What do you really believe about the workplace? More specifically, what do you believe is the purpose of work, the role that work plays in our lives, and what makes for a great work environment? Of course, there’s research that tells us what “lots of people” say; however, what you say is most critical to your ability to thrive as a leader. Moreover, as you own who you are and what you believe, you must also test your beliefs to be sure they actually work. Hence, the subsequent testing, unavoidable mistakes, and revised beliefs will build the confidence and humility you need to be effective. This growth-through-introspection approach boils down to self-awareness, which is the cornerstone of leadership.
While self-awareness is critical, so is the lived experience of leadership, and this is where many leaders, including executives, get stuck. Frankly, a significant percentage of the leaders that I engage have a firm grasp of textbook leadership theory, but they only partially implement strategies and give up before going full circle. Further, they are uncomfortable with the risks associated with acting on their beliefs. Being stuck in this way leads to two inevitable outcomes: a team that is rarely innovative and frustration about recurring problems.
Mind you, while a leader is dealing with their own personal professional challenges, the team they lead really needs a compelling and inspiring narrative. The ability to craft such a narrative comes from a balance of hopefulness and courage, commitment to the mission of the organization, and beliefs that one holds true because of what experience has taught them. So, what do you really believe about people and work? How should employees be treated? What are they entitled to beyond their paycheck?
Take a look at the image below. On the left side, there is a list of ten common leadership and human resources terms. On the right, there is a cycle with ten steps (the steps are not listed in any particular order). Starting at the green arrow, list the elements from most to least fundamental components of a positive and advantageous workplace culture. Additionally, the steps are to be listed sequentially, which means that the current step is contingent upon the previous step having occurred. For example, if you believe that diversity, inclusion, and authenticity is the most important element to a great workplace, that’s your starting point. Then, by listing employee development in the second position, you’re also saying that you believe a workplace cannot meaningfully undertake employee development objectives without addressing diversity, inclusion, and authenticity first. Additionally, you’ll need to define each element.
No matter how you order the steps, you should be able to explain your rationale to your colleagues, direct reports, and your boss. Likewise, is your perspective in sync with the way your organization operates? Does your perspective give you any advantages or disadvantages? Finally, can you explain your perspective in a way that makes it a near absolute, i.e., almost always true?
Your perspective should be nearly immutable! If your perspective on work changes according to the employment experience you’re reflecting upon, your perspective might be a reflection of that particular organization rather than a clear perspective on the workplace. The objective of this exercise is to get you to contemplate what you really believe is true about leadership, teams, and organizations. There is always a place for taking classes, reading literature on a topic, and becoming more educated; however, nothing can take the place of personal conviction. Personal conviction is so important that new information is of diminished value if you aren’t clear about and able to articulate what you think. Further, even if you don’t own what you think, you will subconsciously act on it. Research informs us of a phenomenon called “affirmation bias”, which is sometimes called “confirmation bias”. These phrases refer to the way people act on their feelings, but look for “science” or data that supports their purpose. This does not mean that your perspectives are inherently wrong; rather, it means that it is okay to be steadfast in your perspectives, but that it is also important to stretch yourself by considering perspectives different from your own.
Finally, as you consider your philosophy on the workplace, I hope some flaws of the list immediately jumped out at you! To start, two must-have components of a great workplace were left off the list. How can you establish and maintain any workplace without a vision and goals? Additionally, alignment was left off. While the vision and goals tell the team where it’s going, a focus on alignment tells the team how its getting to the destination and makes sure that everybody gets there together. What additional criticisms do you have of the list?
The image below reflects how I put together the list, and I added in values and alignment. There is no right or wrong order. What I do have is an ability to explain why I believe the cycle should progress in a particular way and so much conviction about my perspective that a person who sees it differently must be ready for a hearty debate! Do you feel strongly enough about your convictions that you think you could change my mind? What matters more is whether you can get your team to understand your philosophy and buy-in.