At the football World Cup 2018 in Russia, the president of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović flew to Russia economy class. She took a regular seat with her fans in the stadium at all of the matches bar the semi-final with England where she was busy at a NATO conference. At the final, she is spotted in the crowd with her people and invited to the VIP section. She is told she can't wear her jersey or nation's colours in this section. She wears them anyway - supporting her team all the way!
After the narrow loss, she is invited to the presentation podium with national leaders of both Russia and France. While other leaders stand under umbrellas, she greets her team and the opposition with pride in the spilling rain getting drowned wet! She embraces each player at the end, both winners and runners alike like long lost sons! Social media takes it viral! The people of Croatia are ultra proud!
Leadership is something that is difficult to quantify. There are those that are naturally good leaders and there are those that can develop into good leaders over a period of time. There is huge value from an economic standpoint to having good leadership in a business or any organisation.
As we all know, there is a cost to poor leadership or management in any company or organisation! The cost can be financial and occur through needless hemorrhaging of staff due to poor people management / leadership. The company can experience financial costs through training new staff and reduction in output of front line people. The cost can also be an asset loss or people capital cost as strong experienced staff with much experience, positive customer relations and know how are needlessly disenfranchised and leave the organisation.
From an employee perspective, poor leadership can have more serious personal costs. It can go as far as to cause mental health issues within individuals in a given organisation due to work related stress, depression and or anxiety. In fact, research has shown employee days lost due to mental ill-health costs approximately 500 million euro in revenue per annum in Ireland. An even bigger cost is that of "presenteeism" a state of being present at work but disengaged due to poor leadership. In fact, research has shown "presenteeism" to cost up to 3.5 billion euro to businesses in Ireland.
Given such figures, leadership and leadership development is important and might be worth investing in! However, we can only invest in it if we actually know what it is!
Some years ago, a research team at Google set out on a study to figure out what good leadership looked like and what makes teams successful. They called the study Project Aristotle, a tribute to the philosopher's famous quote: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
They analysed various teams within their company, interviewing hundreds of executives, team leaders and team members in the process. They discovered that a number of factors contributed to a team's effectiveness. However one factor more than any was considered the single greatest influence on a team's effectiveness - a factor described as "psychological safety."
"In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members," wrote the researchers. "They feel confident that no one on the team will ridicule, embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea."
In essence, trust is a central feature of an effective, high performing team!
Business is mostly about people and positive relationships and trust is a central element of a positive relationships. We all know the saying, "Buy cheap, buy twice"! Customers want to trust their suppliers or the relationship will break down.
Equally, employees want to trust their leaders or bosses or the relationship will break down! Employees want to trust that leaders have their best interest at heart and if they do, they will do a lot for the said leader.
So how do we build that trust and a sense of purpose in a work environment?
What we know from psychology research is that employees generally will work hard if they are “emotionally engaged” in a process. They will only get to this point if they feel valued by their peers and leaders! A leader can help followers be emotionally engaged by showing them high levels of fairness and that they care. Care you ask?
Followers will remember if they felt valued by a leader. They will also remember if they felt let down, disrespected, under-valued etc. Sir Alex Ferguson made a special effort to get to know all members of staff at Manchester United. He made it his business to know their spouses names and always showed interest in what was going on in their lives and encourage his players to do the same. He did the same for his players and got the best out of them as a result. He was a people manager. Manage your people and the results will look after themselves!
There is plenty of research on leadership and leadership style and its effect on group success. "Transformational Leadership" - a phrase first coined by James Downtown in 1973 has been proven scientifically to be the best and most effective type of leadership across business, education and sport. Transformational Leadership is known to empower rather than control followers. Such leaders inspire, develop and challenge followers (Yukl, 2006) by acting as role models, showing concern for followers and transcending their own self interest for the overall betterment of the group.
