In 2016 McKinsey & Company conducted a study of more than 52,000 managers, 86% rated themselves as inspiring and good role models. In the same year, a Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of their employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring.
What’s wrong with this picture?
There is a stark disconnect between how leaders see themselves and how others see them. You could put this down to attribution bias – we attribute only good explanations for our own behavior. But the disconnect is bigger than that. When it affects tens of thousands of managers across thousands of companies it becomes systemic. And it results in the following dysfunctions:
• Managers don’t listen to feedback and so they don’t change their behavior.
• Employees feel trapped with managers who are not leading or guiding them.
• Managers don’t accept contrary views or ideas which disrupt their view of themselves.
• Employees don’t speak up for fear of being shut down.
• Creativity and innovation suffer.
• Organisational culture becomes rule-bound at best, and toxic at worst.
To close the gap between self-perception and others’ perceptions, leaders will need to embrace these six principles:
1. Practice mindfulness
While much has been written about the benefits of mindfulness training, at the very least it can help better focus energy and develop resilience. Paradoxically, mindfulness training can lead to a deeper and more accurate level of self-awareness, and a detachment from external determinants of self-identity. Leaders who practice mindfulness report feeling more in tune with their inner world and more aware of others. They also feel released from the need to please others as a measure of their performance. Instead they make better judgements based on their own values and purpose.
2. Practice Kindness and Compassion
Kindness is one of the simplest acts of support we can show others, but corporate life breeds it out of us. We are told self-criticism is what keeps us accountable and improves our performance. We become our own harshest critics and then take out our frustrations on others. But studies over the past decade show the multiple benefits from being kind to oneself include resilience after failure, lower levels of depression and anxiety, and a better overall quality of life.
Compassion is allowing yourself to be moved by someone else’s suffering and experiencing the motivation to do something to alleviate it. Compassion is also about understanding people at an emotional level, and genuinely caring abut their well-being. In fact, it’s hard to think of a way in which compassion is not relevant to leadership, success and well-being. Leaders with high empathy and compassion, who can connect with others succeed, and their bottom line is better.
3. Practice Tolerance for Divergent Values
Acceptance of diversity of views means you may have strong feelings about something, but also understand why someone else might have different feelings about it. It doesn’t mean that you give up on your values, but you can also understand why someone else may feel or think differently. Leaders who readily acknowledge diversity of views, ideas, beliefs, and values are more prepared to change their mind if new information presents itself. And they are better placed to foster creativity and innovation in their organisations.
4. Practice Emotion Regulation
Control over your emotions is not absence of emotions, but having control over the magnitude and the variation of them. All too often we see leaders who “go ballistic”, thump the table, scream, shout, or cry. These are not the hallmarks of a fully self-aware, people-centred leader. Emotion regulation is about reducing the severity of both depression and excitement. At the same time, it’s somewhat on the positive side and associated with well-being and happiness.
5. Practice Intellectual Humility
You cannot be right all the time. There are limits to your own knowledge, and the current era of open source and digital disruption presents a high degree of ambiguity and uncertainty. Self-awareness comes through being humble about oneself and acknowledging that no outcome can be certain. Leaders must assess the information available but not spend a lot of time thinking abut the pros and cons of everything. At some point a decision has to be made.
6. Foster Psychological Safety
Speaking up at work can be difficult. People worry that their boss or colleagues will criticize them. As a result, people hold back on everything from good ideas to great questions. But by fostering psychological safety, leaders can encourage a free flow of ideas and robust debate. The key tenants of psychological safety are:
• Civility – Attending to what others contribute and responding with consideration.
• Fight fair – Debating contrasting ideas or other’s viewpoints yet respectfully disagreeing.
• Be Supportive – Using supportive language and not resorting to sarcasm or put-downs.
Practicing these six principles will help the disconnected leader to close the self-other perception gap and lead a more innovative organisation into the Fourth Industrial Revolution!