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11 Tips to restore faith in leadership

New Year tips for leaders from the Leadership Institute

By Randall S Peterson 22 December 2017

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2017 has been a tough year for leadership.  Want to act in a way that helps rebuild trust in leadership next year? Our faculty share insights to help you.

1. Anticipate conflict and keep a team focus

Restore faith in your leadership by changing the way you deal with conflict, discussion and debate. The leaders who get the best outcomes and inspire others are those who plan for conflict before it emerges, and keep the conversation focused on what works for the group rather than accommodating individuals. Those two principles matter because if you wait for conflict to emerge or ignore conflict in your team for any length of time, people get angry or frustrated and their negative emotion gets in the way of processing the conflict rationally. So anticipate the types of conflict that might emerge in the team and pre-empt the negative effects of those conflicts. Team focus matters because if you focus mainly on what makes individuals feel good and hope that they will work together to resolve conflict effectively, there is a good chance you will be disappointed. Remember, when the team wins, the members will also then feel good individually as they bask in the reflected glory of team success.

Randall S Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour


2. Speak from your heart, not your head

As a non-native speaker, I used to worry so much about finding the right words in conversations or presentations. Understanding the limitations of words, I remember being taught I should also control my tone, my body language… it quickly gets so complicated. How about, instead, simply taking a few deep breaths and engaging one’s whole being with the mindset you need to convey for that situation? Bring to mind moments of heightened gratitude ahead of an awards ceremony. Bring to mind a sad memory ahead of a phone call about a family loss. And then, let your mind, body and voice do their jobs from this deeper foundation. My experience is that with the right mindset – or should I say “heart-set” – whatever words, tone, body language emerge, they achieve your intention.

François Ortalo-Magné, Dean


3. Take a stand against bias

Leaders need to speak up and address everyday expression of bias at work. However, it’s hard to be the person who confronts bias, even when we want to. How do you get started? Think through the past few months and identify one type of biased statement or behaviour that came up. Perhaps you have noticed that your team exclusively refers to customers as “he” or that a woman colleague is consistently interrupted in meetings by men. Now envision a positive, effective way to confront it – whether by simply correcting the error (“Remember our customers are men and women”), by asking for different behaviour (“I’d like to reduce interruptions when others are speaking”), or even by making an (appropriate) joke that points out the problem. This way, you will be ready to speak up when the situation arises. Speaking out to address bias in the moment can reduce its reoccurrence and set positive norms, meaning that your single act of speaking up can set progress on diversity into motion.

Aneeta Rattan, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour


4. Encourage dissent and draw from the highest-quality evidence

One of the most dangerous errors is “confirmation bias” – we form a view and then seek opinions or evidence that support that view. But it’s almost always possible to find a study that supports whatever you’d like it to support. Confirmation bias is a particular problem for leaders, as subordinates may be reluctant to disagree with them, and leaders’ past success may lead to them being overly confident in their own opinion. Leaders should actively seek other viewpoints and create a culture that encourages dissent. In a strategy meeting, appoint someone to play devil’s advocate to your pet strategy. Second, leaders should draw from the highest-quality evidence, published in the best peer-reviewed journals. While peer review is not perfect, it still has value, thus helping ensure leaders use evidence based on its rigour, rather than because it agrees with their viewpoint.

Alex Edmans, Professor of Finance


5. Strive for positive social impact

Business leaders are in a unique position to help resolve global challenges such as climate change, poverty and inequality. Leaders who embed a commitment to responsibility will be building companies that are fit for an uncertain future and generate positive social and environmental long-term value. As a leader you need to be bold and courageous. Introduce incentives based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics as well as financial metrics, and ensure the infrastructure is in place to monitor them accurately and transparently. Build an organisation that is transparent and proactive towards its stakeholders and unafraid to demand accountability in its supply chain. Proactively manage your investor base and effectively communicate your long-term commitment to responsible business. This will allow you to attract and retain the long-term investors who will be your allies. The challenges are huge and need to be urgently addressed but you, as a leader, have the opportunity to change the world for the better. Are you ready to take up the challenge?

