By: Vince Martinez, senior consulting partner, Partners In Leadership
Future leaders are those who are prepared not only to manage workforces undergoing demographic and structural upheavals, but also to steer their organizations through increasingly competitive, globalized markets by adapting to an accelerated speed of innovation and rising customer demands.
In "What Do 'Future Leaders' Look Like?", we outlined the ways in which modern leadership styles must evolve in order to keep pace with these high demands. Future leaders must forgo "command-style" leadership with a narrow focus on ticking proverbial boxes in favor of a more culture-focused approach that takes into consideration the ways in which employees' beliefs influence their actions and in turn drive results.
However, even with an understanding of the principles undergirding this leadership style, putting these principles into practice and becoming a strong future leader can be a challenging undertaking. To help you stay ahead of the curve, we've laid out the critical steps required to become an effective leader of the future:
Clarify Organizational Goals to Boost Employee Buy-In
In order to motivate employees to embody the beliefs needed to drive action toward desired results, leaders must first articulate what those desired results are.
While this may seem an obvious step in the process, consider that according to the landmark Partners In Leadership Workplace Accountability Study, 85% of respondents indicated that they weren't even sure what their organizations are trying to achieve. If employees do not have a clear understanding of topline organizational goals, they have nothing for which to take accountability and will be unmotivated to take the actions necessary for driving progress -- even if they hold positive beliefs about the organization and their purpose within it. Results will stagnate as a consequence.
As such, the first step to becoming a future leader is pinpointing, articulating, and communicating to all employees the organization's Key Results: the top three to five meaningful, measurable, and memorable deliverables that must be achieved in order for the organization to be considered successful.
Once top goals are framed within a precise timeline, future leaders must highlight how these goals pertain not only to the entire organization, but to every individual member of the organization.
Creating both individual- and team-level buy-in to Key Results is critical because a key component of future-proof leadership is ensuring that employees hold the beliefs and values needed to self-select proactive behaviors that drive progress toward topline goals. It follows that if all members of the organization have bought into Key Results and believe they are accountable for achieving them, they will self-select proactive behaviors that propel the achievement of these goals.
Manage Employee Experiences and Beliefs
Keep in mind that according to The Results Pyramid, individuals' experiences shape their beliefs, which in turn influence their actions, which then generate results. Thus, the next step for future leaders is to become experts at managing the "experience" and "belief" levels of the pyramid. This is key to fostering a self-starting atmosphere in the workforce.
Providing employees with experiences able to inform their beliefs is challenging. This is in part to do the subconscious phenomenon of belief bias. According to the American Psychological Association, belief bias is "the tendency to be influenced by one's knowledge about the world in evaluating conclusions and to accept them as true because they are believable rather than because they are logically valid."
Belief bias often leads individuals to validate their current views by selectively believing in conclusions that are aligned with what their experiences would suggest to be true. A negative belief bias will hinder how an employee self-selects their tasks, and will result in subpar results.
Since belief bias informs employees' mindsets in the workplace, future leaders must anticipate this tendency by creating intentioned and positive experiences for employees. When employees have positive experiences, their negative biases are more easily suspended. This helps employees remain open to new thoughts and ideas, ready to take on the beliefs that will encourage them to jumpstart their own actions to meet organizational goals.
Leadership Lunch: A Case Study on Creating Positive Employee Experiences
Leaders can create positive workplace experiences strategically in order to encourage the right beliefs to take hold within the organization.
Consider this example: an organization was helmed by a dysfunctional leadership team in which bickering proliferated and no single member felt accountable for achieving Key Results, but rather externalized fault when something went wrong.
Not only did this toxic leadership culture create operational inefficiencies and stilt progress on critical projects, but it negatively impacted the beliefs of all members of the organization. As a result, rates of accountable action-taking toward results lost momentum and the organization's bottom line took a hit.
As revenue margins narrowed, a leader decided to take a strategic approach to creating positive experiences in an attempt to make a change. He gathered the leadership team in the center of the cafeteria -- where many employees were enjoying lunch nearby -- and asked each member of the team come prepared with their best joke.
As the leadership team sat in the center of the room and laughed, all of the employees who witnessed the interaction partook in the same shared experience -- an experience that reflected happiness, camaraderie, and mutual respect. As a result, many employees came away with new beliefs, such as "The leadership team at this organization is built on a foundation of mutual trust" and "The leaders at this organization enjoy working here."
Consequently, these beliefs spread and took root within the organization, leading to higher rates of motivated action-taking toward Key Results and eventually boosting topline performance.
Future Leaders Guarantee Organizational Success
It should be apparent that future leaders will succeed by doing more than developing robust strategies for handling increasing rates of change, shifting workplace dynamics, and competitive market conditions. Mastering rapidly-evolving markets will be impossible without creating a workforce that takes personal and collective accountability for driving high levels of performance.
Future leaders will be expert culture managers, able to cultivate positive employee experiences that lead to beliefs that inform self-selecting action toward Key Results.
Workplace, industry, and marketplace change can be intimidating for organizations of any size or stature. Many of the leadership issues in business today revolve around these disruptions. Luckily, mastering leadership and management skills for managing culture effectively positions an organization for sustained success.