should leaders care about improving thinking? Improving thinking among those you lead supports their personal development, independence, and respects their need for diversity and change. Supporting your team in improving their thinking helps them fulfill their potential, spurs innovation and creates employees who take on the responsibility for becoming engaged and highly productive.
Here are three steps that you can take today to manage the brilliant minds you lead:
1. Create A Space For People To Simplify Their Thinking: As a leader you have to engage in behavior that helps others feel safe in opening up to you. This means that you must always treat people with fairness, allow them to give voice to their concerns and truly hear and understand what is being said. Lastly, you have to be willing to not win your point so that the other person can draw his or her own conclusions. Creating a safe space allows someone to simplify their thinking and open himself or herself up to exploring new and different areas without feeling judged, criticized or blamed. As a leader, developing and expressing genuine regard for the other person goes a long way toward building trust and creating a safe space.
2. Encourage People to Think Things Through on A Deeper Level: Help those you lead focus on creating distance between action and reaction. Help them pause and delve deeper into the habits and the behaviors that are driving what they do. Together explore their thinking and approach rather than what happened and what didn’t. This type of exploration helps them move away from reacting to a stimulus and more toward responding to it. This is not about improving the process or how they did something, but rather focuses on helping them understand the behavior and habits that are impacting their performance. Helping and supporting them as they think through things for themselves, challenging thinking appropriately and respectfully assists them in making the connection between behavior and outcomes. This is how as leaders we can help them begin to think and act differently.
3. Tap Into The Energy Generated by an Aha Moment: The role of the leader in these moments is one of encouraging the person to think it through and make the connections between behaviors, thinking and habits and the observable outcomes. Helping people to think as a means to improve behavior and make their own connections helps them to shift their thinking and create new mental maps, see different options, and let go of what is holding them back. Often in these moments of connecting the dots the person experiences an Aha or light bulb moment where things become crystal clear. This is your opportunity as a leader to leverage the energy from that moment to foster the motivation and actions that will carry them forward.
As leaders, helping people improve their thinking is a skill set that needs to be mastered. The process of small changes in our behavior can in the end add up to significant changes in those we lead and in our organizations. I invite you to begin thinking about the behaviors and habits that you currently rely on to lead and ask yourself- how good do you want to be as a leader? And what will you do differently in the future?
I’d love to hear your answers and thoughts!