A new paradigm for leadership?

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In today’s world of global connectivity we seem to have forgotten the power of authentic, two-way human conversations – the importance of relationships is often either ignored or actively rejected.

Despite there being increasing evidence that the relationship employees have with their line manager impacts their performance at work, many organisations still subscribe to the view that leaders should avoid getting too close to the teams in order to preserve their authority. I’ve even heard the outmoded viewpoint that good leaders can get results by ‘keeping a team on their toes by instilling a bit of fear and uncertainty’. In a world in which effective leaders function by getting their people to bring their intelligence, creativity, passion and commitment to their work this is a deeply unhelpful approach.
Over the course of the past decade, overwhelming evidence has emerged from academic research, government investigation and professionals working in the field, that when employees have high levels of engagement, they are proud to belong, willing to go the extra mile, and committed to building a career with the organisation. It’s the quality of the relationship people perceive with their immediate leader that resides at the core of their feelings of engagement.

It is possible to practice and become better at building productive, trusting relationships by rediscovering the power of honest, authentic dialogues.

To my way of thinking, these are the five conversations used by the most effective leaders to create and maintain trusting relationships:

  1. Establishing the relationship – a conversation in which a deep, mutual understanding of your respective preferences, motivators, etc. with a team member to enable you to understand what makes each other tick.
  2. Agreeing mutual expectations – a conversation about your goals, reasons behind them and crucially the expectations you can have to support each other in achieving these outcomes.
  3. Showing genuine appreciation – a conversation helping a team member focus on their successes and the reasons for them, showing appreciation of their contribution and identifying further ways in which they can use their skills and talents to the benefit both of themselves and of the organisation.
  4. Challenging unhelpful behaviour – a conversation agreeing a more effective set of behaviours in cases where a team member’s attitudes or actions are getting in the way of team performance.
  5. Building for the future – a conversation exploring the future career aspirations of a team member, identifying ways in which you can create conditions which will enable them to build that career within your organisation instead of going elsewhere. 

These conversations may seem simple, but every leader I’ve talked to agrees that these conversations do not happen in today’s work of work, either enough or at all.

The beauty of this approach to leadership is that, to be effective, it doesn’t require you to be a great conversationalist or even particularly articulate. What is required however, and what people respond to, is authenticity - entering each conversation with the intention of understanding your colleague more deeply.

Nigel is the author of 5 Conversations, shortlisted for CMI Management Book of the year in 2015. It explores the way in which the quality of relationships you have at work with your team members drives their commitment to your organisation, their willingness to go the extra mile and their intention to stay.


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