Such leaders are known to inspire, through formulating a vision, challenging followers to reach realistic goals, encouraging ownership and involvement by stimulating them intellectually to solve old problems in new ways. Such leadership has been shown to be associated with increases in motivation and performance (Charbonneau, Barling & Kelloway, 2001; Ruwold 2006) and group cohesion (Callow, Smith, Hardy, Arthur & Hardy 2009).
A scientifically validated measure (Transformation Leadership Inventory (TLI) identifies six leadership behaviours which are considered transformational in nature.
Inspirational Motivation (where leaders inspire followers with their vision for the future).
Leaders sharing their vision for the company with followers can give employees a sense of ownership of the development of the company and take pride in their work as a result. Inspiring them by regularly getting "down and dirty" with the front line staff can generate a sense of empathy and shared experience with your followers and will help to negate an "us versus them" hierarchical feeling among employees.
Appropriate Role Modelling (where leaders lead by example in the way they conduct themselves and live their lives in the manner that they would like their followers to do)
Michael O'Leary (CEO of Ryanair - while not hugely popular at times with certain unions) is known to often help out with check in and baggage handling when needs be. He is a no nonsense positive sort of influence who "mucks in" when the time is required! Again such a dynamic mindset is one that will build trust and sense of "shared experience" with his employees.
Fostering Acceptance of Group Goals (where leaders incorporate followers in the devising of, accepting of and striving towards a common agreed goal)
Including followers in the development of their own targets and goals incorporates a sense of ownership among a group of followers where they are more likely feel a greater sense of control and autonomy over their own development.
Individual Consideration (where leaders show concern for followers individualistic needs)
There will be times where individuals specific cases and needs will need to be factored in. A one size fits all approach can often be debilitating. Bending the "rules" at times to facilitate an individual's personal need or requirement can lend a follower in having even greater respect for you as a leader. This will result in a build in trust and increase in effort levels on the followers part.
Showing concern for your followers everyday lives, interests and important events is crucial for them feeling valued, listened to and connected within the organisation. This alone can have a significant impact on their level of loyalty, likelihood to stay and effort levels over future periods. If they feel valued they are more likely to stay!
High Performance Expectations (where leaders promote excellence and performance criteria for followers in the attainment of set goals)
Somebody has to set standards. While external forces setting performance criteria occurs mostly in a production or sales setting, involvement of key members of staff throughout the organisation is crucial in engendering a sense of ownership throughout the organisation and avoiding a perceived hierarchical top down approach which can be debilitating to an organisation.
Intellectual Stimulation (where coach challenges players to assess their methods and how to improve them)
Despite management or leaders and followers having a sense that there is a hierarchy, the expertise of the front line tasks generally lies with front line workers. Tapping into such expertise, taking the time to find out how they think a task could be done better can prove invaluable in giving followers a sense of ownership, while it can also be helpful in the build up of trust between leaders and followers. Give them scope to explore new ideas. A simple thing like a suggestion box or a knowledge sharing "power hour" once a month could prove very beneficial to an organisation in streamlining services or actions for the benefit of the organisation. It gives front line workers a voice and a sense of value that what they think matters and that their thoughts are being listened to!
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won over the hearts and minds of a group of cleaners at a subway station recently. After spilling his coffee going through the turn-style, he proceeded to mop up his mess to the bemusement and appreciation of the cleaning staff. See below.
Alex Ferguson put his priority on forming positive relationships. In fact Ferguson's leadership principles always put the person before the player, because he knew that he needed to have the emotional investment of the player to get the best from them on the pitch!
Employees want leaders to see them as people, not employees. Ferguson's approach ensured that the player felt valued as a human being. In a business or organisational context, it demonstrates to an employee that the leader or manager is invested in the employee as a human being and they will feel more valued, giving more of themselves in return!
As Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović approaches an election after displaying her humanity and sense of respect for her players in Russia, she is a certainty to remain in office as she has won the hearts of her people!
"People don't really care what you know, until they know that you care!"
Unleash Your Potential
Keith Begley is a member of BASES and an accredited performance psychologist with the Irish Institute of Sport.
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Performance psychologist - accredited with Irish Institute of Sport