Improve Your Leadership IQ
By: Magi Graziano
Being an effective leader of people in today’s world seems to be much more complicated than in years past. In the previous century, for the vast majority, work was approached as a means for survival. The level of employee engagement did not dictate how long they stayed in the role. That’s different today, however. Working class people are always on the look out for more stimulating and rewarding work, as well as inspiring work environments where they can make a difference and grow themselves and their careers.
Global workforce surveys report that highly qualified, motivated people chose to work for companies that build a strong, inspiring culture and that monitor and address both workplace culture and climate issues as they arise. If recruitment and retention of highly qualified, motivated people is one your organization‘s initiatives, your Leadership IQ ought to be another. They go hand in hand.
Leaders in the early 21st century face unprecedented challenges. They must be able to lead three completely different generations of people, all with different operating contexts and outlooks on what work is all about. Today’s leaders must not only understand their competitors for customers, they must also understand their competitors for the talent. 21st century leaders must have well-honed human awareness acumen and call on it moment-by-moment to inspire, enroll and engage their employees. These leaders must understand the systemic impacts of their company ‘climate’ and be willing to look deeper to understand cultural norms that are impeding agility and innovation. They must have the finesse to weave the day-to-day task work into the big picture and inspire their people to give it their all for the sake of the mission. Today’s leaders need to understand people at their core like never before.
Your Leadership IQ relies on your ability to grow, learn and master new ways to lead people, and there are three tenets to consider when boosting it: Self-awareness, Executive Brain Function, and Response Agility.
Self-awareness begins with the curiosity and courage to hear what works and does not work about your leadership and the culture that exists in the organization. Once you become aware of your competitive talent advantages and your talent barriers from the eyes of your people, you are equipped to take powerful action. Self-awareness allows you to leverage your talent and intervene when and where necessary to remove those personality ticks that are in the way of your true leadership potential.
Culture and climate awareness opens the door for you to see what is really going on and intervene in the cultural norms and barriers that are in the way of employee engagement, innovation and synchronicity. When you are curious and courageous you begin to ask the tough questions and hear the tough answers. When you do this, you begin to see what “blind spots” may be hidden from your view and you learn what you to that sabotages or impedes your leadership effectiveness.
Self-Awareness is the doorway to emotional intelligence and it gives you access to real improvement as well as personal and professional development. Self-Awareness is not always easy. In almost every case with every human being there are aspects of personality or behavior that has a negative impact on others, and with an authentic look in the mirror an aware leader can begin to take responsibility for that negative impact. Being aware of our negative behaviors, alone, is insufficient. Taking responsibility for the impact of those behaviors, asking for forgiveness and and working to shift those limiting ways of being is where your Leadership IQ begins. Once a leader has mastered self-awareness they optimize their ability to leverage situational awareness; which is fundamental to assessing, evaluating and intervening if need be, in the ebbs and flow of the climate and culture of their organization.
2. Executive Brain Function
Optimizing your Executive Brain function is a secret weapon of Leadership IQ. The PFC, prefrontal cortex, is where the executive brain operates; it is like the controls in a cockpit. This is the part of our brain where strategic thinking, collaboration, reasoning and creativity come from. The problem is most leaders learn over time to depend and lean on one hemisphere and become complacent in allowing that hemisphere to run the show. This limits the airplane’s ability to navigate through storms and soar to new heights.
The left hemisphere of our brain is where our organization, categorizing, reasoning, and strategizing come from. It is in the right hemisphere where brainstorming, innovation, collaboration, and relationship abilities are housed. When a leader is aware of their goals and visions as well as in control (conscious) of their thoughts, responses, and well-being—and the leader leverages both hemispheres of their executive brain through right/left hemisphere integration—their Leadership IQ and effectiveness skyrockets. When a leader is utilizing all of their capacities, they see things they might not see and are more equipped to respond to climate and culture barriers and infringements.
3. Response Agility
Response Agility is the ability to respond in an appropriate, controlled manner—regardless of the current stress or breakdown the leader is facing. Being agile with response and reaction is key to effective leadership. Flat line reaction is not appropriate for all situations. Screaming and yelling is not appropriate for any situation. Anger and frustration might be needed at times, and curiosity and collaboration may be needed at other times.
Agility in your response means that you have trained yourself to think before reacting. Effective leaders ask themselves, “What is needed now?” This has everything to do with situational awareness and appropriate reaction. When stress hits the fan at work, a leader who has a handle on how they respond, and can coach others in this manner, is a leader who is positively contributing to a healthy company climate and culture. Response Agility takes discipline, awareness, new habit formation and commitment and is a core component of Leadership IQ.
