Genuine interest in the perspectives and interior lives of those around you is a "win-win" proposition: humane and emotionally sustaining in its own right, but also the bedrock of an effective organisation. Self-aware leaders have a better understanding of themselves, their organisations' capacities and limitations, and they are better-informed about the context they and their organizations find themselves in.
This understanding gives them the data to make better informed decisions and provide clearer, stronger leadership. Let's consider several ways that self-aware leadership drives more effective businesses.
Explaining the "why"
Humans are tremendously complex, emotional beings. On any given effort in which we invest significant time and energy, we want to feel that we're moving forward, that we're continuously progressing toward an accomplishment – not just treading water. When we achieve this feeling, we tend to be much more motivated in our efforts. So it comes as no surprise that this sense of continuous progress is the single most motivating factor in the workplace.
This universal tendency reveals an opportunity – and indeed, a necessity – for effective leaders. For the members of your team, a sense of progress is often a matter of context. Why is a particular effort or activity necessary to reach an important organisational goal? Why is that goal important for your success in the first place? You may feel like you shouldn't have to explain these things. But in fact, your ability to create context for your team gives you the crucial power to cultivate emotional buy-in.
Emotional buy-in and sustainability
On any project, there are several ways that we tend to develop a sense of emotional buy-in. We need to understand the “why” in order to feel a focused sense of investment in the work. Furthermore, we need to feel that we have an impact on the effort – even if an individual isn't shaping the overall direction, they usually want to know that their perspective is important, that their voice is being heard.
Take a salesforce, for example. Under a dictatorial leader, the team may not feel comfortable asking about larger organisational goals; they may not know why they need to pursue a particular type of client or focus on a particular product or service. This lack of comfort and information breeds a lack of effectiveness. Yet when a leader asks questions, explains reasoning, checks up on progress – in short, when they act as a service-oriented leader – this same salesforce succeed more sustainably. They'll see less drop-out and greater motivation, meaning better results over time.
Tyrannical styles may sometimes achieve results in the short-term, but they typically result in burn-out and lowered productivity over the long-term. For some leaders, it takes willpower to see past the short-term gain of saying, "Do what I say, now, and don't ask why. Or else."
When individuals feel that they've been heard and their concerns have been taken into account, and a self-aware leader has explained the “why,” you get more emotional buy-in. This leads to much higher performance – particularly during the tough times.
Trust is built through each member of the team doing what they say they are going to do, and when you have a defined goal to accomplish, you come out feeling that you've achieved the mission, connected with your teammates, and grown as an individual. A self-aware leader joins the willpower to see the big picture with the empathy and accessibility to connect with their people.
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By Paul Butterworth MNI, Global Head of the Maritime & Shipping Practice at Odgers Berndtson