Ioannis Ioannou, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship


6. Help your people be their best selves at work

Here is a mental hack that can help you get more from your people and feel better about your job: Remember you are just overhead unless you’re helping your staff to bring their best to the workplace. This is the opposite to old-school bureaucratic leadership, which relies on positional power, control and certainty and ramps up people’s fear. As I describe in my forthcoming book, Alive at Work, fear shuts down positive emotions and stifles people’s drive to experiment and learn. If you want people to bring their best and help you innovate, your key role is to serve employees as they explore and grow. The world is changing at a pace where control-leadership no longer works. Firms become calcified and brittle if they aren’t innovating, being proactive and trying new things. As a leader, ask yourself this question: How do I encourage employees to use their strengths to invent, to experiment and to try new things, even though they may not always work out as planned? And then ask your employees how you can help them do their jobs better.

Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour


7. Steer a sensible course

Good leadership isn’t about controversial soundbites or stirring up a mob of “followers” on social media. It is about setting out an agenda and doggedly pursuing it. It is hard work, a lot of it behind the scenes. Any change initiative, any worthwhile programme, needs hard graft, people to be brought around and time for efforts to translate into outcomes.  We don’t want our leaders to jump on every new idea or bandwagon; we want them to steer a sensible course and to follow through on their promises. The likes of Elon Musk grab the headlines but the leaders we genuinely admire are the ones like Bill and Melinda Gates, Ratan Tata and James Dyson – individuals who have dedicated themselves over many years to a worthwhile cause. So don’t get sucked into the apparent need to have something new to say all the time. Stake out a course of action for your business, stick with it and don’t feel bad about repeating yourself. Second, never believe you are above the detail. Sometimes you need to get stuck into the nitty-gritty. You need to be able to swoop and soar. That is what real leaders do.

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship


8. Have humility and integrity towards the brand

Many of the world’s greatest brands are built on a rich heritage. A leader has to approach this powerful intangible asset with humility – accepting that the brand and the heritage that underpin it are far greater than any individual – and integrity, such that their words and actions serve rather than undermine it. If they cannot do so genuinely, then they are probably not the right person to lead in this particular role in the first place. If they can, they will find that bringing energy and continued relevance to the brand inside the organisation engages people intellectually, emotionally and behaviourally.

Nader Tavassoli, Professor of Marketing


9. Adopt a portfolio mindset

For anyone to succeed at innovation, they have to celebrate learning from failure. Leaders need to shift the culture of their organisations and treat failure as an important learning tool. To create this shift, encourage employees to adopt a portfolio mindset and broaden the framing of performance evaluations. Too often, outcomes are measured in too narrow a window of time: a single-quarter or fiscal year focus. When our attention is focused on just a sliver of performance, we experience risk aversion and increased pressure to showcase achieved results today – which can come at the expense of pursuing long-term results. It’s not surprising that in such environments, employees may be more tempted to take unethical shortcuts to showcase performance. These shortcuts will undermine the long-term success of any organisation. Managers need to evaluate performance in a portfolio of outcomes rather than single-shot assessments. This portfolio mindset can help managers and employees evaluate their decisions in terms of what best serves the organisation in the long term rather than chasing short-term gains.

Lisa Shu, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour


10. Connect strategy to purpose

Why do we do what we do? As businesses, is it simply so we can create profits? As individuals, is it simply so we can pay our bills? We humans are not only economic beings, but also moral beings. Doing better at work should also give us the sense that we are doing good for the world. The fact that this rarely seems to happen is above all a failure of leadership: leadership that fails to recognise our moral aspirations. Leaders can channel our moral aspirations to a purpose that is larger than us. They can articulate why our purpose is a noble one. They can craft a culture in which our purpose drives our actions. And they can help ensure that our actions make us a force for good.

Rajesh Chandy, Professor of Marketing; Tony and Maureen Wheeler Chair in Entrepreneurship; Academic Director, Business for Development Institute


11. Be humble about your ethical blind spots

As a leader it's essential to model high ethical standards. But leaders are human, and we all have ethical blind spots. That is, everyone can find themselves acting inconsistently with their ethical values without quite realizing it. Recognising our susceptibility to these blind spots and empowering others to alert us to them are the first steps towards avoiding their more insidious consequences.

Daniel Effron, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour

2017 has been a tough year for leadership.  Want to act in a way that helps rebuild trust in leadership next year? Our faculty share insights to help you.

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Comments (2)

cagbakwuru978 3 months and 13 days ago

Leadership is a virtue cultivated through personal experiences as one battles with life challenges in different faces and personalization of these experiences evolves and imprints in humans self confidence that could be interpreted as Faith. Leaders who have faith are those who are invariably self confident in whatever they do.

Belinda K 3 months and 13 days ago

Thank you for this thought provoking article. Good way to start the year :-)