Fundamental values for clarity and stability
Today’s brave new world of labor is uncertain, volatile, and ambiguous. Simple solutions have long since ceased to exist; goals are quickly becoming obsolete; talent has become a rare resource. As numerous professions are undergoing a digital transformation, also leadership must be redefined. But what can you rely on when everything around you is changing? Managers navigating today’s stormy waters can focus on fundamental values in order to gain clarity and stability.
Helga Pattart-Drexler, Head of Executive Education at the WU Executive Academy, and leadership expert Susanna Wieseneder have joined forces to develop an ABC of leadership values for managers, a list of core values providing an overview of what successful leadership means today and will mean in the future. Refer to this concise guide to find orientation in today’s uncertain business world regarding the values from A to M - find out everything from N like nerves to Z like zeal in the second part of the ABC of Leadership Values, which will appear in the next issue of our newsletter on April 2, 2020.
Just as it is important to take your own values and corporate values seriously, you must also appreciate your team members’ values. This does not merely mean back-patting and paying lip service. Managers who have a sound understanding of what is truly important to their team members and act accordingly are showing real appreciation.
Balance is an important quality of self and employee management in a world obsessed with “peak performance” and continuously getting “faster, higher, stronger.” A manager lacking balance will hardly be wise and mindful enough to treat employees, customers, and products in a respectful and productive way. Part of this quality is being able to create a satisfying work-life balance, an effective antidote to burnout for both executives and their teams.
In a time in which every day seems to produce a new challenge for companies – disruptive business models introduced by competitors, digitization, turbulences on the markets – optimism is a crucial leadership skill. Being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel even though the path itself might still be unclear due to unforeseeable eventualities and obstacles is a quality providing basic trust and thus a sense of security, both for managers and employees.
Being a dedicated leader is an ambitious goal. Managers need to see and understand the impact of their actions, both positive and negative, on other people. Only then can they lead with dedication. People regarded as “born leaders” are often not naturals after all. It is their conscious reflection of their role and their passion about other people that makes them truly dedicated leaders.
Empowering others is a key quality managers should possess. To be able to do so, managers need to feel empowered themselves: only leaders with a good grasp of their own power and effectiveness – not as tokens securing their status but as qualities enabling positive outcomes for their organizations – can help other people rise, push them by emphasizing their strengths, and provide suitable framework conditions for them in which they can develop their full potential. The result is not only improved productivity but also more resilience in tough times.
We are living in an overstimulated world. More and more people are finding it hard to focus. Only when we learn to stay focused can we adequately sort out the masses of information we are flooded with and make well-founded decisions. Here it is key to take the context into account and distinguish between open and closed concentration. When a soccer player passes the ball to a teammate, open concentration is required: the player has to see the big picture, the entire field, to strategically decide to whom to pass the ball. Closed concentration is required in a penalty shootout: the players have to focus on scoring a goal. Working in an open concentration mode is today’s standard setting: we take in all kinds of stimulations using multiple senses and are easily distracted. To stay focused when exercising leadership, be it in conversations, technical topics, or decision-making, has the added perk of providing orientation to other people.
Yesterday’s world of labor was about status, climbing the career ladder, and egocentrically securing your piece of the cake. On today’s labor market, creation is always a joint effort: everybody contributes something to a fictitious pot of shared wealth. Managers are well advised to adopt a mindset of giving: they should be generous, make conscious efforts to contribute something to the team and the organization’s corporate culture, and say thank you when somebody else has done their part.
You simply cannot do without humor in professional life because it is a kind of air-conditioning system. It creates a constructive climate, offsets imbalances, and facilitates collaboration – provided the joke is not at somebody’s expense. To really excel with regard to this value, you have to be able to laugh about yourself: this creates the greatest sense of relief and has a constructive force. Humor also lets people feel connected, it eases tensions, and builds resilience. When it comes to work, we all tend to take things too seriously. Of course, humor cannot be forced, but funny managers are often the most popular ones. As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that any corporate culture will benefit from some tongue-in-cheek inputs.
In today’s industrialized business world, rational decisions are taken based on measurable parameters. But as the pace of change is getting faster and faster, measured data alone are becoming an insufficient basis for good decision-making. Algorithms are doing wonders in some fields but are useless in others. For some tasks, human intuition is needed as it is made up of subconsciously stored experiences a person has accumulated in her or his life. When quick decision-making is required, intuition can be the way to go. In a next step, adaptations can be made. Keep in mind, however, that it is risky to solely rely on intuition in a field you have no experience in.
How many balls are you currently juggling? It is easy to throw balls up into the air but keeping them there is a different story. And let’s not even start on catching them. Most companies work on too many projects and initiatives at the same time. Managers have to be able to juggle really well, requiring physical discipline and the skill to focus their attention. It is not about keeping your eyes on a given ball but getting a feeling for the whole situation. If that is successfully accomplished, the brain automatically and routinely does the rest. People who juggle a lot of demands in different spheres of their lives surely benefit from this skill but they also need breaks and time away from work.
Many corporate leaders and managers prefer to talk about the system’s faults rather than about their own mistakes and thus their responsibility. Humility means recognizing that some circumstances in one’s immediate and wider surroundings simply have to be accepted. A person who does not shut him- or herself off from feeling the disappointment of having failed knows what true humility really means. People who know that they can err and seek part of the blame in themselves when something goes wrong do not take themselves too seriously or think of other people as beneath or above them. But humility is only a true asset when it is paired with kindness. Everybody makes a mistake now and then, and a kind and understanding supervisor can enable the employee to learn from it. And last but not least, managers also have to look upon their own shortcomings with kindness, remembering that they are only humans too.
We are taught to think in a linear way (if A, then B) when growing up. But modern business life does not always work this way. It needs lateral thinkers. On the paper, many firms look for people who “think outside the box,” but only few organizations know how to utilize this creative capacity. Why is that the case? Lateral thinkers are effective if they are allowed to really think and act laterally, outside of the norm, rules, and the established culture. They can only provide fresh impetus to an organization when they are also permitted to communicate laterally. They need a clear commitment by the management board in order not to be penalized for their unorthodox ways. Hedge funds rely on chess masters to identify patterns, energy enterprises work with meteorologists to support them in the transition to sustainable types of energy, and consulting companies have started to hire designers and anthropologists. The success is overwhelming. The question is: are you prepared to deal with lateral thinkers?
Practice mindfulness to regain your inner balance when the going gets rough. There are several ways to do so: meditation, taking breaks and time off, practicing mindful communication. If managers acquire mindfulness and act as role models of a mindful life, everybody around them will benefit. Mindfulness boosts clarity of vision and a respectful communication style. Research has shown that the introduction of mindfulness improves a company’s corporate culture, provided that it is not misinterpreted as a tool to increase efficiency. A mindful corporate culture is a goal in itself that lets everybody in an organization thrive.
To find out how these values are conveyed in WU Executive Academy programs, please click here.