Effective leaders create environments that enable others to regularly be at their best. Steve Johnson, co-faculty lead of the ’Leading with Self-Awareness’ program, gives us the keys to identify them
Not only do extraordinary leaders enable others to be at their best but they build the capacity so that they can be at their best repeatably in different situations, different contexts, and even different cultures. They are serial winners, serial high performers and serial winning coaches. So, what is it that extraordinary leaders do, that many other leaders do not?
1. They have a framework for understanding their own and other peoples’ personal values
Personal values are our world views – the lens through which we see and judge the world. They are our principles, our standards, or qualities that we consider worthwhile or desirable. Our personal values guide our decision making and behaviour, and they often influence our emotions and feelings.
Extraordinary leaders not only understand their own personal values but they also understand that others’ personal values are likely to differ from their own. They work hard at trying to understand others’ world views and communicate this understanding, either directly or indirectly to their team members.
“One key area that differentiates extraordinary leaders from the pack is that they understand that their organisation’s values are likely to differ from those of its people”
One key area that differentiates extraordinary leaders from the pack is that they understand that their organisation’s values are likely to differ from those of its people.
Because of this understanding, they don’t try and force-feed organisation values to people but instead try to find alignment between their own values, values of team members and the organisation. They celebrate commonality and alignment not compliance. Extraordinary leaders often co-create a new set of aspirational values with their teams.
“They celebrate commonality and alignment not compliance; there is space for everyone to feel included and to belong, so they gain respect from their team”
Because of their approach, there is space for everyone to feel included and to belong, so they gain respect from their team.
2. They understand individual approaches to motivation
Extraordinary leaders have made it their business to understand human motivation. They are acutely aware that external rewards work rarely work and at best do so for only short time-periods, and only with certain people.
They understand most leaders must focus on meeting their team members’ basic psychological needs in three key areas:
- Autonomy – giving people agency and decision-making authority over their own goals and behaviour.
- Capability – to be effective in navigating the world and their chosen field of work through by mastering knowledge and skills that they and others value.
- Relatedness – the need to feel connected to others, to give love and care, and to be loved and cared for. It concerns developing secure and satisfying relationships with others.
Extraordinary leaders also understand that such approaches to human motivation are highly individualistic and may work in certain contexts and with certain people, but not others. They understand the true power of motivation comes in groups and teams and can be built socially from the ground up, when one has the right formula.
“Extraordinary leaders understand the true power of motivation comes in groups and teams and can be built socially from the ground up, when one has the right formula”
3. Their primary tools for motivation are social identity and identity leadership
Extraordinary leaders are able to create strong a social identity for their groups and teams by applying four key principles of identity leadership:
- They role model self-awareness and authenticity and are adept at regulating their own behaviour to focus on the needs of the group. They demonstrate benevolent care for the group, so each team member feels the leader cares about them individually and the group as a collective.
- They craft a unique social identity based on a family-like atmosphere which is relevant to all people in the group or team, creating an ‘us’ mindset. They achieve this by creating a compelling vision, establishing group/team values and norms, and building psychological alignment amongst team group/team members while deepening relationships with them. This creates a deep sense of purpose where everybody feels they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
- They communicate with their teams with consistency and clarity. They are willing to make the tough decisions and always have a ‘what’s best for the group’ mentality. They delegate authority to their direct reports, ensuring key messages are always being delivered and desirable behaviours are validated and reinforced.
- They embed a sense of ‘us’ by applying their professional judgement to effectively manage individual performance of their direct reports and their team members. They build social capital through challenge, support, high standards and finding unique ways to recognise outstanding performance and celebrate success. Their celebrations are always to attuned to what an individual contribution did for the group.
Extraordinary leaders are social architects and work hard to deepen relationships between group members and themselves. They role model getting to know the life stories of their team members because they know this is the starting point of trust.
They make people feel safe, valued and connected and when this gets combined with passion and emotional connection, it becomes an unstoppable force.
“They make people feel safe, valued and connected and when this gets combined with passion and emotional connection, it becomes an unstoppable force”
So, the next time you see a serial winner, a serial high performer or a serial winning coach accepting the trophy, the accolade, or the praise, observe closely what they say.
I suggest, with a high degree of certainty, they are likely to praise the group, outlining many of their special attributes and how this special combination of people, this team, this group, at this point in time, made all the difference, which ultimately led to the success, because the extraordinary leader will never let it be about themselves.
‘Leading with Self-Awareness‘ is an innovative leadership program that focuses key areas of modern neuroscience to help leaders develop and integrate a nuanced emotional toolkit into their leadership practice.