Self Awareness & Leadership

Hi all,

In my last blog I discussed a little about ‘conscious leadership’.  I use this term to reflect leadership behaviours driven from the perspective that creating an environment where self and others can become more self aware, have clarity of purpose, have clarity of theirs and others needs, connect and collaborate with others, strive for mutual benefit and self organise is sustainable.  In such an environment self awareness is essential.  Improving self awareness will be a constant by-product.

So I got to thinking, why is self awareness thus called?  Sure, there are plenty of books, sites and coaches that will explain how you can self assess to become more self aware.  This can only take you so far – can you truely and genuinely become more self aware without the feedback from others?  Clinical review of your behaviours through understanding profiles; written journals and logs of motives for decisions and actions are all useful and powerful.  After all, you are the only one that can genuinely know your motives.  I believe the journey towards enhanced self awareness is incomplete without feedback from others.  In my experience it is this feedback from others that offers a challenge to your own interpretations of your actions.  I believe self awareness is contextual and those around you provide a large part of the context.  Self awareness is informed by self diagnosis of internal and external data.

If you were stranded in a place with no other people around – how important is self awareness?  What role would self awareness play?  Doesn’t self awareness have the most utility when you are connected with others e.g. at work; in social context; with your life partner?

Does this mean that a complete perspective of self awareness requires assessment of feedback from others?  To improve  your own self awareness you require self aware others to provide feedback to you on your behaviours and the impact of these behaviours on them and on their perspective of you.  If so, then our current leadership paradigm is falling short.  Employee engagement levels are persistently very low, honesty and openness in interpersonal relationships (outside of life partners) is not common, communication skills are basic at best and the concept of EQ is not widespread.  Does this mean only the most persistent of us journey towards genuine self awareness?  This might explain low levels of overall societal EQ behaviours.

Conscious leadership requires high levels of self awareness of the leader and of the participants.  The environments created by conscious leaders using the micro-CHANGE framework enhance self awareness for all who participate in them.  They also enhance intrinsic motivation (IM).  By their nature, employee participation in these environments is high.  Conscious leadership also requires courage.   Once employees experience high IM, high engagement, self awareness building environments, then command and control leadership will not be attractive to them.  Could conscious leadership be a means of enhancing all aspects of employee productivity?  In the few experiences I have had in participating in these types of environments, employee productivity had significantly increased (+20% and more).

IM is the fuel, conscious environments are the engine and conscious leadership is the vehicle.

Conscious Leadership – create the environment

Hi all,

I recently read a number of articles in Business Review Australia.  Their focus was on ‘conscious capitalism’, ’employee recognition’ and ‘leadership’.  I was intrigued that BRA published all three in the same edition yet didn’t join the dots.  You see the articles on conscious capitalism and employee recognition focused on an emerging perspective  that self-awareness, genuine collaboration and doing the right and fair thing can generate superior performance and profitability over the medium term (I am paraphrasing a couple of good articles – see  I agree with these notions.

However, when I read the leadership article I was left wanting.  This article discussed the ‘results’ vs ‘people’ focus that leaders need to have.  This means that leaders need to have a balance between forming ‘connections and showing consideration’ and ‘driving for results’.  While much of the content is interesting and useful, I found myself disagreeing with the implication that leaders need to do this.  You could imply from the article that leaders need to create the environment for a balance of ‘results’ and ‘people’ – I can live with this.  However the intention of the article was that leaders need to practice their balancing act between these two dimensions and focus on each individual to motivate them using your tailored balance (people/ results) that works for that person.  This is a ‘leadership lens’ I disagree with.  This lens infers that leaders must engage every individual employee and help (make?) them choose/ act.  This micro view of a leaders influence over employees is an outdated one i.e. akin to the directed-organisation or the command and control paradigm.  I believe this is why for more than 30 years we have experienced consistently low levels of employee engagement (usually around 25% of the workforce).

The implications from the conscious capitalism and employee recognition context challenge the ‘directed-organisation’ paradigm and is not consistent with leaders directly motivating each employee.  I believe a leaders role is not individually focused but environmentally focused.  A leader can create an environment where employees strengthen their self awareness, have capacity to genuinely collaborate, where doing the right thing and fair thing is recognised and celebrated.  You already know my views – intrinsic motivation (IM) is the energy source for the future.  Such an environment will generate IM within all employees.  In this type of environment, employee engagement soars.  So leaders don’t need to balance people and results using the directed-organisation paradigm, they can focus on creating an environment where the employees can (a) identify and recognise the people and results needs that they individually have and that other employees have and (b) take transparent actions to address these needs for themselves and others.  Employees self organising within an environment designed to do the right thing for community, customers, employees, the organisation and the environment – this is what conscious leadership is about.  I believe micro-CHANGE micro-climates offer a framework for leaders to create these environments.  These environments offer the potential to break the poor track record of consistently low employee engagement levels.

