Five key “soft skills” to enhance leadership effectiveness include:
- Self confidence; value yourself and back your judgement
- Assertiveness; be straightforward and achieve buy in when communicating
- Positive energy; engage your people and drive business results
- Relationships; 80% of our success comes from the quality of our relationships
- Empathy; show that you understand another person’s experience
Does your leadership training neglect application?
It isn’t skill that differentiates a great leader from an average one, but the perspective that guides their application of skill, says University of Sydney researcher Dr Richard Cavanagh.
“In the past, a lot of leadership models have articulated [what] leaders should be really excellent at. And they’ve given them lists of different skills to learn and develop in order to be a great leader,” Cavanagh says.
“[But] what we find is that people can learn the skill and still get it wrong in the implementation,” he says. “For instance, knowing how to give good feedback, [and] having a process… doesn’t mean you are giving the right feedback.
“Things show up as problems because of the perspective that we take on them,” he explains. “A more complex perspective will often dissolve a problem, or give us a different view of the problem.
“Let’s say you’ve got a worker who is quite creative in the way they do things… If you’re a manager who believes that style of operation is not what is required, you’ll see it as a weakness.
“But if you’re a manager who can look at the situation and see how that characteristic can be adapted to meet the needs of the situation, then it can be a strength,” he says.
Teach leaders to think big
Cavanagh and fellow researchers from the University of Sydney have been investigating the connection between managers who engage with multiple viewpoints, and workplaces where staff are productive and “flourish”, as part of a $3 million “world-first” study.
“What we were testing in terms of hypothesis is: If you improve people’s abilities to take complex perspectives, does that have an impact on their engagement, retention levels, satisfaction in the workplace, and productivity?”
The Leadership in high-stress workplaces study (2010) involved 180 leaders and managers from medical and legal professions, who were split into three groups. One group received training on how to solve workplace problems by considering multiple perspectives, another received training and three to four months of coaching, and a control group received neither.
Leaders that participated in the four-day training workshop were asked to consider “tension-filled scenarios” – problems that could not be adequately resolved using a “normal” level of thinking. They were then encouraged to question assumptions behind any instinctive “either/or” responses, and overcome perceived dilemmas by taking a bigger perspective to find solutions.
Sixty of the leaders then practised these skills on an ongoing basis, by workshopping real challenges that made them feel “torn” at work, in a series of follow-up sessions with a coach.
Reflection makes “a huge difference”
“What we’re seeing is measures of happiness and positive effect are rising… most so in the group with the coaching,” Cavanagh says.
Preliminary results show gains that occur in the training are “embedded and increased” in leaders who receive coaching, but lost in those who don’t, he says.
For example, “mindfulness” (stepping back from an experience rather than being “captured” by it) increased significantly in training, but decreased over time without coaching. Those who were coached also became more “solution focused”.
“If you’re thinking about developing your people, you need to put significant thought into not just the initial training, but how you can embed those gains and learning in a real way back in the workplace,” Cavanagh says.
“And it seems that methods that help people to enter into reflective practice in a regular, structured way make a huge difference.”
Innovative perspectives bring competitive advantage
“The other thing that we’ve done that helps people to take more complex perspectives is teaching them dialogue skills,” Cavanagh says.
“And dialogue is really about being able to make sure that all the perspectives and all the dilemmas… all the tensions, are out on the table rather than trying to avoid them – how do we turn towards the diversity of what’s going on… long enough for those tensions to be creative?”
One of the reasons the study is important is the complex nature of today’s world, Cavanagh says. “Most of the problems that we face in our world today can’t be solved with very simple answers [so] people who are able to take new, creative and innovative perspectives have a competitive advantage,” he says.
“Take Copenhagen, for example. One of the reasons Copenhagen failed is that you’re talking about a global problem, and you’re bringing to it national solutions. So it’s the wrong level of thinking.
“And most of the complex problems we have in our world today require relatively high level perspective-taking capacity – the ability to integrate multiple competing perspectives. And that’s what dialogue helps us to do.”
The first results from the study were presented at the Australian Evidence Based Coaching Conference in Sydney recently. Final results will be published later this year.
Article courtesy of Dr Richard Cavanagh and HR Daily.