Being a mission-driven leader who inspires people to give their best in service of a compelling vision is a key element of today’s most successful leaders. They know that most people they hire are not coming to work simply for a paycheck; these leaders have a keen awareness that many people they hire are coming to work to fulfill their individual purpose in a way that supports the organizational purpose. Today’s highly effective leaders understand how to inspire spirit de corps and leverage their communications with people to do so. They utilize their people intelligence to tie work responsibilities and tasks to the overall intention for and strategy of the business. Lastly these leaders understand the difference between climate and culture and have the aptitude to know how and when to intervene in both.
Learning the fundamentals of how people operate and how to inspire them is the easy part. Mastering those skills is your Leadership IQ. Turning your leadership IQ into your competitive talent advantage is the number one way to impact recruitment and retention of the best people.
Igniting Your Team to New Levels of Performance
Almost every leader I have interviewed and or worked with, tells me they want a high-performance team. In fact, the number of team building training sessions, workshops, books and ropes courses equate to more than 10,000. Clearly, when it comes to constructing a team of people who work well together to create winning outcomes, knowing ‘how to’ and understanding ‘how to’ are two very different phenomena. Let’s first distinguish elements of a high-performance team, by reviewing what a team is, is not, and revisiting Patrick Lencioni’s world famous book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.
Engagement, accountability and purpose are all table stakes required to build a high-performance team, and all three of those requirements are grossly suffering across most of today’s organizations. A solid workplace culture exists when people come together for a common purpose and align their efforts around that common cause.
The strong and astute organizational leader is one who is committed to optimizing their resources and maximizing their return on their investment. Given the people expense is often the largest investment in any enterprise, creating this kind of culture is simply smart business. As a leader, empowering your workforce to unleash their strengths and encouraging people to collaborate and innovate, leverages people’s ability to act as a team and produce results.
In work cultures where people focus on only their piece of the puzzle, it leads to silo mentality and ultimately breeds ineffectiveness and inefficiency. A high-performance team cannot exist in an environment where competition and
one-upmanship prevails. When people on the team focus on each other’s limitations and detriments, and on the why things cannot be done, they all too often miss opportunities to make the organization better. Additionally, teamwork is adversely impacted when the people on the team feel the need to focus on fighting and jockeying for authority or power. This need to be ‘better than’ decreases collaboration and limits innovation. It is a recipe for stagnation and conflict, neither which drive long-term results.
In Lencioni’s book, he boldly shines the light on what does not work for a team. While he has sold over two million copies, implementing his fundamental teaching seems to be much harder said than done. As leaders, it requires rewiring our minds and our teams to repair an absence of trust. However, before you can rewire, you first need to be aware and responsible for the absence of trust in the first place. When people avoid conflict, it is most often because they either have a fear of retribution for saying what needs to be said, or they lack the self-confidence and may second guess their competence, which constraints their ability to speak up and call attention to something that is not working. When people on the team are not engaged, or are not on the team for the right reasons, it instigates a lack of commitment. Frankly, even the best of leaders cannot inspire a lame duck. Unfortunately, an avoidance of accountability seems to be the number one epidemic in organizations today. Having those crucial conversations, holding the bar high and implementing consequences for poor performance is behavior that is avoided by most, like the plague. Again, this might stem from leaders not having the confidence to believe they have the ostensible authority to hold people to account, a lack of training or it could be poor former modeling that could cause it. Lastly, when the leader and the people on the team do not focus on the big picture or don’t focus on achieving specific measurable results, the team might work hard, however, they rarely fulfill on the purpose and intention of the team’s focus.
Whether you are seeking to create a high-performance work team or a high-performance culture, there are 7 steps for creating the circumstances that high performance and teamwork can thrive.
1. The first step in creating a high-performance team is identifying and clarifying the purpose for the team. People must understand the WHY behind what they are doing. Once the purpose for the team is crystallized and talking points are clearly outlined, it is the Initiator of the team’s role to connect the dots for people to see how they relate to it. Communicating an inspiring vision for the people on the team and mapping what success looks like when it is achieved, is a foundational element for congealing a group of people and getting them geared up to work together in unison.
2. The second step in establishing and building a high-performance team is selecting the leader. The leader does not have to be the person who invents the possibility and purpose for the team; it does need to be a person who accepts the responsibility for shepherding and guiding the team to success. The leader’s job is to be present, and to be there for the team. All teams go through the four stages of forming, storming, norming and performing, and the skilled leader is right there with the team through it all.