For those of you that feel this is a utopian and alturistic perspective – I believe some organisations already have this in place.  Many of the leadership books written over the last 20 years have cited examples of actions to demonstrate their particular points.  The difference is that these books analysed the situation from the directed-organisation paradigm (leaders have the influence and that leadership actions manipulated the employees).  If you re-read these examples with a conscious leadership paradigm, I believe you will notice that these cases show that leaders created an environment that allowed employees to act.  From my perspective – that is a big difference.  Allowing employees to self organise is nothing new, employees have always been doing it.  Conscious leadership allows leaders to directly influence the context for employees actions.  This is the ultimate in a leaders’ self-awareness.  Are you a conscious leader?  Are you willing to break the poor employee engagement patterns of the past?  Does your organisation already have self-organising micro-climates?  I would love to hear your views and share your experiences!

Intrinsic Motivation – the energy source for the future

Hi all,

Gallup has done it again (see in their latest survey they have again confirmed employee engagement levels at around 25%.  This is consistent with Australian survey results over the last 20 years.  If you look at the 12 questions Gallup uses I think you will agree they are reasonable (perhaps even rudimentary).  Look closer at these questions – only one of them specifically says leaders and managers have to take any of these actions (Q5), yet I bet that, as you read them, you assumed the leader was responsible.  You are not alone in assuming this.

The Forbes article and many others imply that leaders need to pick up their act.  I have managed large teams of people and I understand that pressure.  The solution is simpler than we all think.  I believe the leaders and managers role is to create the environment where these 12 questions can be positively answered.

Imagine an environment where colleagues collectively set the expectations for each individual, assign tasks, provide feedback on your performance (and you on theirs), distribute and allocate resources; identify areas of skill need and who is best to fill that need etc.  Fantasy I hear you say – well these climates exist now.  Look at companies like Google, Facebook, Valve etc.  How have they created these cultures?  Can we apply that approach to our business? Can our business afford to do this?

With only 25% of your staff genuinely engaged at work, can you afford not to?  In my experience you don’t need the fancy office layouts with coffee shops and slippery slides.  You can create micro-climates within your organisation that fulfill these environmental conditions for your staff.  The micro-CHANGE framework sets out ‘how to’ create micro-climates where innovation, agility, engagement and self organisation are all promoted.  These micro-CHANGE micro-climates require different leadership behaviours.  I argue, more human behaviours.  The micro-climates generate intrinsic motivation (IM).  IM is the energy source for the future – it drives people in the most meaningful and powerful way.

So as leaders and managers, we can achieve improved organisational outcomes (profits, productivity, outputs etc) AND improved personal outcomes (relationships, work-life balance etc) by behaving differently.  Our behaviours over the last 20 years or more have consistently generated low employee engagement – let us try something different.

That is my challenge to you – try creating a micro-CHANGE micro-climate and judge the performance improvement for yourself.  Let me know how you go.

Questions Used By Gallup to determine Engagement

1. I know what is expected of me at work

2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right

3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development

7. At work, my opinions seem to count

8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important

9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work

10. I have a best friend at work

12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

More about the issue, but no solutions

Hi all,

The conversation has certainly moved forward.  Mainstream academia and many businesses now openly discuss employee engagement as the next area for enhanced productivity and performance.  It is common now to identify purpose, outcome, requirements and autonomy as desirable in getting the most from knowledge workers (doing heuristic work) and enhancing intrinsic motivation.  Like this recent blog at HBR by Jordan Cohen we can comfortably espouse what is needed.  OK, but where are the solutions!  Results Orientated Work Environments (ROWE) were mentioned as a step up from self managed teams (1980’s) and these have seen some success.  There seems to be a reluctance to genuinely seek employee engagement and all that this really means.

I believe genuine employee engagement stems from genuine intrinsic motivation (IM).  Genuine IM cannot be crafted or concocted.  Leaders and managers cannot persuade people to be intrinsically motivated.  We need a different structure.  A more social, self organising structure.  Where there are appointed leaders, managers and hierarchy then there are barriers for genuine intrinsic motivation!  I am not saying genuine IM is impossible where appointed leaders, managers and hierarchy exist, however, it is more difficult and more likely to be the result of happy circumstance and conditions rather than purposeful.

This is where micro-CHANGE comes to the fore.  This framework CAN help create microclimates where employees can self organise to mutually achieve organisational objectives and satisfy their own needs.  Micro-CHANGE microclimates ensure that employees have clarity of purpose, outcome, requirements and autonomy.  To experience genuine intrinsic motivation, organisations need to create different working environments.  These working environments require a very different leadership and management style.  I believe this is the real reason that IM and employee engagement has been so illusive – leaders and managers are not prepared to behave differently.  I have proof!

