Making work more “Human” (and the not so secret seven)

For many senior leaders, keeping things practical and focussed in order to achieve tangible yet meaningful stretch goals is a norm few would disagree with. However, for all levels of management, success is as much about how the results are achieved as the outcomes themselves. This is especially relevant for senior leaders and alas, something that can be forgotten. Another fact of life that some leaders either forget or may not know, is that decades of data analysing the reasons for failure at senior levels have shown that failure has little to do with technical professional expertise and almost everything to do with the human side of their work i.e. relationships, cultural fit, networking etc.

It is amazing how much of this seems like common sense and yet the pattern of failing to get to grips with the key issues seems as clear now as it was when work life was very different twenty plus years ago. There are seven fundamentals to get right. Whilst these are in no particular order, most will see the first three as “classic” factors, with the latter four as “emerging factors”.

The classic motivational factors

These are some of the intrinsic drivers of leaders’ behaviour. Most know that the role played by extrinsic motivators (such as goals, rewards etc.) is also key.

Empathy i.e. understanding the motivations and emotions of others. This is something of an elusive skill for many and yet quite natural for some. The key however, is that skills can be developed that will unravel the issues that reduce empathy, improve relationships and ultimately yield a better and more productive relationship.

Influence and Persuasion i.e. at senior levels it requires more than just incisive evidence based analysis and reasoning to change others’ minds. Most working at senior levels know that convincing and persuading others needs an emotional element too.

Resilience i.e. the skill of bouncing back from day to day setbacks, overcoming roadblocks and “keeping on keeping on”. The term “grit” summarises some of the traits here. There is decades of data showing how good emotional adjustment leads directly to greater effectiveness.

The emerging trending factors

These are some of the drivers of leaders’ behaviour that have been in the spotlight over the last few years.

Mindfulness i.e. being focussed on the “here and now” that leads to better adjustment and then to better self-management and interpersonal relationships. It is almost impossible to avoid the focus on mindfulness and there is a whole industry built up around it. Some of it appears to work for some people, in some situations, some of the time while not proving as effective for others. The key conclusion for senior leaders is that there “seems to be something in it”.

Happiness i.e. developing and maintaining a positive focus. The origins of this go back many years and Positive Psychology is a recognised discipline having an impact on Medical Psychology through to Occupational. Here too “there is something in this” supported by credible empirical evidence (though, like Mindfulness, one should be wary of the hype).

Authentic Leadership i.e. just “being yourself”. Again, there is much more to the Authenticity than this term implies. The key is that it generates many desirable behaviours not just in leaders themselves but also around the areas of being open, discursive, participative, flexible etc.

Sustainability i.e. leading a company in a way that is sustainable for its long-term future. The goal here is to take a holistic view of commercial strategy, leadership, employment practices, resources etc. and reconfiguring them to meet stakeholder expectations but in a way, that is long term. There are few surprises in this aspiration but “Sustainability” requires something of a mindset shift (and is much more, for example, than just focussing on physical environmental factors).

To many highly experienced senior leaders much of this will seem like “second nature” and sound like statements of the obvious that have been taken over by academics and consultants and turned into something very complicated. The reason for the focus on them however, is that the failure to address and develop skills around them has persisted through so many successive generations of leaders. As a leadership advisory practice, it is amazing how often we see senior professionals failing to understand that without the “how”, their achievements in ticking off their objectives are hollow victories, and which will eventually ensure that their professional lives will plateau.

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  • Angela Duckworth

For more information on this and NBC leadership advisory services please contact Ed Bransby-Zachary, Managing Director Client Services, +44 (0) 7912 564 797,  or Dr Stephen Sloan, Managing Director Norman Broadbent Consulting, + 44 (07763 207094),