3. Establishing the rules of the game is the third step in building your team. People need to know what is expected from them, and from the team. People need to know and understand where the boundaries are regarding decision-making, autonomy and performance. Giving people the rules of the game before they agree to play it, allows for people to opt in or opt out of the team and the game. Advanced clarity of expectations also reduces unnecessary problems, reduces ambiguity and confusion, and serves to mitigate poor performance and unwanted turnover on the team.
4. Now that you have the vision, the outcomes and rules of the game, it is important to think schematically about who will do what and which skills and competencies are needed to accomplish the end game. The fourth step is selecting the players for the team. Whether you are building an enterprise or a team of people to accomplish a project, it is crucial that you select the right people for the right roles, for the right reasons. When this happens, people are more inclined to commit, which is the baseline for team engagement. When people are engaged, they have a strong desire to bring value to the team. When people enjoy the type of work they are doing and are able to connect their work to the bigger picture engagement soars. Engaged people focus on what is working and look to leverage talents in themselves and others for the betterment of the goal. It is wise to identify how the roles interact with one another, and how the team needs to be constructed to deliver results. The best team dynamics happen when there is a variety of people who bring their uniqueness to the team. Beyond competencies and skills, it’s important to consider unique traits that each team member brings to the table and how those unique traits can be leveraged for optimal creativity and innovation. Every successful team has one of each of the four primary communication styles on it. A high-performance team needs someone who is decisive when it comes to initiating or redirecting the project or program. A team also needs someone who promotes the program and inspires people along the way, as well as at least one team member focused on looking for potential pitfalls, has a contentious eye for what is missing and uses it to alert the team of issues and solutions for refinement along the way. Lastly, an effective team needs a person or people who are there to do the hard work of implementing the work to achieve the results in a steady and stable manner.
5. Step five in establishing and building a high-performance team is a step that is most often skipped. This is the Level Setting step. When a group of people comes together, it is crucial that they learn how to work together effectively. Whether your group has a history or every member is new, people always come to a new work situation with past behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and ways of being that may or may not be effective on this team and with this new set of people. Level setting allows each member of the team an opportunity to begin again. During a level set, team members explore their limiting beliefs and barriers to working with others in a productive and effective manner, and do the necessary work to unload those factors that get in the way. Through experiential learning, the team as a whole is challenged to work together in ways they never considered. Even the most effective, astute and self-aware people discover limits that were previously hidden from their conscious view. The team lays out the pathway for the best way to work together, how they will resolve personality conflicts and internal challenges with dynamics of the team. At the completion of the level set, the team creates a collective possibility for the team that is inspiring to each and every member of the group.
6. Once the team is selected and everyone is aligned with the vision, outcomes and rules of the game, it is time to start planning. Planning is the sixth step in creating a high-performance team. The best approach for the leader during planning is to be a source for inspiration, questions, and guidance. Leaders who step too far into planning, create teams that are dependent on the leader and lack creativity. The best leaders select the right people, inspire them toward a vision, and back out of the way during the planning stage; unless they are specifically asked for guidance. If the leader notices a problem with the plan, rather than pointing it out, it is much more empowering to ask questions that provoke the team members to activate their critical thinking skills to answer and think potential challenges through. The empowering 21st century leader may ask if the team anticipates challenges along the way, and whether they do or don’t, makes himself available for coaching during the ongoing check-ins.
7. Step seven in creating conditions for a high-performance team to flourish, is to establish a regular process for checking in, tracking progress and celebrating successes, as well as identifying obstacles and strategizing how to overcome them. When people are aware of the milestone meetings and rely on regular feedback, it reduces uncertainty and unnecessary stress. Laying out the stages of organizational effectiveness, beginning with what it means to be operating in formulation and concentration and then defining criteria for low, moderate and high momentum, gives the team an opportunity to self-regulate, correct and celebrate as they see fit. Utilizing a customized version of the agile methodology, is an excellent means to keep progress on track and support the team in attaining momentum with their project, program or goal. Daily stand-ups, bi-weekly declarations and intention setting, as well as bi-monthly retrospectives, give teams a structure they can count on and gives the team healthy guardrails to work independently and remain responsible to each other and the organization as a whole.
While knowing and understanding are two very different distinctions, doing is the link that shifts knowing to understanding. For the impatient leader, doing may be a challenge because progress is most often only experienced incrementally. Building a high-performance team is not about exponential breakthroughs. If they happen, great; however, if sustainability is your goal, impatience is your enemy. Teams respond best to a system that allows them to learn, move forward, fall, learn from mistakes, move forward again and sustain progress over time. When high concentration and effort is celebrated, and low momentum is acknowledged and genuinely appreciated, teams build confidence and fortitude to stay the course and achieve high momentum and sustainability.