At V-Teamwork, one of the ways we define leadership is: “connecting people with what they mutually care about and engaging them in commitments to action to take care of it”.
This definition transcends old-style 'command and control' approaches and opens the door to developing really effective practices for leading in these complex, turbulent times. It also means that the actions of leadership are not limited to the leader. Inside this definition, any member of the team can take leadership actions. In today’s complex, fast-changing world of complex knowledge work, it’s mission-critical that all team members are equipped to lead, and not merely follow orders.
In his recent “Bamboo, Not Oak” article, Korn Ferry’s Aaron Green discusses three “cornerstones of leadership”: for times of great change: empathy and human warmth, decisiveness and confidence in your team; and resilience and flexibility. These fit with the foundational practices we use in our leadership practice and coaching platform: reflecting on Care, mindfulness, and team learning conversations.
Underlying the leadership quality of “empathy and human warmth” is Care, the fundamental human capacity. When our participants engage in the practice of reflecting on what they care about, they are in a better position to extend that reflection and inquire into what the other individuals in our network of working relationships care about.
Decisiveness and confidence in your team is what allows us to take swift appropriate action. Confidence is not just something that happens in our thoughts and words, it’s intrinsically present in our feelings and our bodies. Mindfulness practices can really support us in building the confident body and positive emotions associated with decisive action and trust in our team. At V-Teamwork, we coach leaders to engage in a simple mindfulness practice called ‘centering', which produces a sense of calmness and presence: a great place from which to generate decisive action and feelings of confidence in your team.
Resilience and flexibility spring from our willingness to accept "what is”, including new circumstances we don’t like. Rather than a passive state of resignation, acceptance is a strong, dynamic place from which we can design and take action. Again, centering and other mindfulness practices can expand our ability to respond to negative changes and bounce back into action in a positive mood and a ‘present-in-the-moment” body.
Finally, empathy, decisiveness and confidence in the team, and resilience can all be cultivated in conversations. In particular, conversations for learning together create strong foundations for these qualities, so at V-teamwork, we coach leaders to engage in five types of interconnected team learning conversations (TLCs): asking questions and exploring, talking it through when things go wrong or are unexpected, actively seeking feedback from inside and outside the team, reflecting together on our process and our outcomes, and experimentation to see what we can learn.
In our experience, these conversation practices tend to produce moods of curiosity and wonderment that people associate with lower social risk, higher levels of ‘psychological safety’, and more willingness to speak up. We have found that when team members engage in these practices consistently, within four weeks they produce 50-100% improvement in speaking up activity by all team members, in a wide variety of situations.
This correlates with research on the relationship done by Rozowski and others at Google, and with research by Edmondson, Savelsbergh and others into the link between team learning and team performance. Indeed, these leaders provide ample anecdotal evidence of more productive meetings, faster decision making, improved moods in the face of ’too much change’, more skilful ‘managing upwards’ and faster, more productive resolution of conflict, both within the team and with stakeholders.
If you would like more of these kinds of outcomes, I encourage you to engage in these practices. They are not complex, but in our experience, they do require recurrent practice to gain the kind of ‘embodied competency’ that we need to apply them consistently.