Don’t ‘Do Nothing’

Hi all,

In his recent book ‘Do Nothing’, J Keith Murnighhan outlines why he believes this is a valid leadership and management strategy.  Well in general terms, I disagree with this notion.  To be fair, the title should be ‘get out of the way and let them do their work’.  I absolutely agree with that and many of his points advocate the latter.

Employee engagement in the Western world has been stagnant or slightly declining now for well over a decade.  In Australia, surveys consistently show employee engagement at around 23%.  I believe this is directly attributable to our leadership and management practices.  In general terms, leaders and managers don’t genuinely engage with their staff.  Conversation and communication is not open and power, ego and misinterpreted control motives dominate.  On the other hand, staff don’t engage either – instead they passively await direction, often all the time knowing what needs to be done and not taking the initiative.  Why is this?  I believe it is because we don’t treat staff like people!  Organisations are made up of people and leaders/ managers have been blinded by the Western Management paradigm and the result is that it is rare that staff in organisations are treated genuinely by their supervisors.  Why can’t leaders/ managers openly communicate and engage?  Why can’t staff openly have their individual needs satisfied at work?  My belief is that we can – we just need the right environment.  If you doubt what I am saying, review the human response to every natural and man-made disaster and see individuals collectively self organise and engage to address the higher needs/ objective.

The micro-CHANGE framework is a ‘how to’ for leaders/ managers to create micro-CHANGE microclimates that allow staff to identify their own ways of satisfying an organisations objectives.  Micro-climates engage staff to diagnose their own innate needs, match these to the organisations objectives and work together with their colleagues to ‘get the job done’.  Creating environments where an organisation’s objectives are clearly communicates and staff can engage openly in how to best achieve these objectives does have its challenges.  For staff – they have to ‘step up’ and take accountability and responsibility.  For managers – they have an even bigger challenge.  Leaders and managers need to assist in creating the environment and, rather than do nothing, actively engage with their staff as colleagues.

As our society matures and the nature of work changes to more heuristic work, intrinsic motivation is the only sustainable way of engaging employees.  Leaders and managers that cannot make this shift in thinking are destined to ‘do nothing’ because they wont have a productive role in these modern organisations.

‘DRIVE’ is only the first step

Hi all,

I recently reread Daniel Pink’s book DRIVE.  If you haven’t done so, it is very worthwhile read.  The bottom line I took from the book is that extrinsic motivation works when we have ‘algorithmic’ work.  However, this type of work is reducing as our society matures.  Intrinsic motivation is the best for ‘heuristic’ work the category in which most new jobs fit.  This is why traditional reward and recognition schemes are having limited effect in more cases.  So to improve performance and productivity –> then improve intrinsic motivation.  Daniel offers some useful ways to do this (pages 162 onwards).  He also talks about Results Orientated Work Environments (ROWE).

I don’t think Daniel has gone far enough.  While he talks about ‘creating environments’ to promote intrinsic motivation, the heavy lifting is still placed on the leaders and managers to do this.  OK, this is alright as a start.  Leaders and managers can start the process, however leaders and managers cannot know, understand, assess and determine the innate needs of all their staff.  This is setting them up to fail.  The individual staff members are in the best position to know, understand, assess and determine their own innate needs.  Therefore, I believe the leaders/ managers role is in creating an environment where staff can do this.  micro-CHANGE micro-climates have the potential to do this.  The micro-CHANGE framework provides leaders/ managers with a ‘how to’ guide to developing such micro-climates.

That is why I have recommended micro-CHANGE to Daniel Pink as a component of his ‘Type I for Organizations” toolkit.

Why micro-CHANGE?

The concept of micro-CHANGE was developed in 2010 after extensive research, observation and experience working with organisations across many industry sectors for many years.  It is a simple framework that has powerful payoffs for employee engagement, productivity and business effectiveness.

micro-CHANGE leverages off the much of the current thinking on leadership, management, complexity sciences, social sciences and organisational development.  The fundamental difference with micro-CHANGE is that it challenges the Western Management Paradigm (WMP) yet can coexist within our current organisations.

Key to successful micro-CHANGE, is that leaders and managers ‘back off’ and allow staff to take accountability and responsibility for planning, organising and controlling their work.  This allows staff to create a work life that better meets their needs and improves engagement.  This is what organisations have been trying to do for many years!

Initially ‘backing off’ is a challenge for leaders and managers – they must ‘give up’ control.  In reality, they never had control and are giving up nothing – we are all blinded by the WMP.  micro-CHANGE improves agility, flexibility, responsiveness for the organisation.  This is what organisations have been crying out for!

In allowing staff to plan, organise and control, leaders can spend much more time LEADING.  This frees leaders and managers up to lead.  This is what organisations have been wanting!