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Leading by example

March 28, 2018 • MacGregor on Executive Health

By Steven MacGregor

I’ve been lucky to have had some great conversations this past week without travelling too far from home. Two days spent with Salesforce in Rome was followed by a day in London with O2. As ever I learned a lot from engaging with a highly diverse set of good people.

What really got me thinking was some opening comments from Chris Ciauri, Executive Vice President of Salesforce EMEA at the Rome event. He said that if you are the most senior person in the room, people look at you six times more. We’re not always aware of that I think, so what is the example you may be setting to your team through your behaviour and actions?

We’ve talked previously in the column that the vast majority of our habits and behaviours are subconscious, which adds to the challenge. Indeed, we may first identify a certain behaviour in another person who is simply reflecting what they have seen from you: think about your home environment and where your spouse or children may pick up certain traits.

We’ve also commented on the aggregate of these habits and behaviours giving us culture, what PwC have termed “the critical few.” And culture has been a big area of focus at Salesforce since the very beginning, viewing it as a key element of their growth strategy. Ohana is the term used, which is a Hawaiian word meaning family. This reflects how their culture and values extend to their employees, customers, partners and communities, how they are bound together and have a mutual goal and responsibility.  For Salesforce, who are a company experiencing rapid growth, it is a reminder that sustainable success can only be achieved through collaboration and thinking of others, features that are perhaps more at risk in a sales environment. The following proverb may be appropriate here: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Care is needed so that work-life integration don’t simply mean more work and less balance.

None of this is easy. There is no quick fix. The acceleration to work-life integration (in a nutshell, employees have more flexibility in their workday, being able to leave at 4pm to watch their children’s school play, but can expect work demands to come out of the normal work hours also) needs to be managed with care.  For example, we may take advantage of the weekend to catch up on some e-mails because that fits our own personal context. You may have the best of intentions and be taking advantage of a pocket of space in your busy professional and family life, yet that innocent email arriving on a Saturday morning may ruin the weekend for a junior member of the team, or create a cascade of emails over the course of the weekend which prevents people from being fully present at home as well as compromising their recovery before going again on Monday morning.

Taking advantage of those pockets of space is one of the great benefits of modern-day technology, so it could simply be the case of clearly communicating to the team that unless marked ‘urgent’ no response is needed until Monday at the earliest, as noted by Chris Ciauri. And yes, I know what you’re thinking now, but if everything is urgent, nothing is!

The concept of work-life integration has been deservedly criticised after the usual rush to heralding the latest panacea for our complex times. Ruth Whippman on The Pool blog offered a refreshing, cynical view last year:

“Somehow, all the ‘integrating’ only ever seems to flow in one direction… taking time off in the middle of the workday for a kid’s concert or a haircut never quite materializes. Instead, we answer emails crouching behind a bush, playing hide and seek with a four-year-old.”

As long as the principal working objectives are being advanced and met, there should be more flexibility in the typical 9-5 block traditionally reserved for work and little else.

So care is needed so that work-life integration don’t simply mean more work and less balance. With this care it can offer significant potential value. For example, exercising in the middle of the working day will offer a significant boost to productivity and energy. Re-connecting with loved ones during a stressful period or midday slump will help address anxiety and fatigue. As long as the principal working objectives are being advanced and met, there should be more flexibility in the typical 9-5 block traditionally reserved for work and little else.

Leadership styles need to adjust, with empathy being a prime requirement. At the end of the day, work is still work. Employees must maintain professionalism and understand their responsibilities, yet the employer has to take their duty of care seriously. And this duty of care must encompass the whole picture, including home and family life, as well as notions of health and wellbeing. Such liberal paternalism allows diagnosis and preventative action before full-blown crises occur, including the best talent walking out the door.

Taking a more holistic view of management to pay attention to the small signals coming from the teams we lead can include more notions of personal care. As a leader, are you paying attention to the signals from your team and able to hold an empathetic conversation? Important signals could include excessive weekend email communication, skipping lunch at one’s desk, or a continual disregard of the importance of sleep.

Listening skills are an important part of an empathetic conversation. Start with a commitment to talk less! More talking and less listening tends to happen with more seniority. If the balance isn’t maintained there is little value in that conversation other than instructing or lecturing. Adopting a coaching mindset can therefore be of value, which includes active listening without judging or offering solutions.

“Be the change you wish to see” may be an overused phrase but if you want to drive change in your organisation, be it in the health and wellbeing domain or any other area, start with looking at the example you are setting through your own behaviour.

An egotistical form of leadership has taken hold in recent years with many forgetting the simple fact that leadership is about others. “Be the change you wish to see” may be an overused phrase but if you want to drive change in your organisation, be it in the health and wellbeing domain or any other area, start with looking at the example you are setting through your own behaviour. It’s all well and good investing in sleep awareness training or re-designed offices with flexible spaces and better eating choices, but if all the senior people in the organization are skipping lunch at their desks and looking as if they haven’t slept in weeks, will the culture really change? We look to our leaders six times more, perhaps because we aspire to be them or simply need guidance, so what is the view you’re presenting to the world?

 

About the Author

Dr. Steven MacGregor is the CEO of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona [LAB] an executive education provider and management consultancy with clients including McKinsey, Telefónica and Uber. A Visiting Fellow at the Glasgow School of Art he teaches on open and custom programs at IMD, IE, IESE and CEIBS. Formerly a visiting researcher at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon he is the author of Chief Wellbeing Officer (LID 2018) and Sustaining Executive Performance (Pearson 2015). His twitter handle is @spmacg.

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