I hope, like me, you’ve had a chance to take a break. Here in the northern hemisphere its summer and for us in England it means taking flight to places that offer guaranteed warmth and sunshine.
I spent a couple of weeks in the hills in Umbria, not far from the historic and beautiful city of Orvieto in central Italy (north of Rome and a lot cooler). We stayed at an ‘Agriturismo’ a farm that also welcomes guests, featured in a stunning book on Italian cooking with beautiful photography:
All the guests ate together as one family – discussing the issues of the day and enjoying the fabulous cuisine.
Taking a break isn’t just an indulgence, for many people leading busy lives, it’s a necessity. Yet still we hear about people who feel unable to take their full vacation allowance. The chance to relax and catch up on sleep is just the beginning of the benefits of taking a break. It also provides uninterrupted time to explore new ideas; experience different cultures and ways of thinking.
For me, the key benefit this year was to experience the vital importance of clarity: how it shapes our priorities and smooths our path. When we have clarity we know what is – and is not – important. Clarity of thought and awareness leads to clarity of expression and gives our actions greater purpose.
Having written about the ‘fundamentals of leadership’ before I went away, of course I’m now kicking myself for having left this one so late. Clarity has to be THE leadership fundamental.
While I was away I was listening to a clip of someone telling a story that, for me describes why clarity is so important to leadership. He talked about a crowd of people – where those at the back are pushing towards the front – because they are trying to ‘follow the leader’ – those at the front aren’t really leading – because they’re being pushed by the people at the back! I can’t do the story justice, so I’ll do my best to upload the clip at a future date. With clarity we don’t need to go in one direction just because people are pushing us to: we can set our own direction and, when we communicate it well, we take people with us on the strength of our clarity.
Whatever you do to experience greater clarity, I urge you to take time out to grow more of it.
I had intended to summarise my work on the ‘leadership fundamentals’ by emphasising the importance of inducting your people into the team. Being a resourceful leader is as much about encouraging your people to be resourceful with each other, as well as looking to you for clarity and direction.
I remember working with a coaching client: a leader working with around 20,000 people who had been ‘insourced’ into an organisation, from around 9 different companies. Each company previously had its own sets of terms and conditions, pay scales, vision, mission and values. Imaging trying to integrate these people into one new business! We worked together on his personal vision: which was to reduce the amount of travelling he did (a quantitative goal) and to improve the quality of the interactions he had with his nine direct reports (a qualitative goal). He had the additional challenge of negotiating any changes with the Unions in his industry sector: no mean task.
Coaching helped him to focus his goals and achieve them ahead of schedule. Two key activities supported that change: identifying, from his team, the key principles around which the staff could be aligned and, giving his team the freedom to interact with each other, without him being present in that conversation. Both of these activities allowed for the initiative to come from the ‘bottom up’ – with staff members already bought into the proposals – and better able to reassure the unions that the proposed changes had wide acceptance.
The freedom to discuss issues without the leader controlling the conversation gave added impetus for the nine direct reports to take responsibility – and to identify any blockages or potential sticking points.
This may all sound like the leader was abrogating his responsibility in this challenging task; far from it. He now found more time to spend with those nine direct reports and reported higher levels of satisfaction with the conversations he was having. Instead of being constantly on the road, dealing with issues by phone, he was meeting people face to face and fully appreciating the challenges they faced. In a 360 feedback those staff members reported high levels of engagement and satisfaction with this new way of working, especially the sense of trust they believed their boss showed in them and the autonomy they experienced as a result.
If you’re interested in some of the ideas those people proposed to improve the integrated of these organisations, you’re welcome to download the attached ‘induction guidelines’. Your own country’s employment laws and requirements may vary, so please use it as a starting point for your own research and consultation – and don’t forget to share your own experience in this field with other readers of this blog.