Basic 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. In this second part of the concise guide to find orientation in today’s uncertain business world, the rest of the alphabet from N to Z is in the focus. Learn all about the letters A to M in the first part of the ABC of Leadership Values.
Only few situations are as nerve-racking as a flood of input combined with pressure to perform and make effective decisions. But that is often the very setting managers operate in today. Middle management is frequently confronted with new and often unclear leadership roles. This takes resilience because resilient people not only successfully handle challenging and demanding situations in life, they also excel in putting their experiences to use to master future challenges. Self-care is a key component here: successful leaders keep themselves and their nerves fit by getting enough rest, sleep, and exercise.
Leading should never be an end in itself or only serve the leader’s ego. Entrepreneurial thinking, which includes the ability to plan ahead and have a vision, is a requirement managers fit for the future must meet. They have to be able to look beyond the borders of their own teams and departments and make decisions that serve the long-term well-being of their organizations. They must be committed to the company, owning the decisions they make based on this dedication.
Never before has the world been so ambiguous. Many things can be interpreted in two or several ways. They are uncertain or true only for a limited time. Managers need pragmatism to gain a healthy perspective and to not lose courage in the face of uncertainty. What is necessary is the guts to slowly proceed into unknown territories, taking preliminary decisions and flexibly adapting them. In a nutshell: acting pragmatically.
Quality trumps quantity, also when it comes to leadership: it has to be of high quality with regard to the results and the corporate culture. Simply meeting key figures does not suffice anymore today. High-quality leadership opens up space for creativity, innovation, and co-creation, motivating employees to try new things and drive the organization forward.
Respect is valuing people, systems, society, your neighbor. It means appreciating and defending diversity. Being open and generous towards others, not trying to change who another person is. From a manager’s point of view, respect has two dimensions: respect for others and respect to be earned. Both are based on the same principle: listen to other people and meet them on an equal footing. Admit your own mistakes. Act based on clear and transparent principles that apply to all people in the same way. Help people feel at ease and make clear decisions, which you justify.
A lack of self-confidence is usually not a problem managers struggle with – and that is not necessarily a bad thing. A healthy dose of confidence does not seek to overpower others. To strike this balance, managers have to practice self-reflection. It enables them to get to know themselves better and gain awareness of what motivates them, how they treat themselves, and how they lead. Identifying blind spots through conscious reflection also helps them grow as leaders.
More and more work is handled in teams, in a process of collaboration and co-creation. This means that teams are increasingly working on finding solutions for assignments that used to be divided into individual tasks. Listening to others and attempting to understand their motivations and reasoning helps you extend your own horizon instead of stubbornly insisting on things you already know. This is an integral part of the ability to effectively work in a team. Team spirit also means keeping one’s ego in check for the benefit of the shared objective, i.e. moving from the “I” to a more productive “we.” In other words: less “IQ,” more “WQ.”
Often we are too busy to try to truly understand something. Yet understanding is a very important component of successful leadership: understanding why something went wrong, seeing the big picture, grasping the motivations and needs of staff members – all of these things are components of leadership excellence. Really understanding something requires attention and time. Especially in peak times when we are all prone to panic-driven reactions instead of conscious actions, we should take the time to gain a clear picture of what is going on and only then calmly make decisions.
Goals and target agreements only go so far in today’s volatile business world. By necessity, they are short-term and concluded step by step. For this reason, the holistic vision behind these goals is becoming more important: where should the company be headed; what will its values and solutions look like in the future? Particularly managers need a vivid vision of the organization’s future that is able to excite others – both employees and customers. And a visionary future needs appropriate actions in the daily business endeavors of the present.
If you ask Wikipedia, wisdom is “the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight.” Somebody who acts wisely proceeds carefully and with tact and adopts a bird’s perspective on a situation. An egocentric way of cleverness, coming off as quick on your feet and witty, is just one part of the story. Also emotional intelligence that seeks to achieve something for the greater good is getting more and more important.
Recent marketing surveys leave no doubt about it: customers like to experience things up close, leading to purchasing decisions. And what is true for the customer journey in sales is also applicable to the leadership journey of executives. What are points of conversion at which your staff members feel that they are being led by the manager? What are their experiences with the manager? How is he or she perceived? What do employees expect and demand of future leadership functions? Leaders who succeed in imagining and understanding the experiences of their employees are better at actively and consciously influencing how work is perceived, as a result of which they can inspire staff to be enthusiastic about change. A key element of truly living this value is to constantly reflect on one’s own leadership style (see self-reflection).
Searching the greater cause in one’s job has become a trend as more and more people embark on the journey to identifying their authentic (professional) self. Passion and purpose are not only keywords in vogue in the Silicon Valley; also Austrian companies eager to incorporate a start-up spirit in their corporate culture and logic cannot do without these qualities. If we perceive our work as purposeful, passion is a logical consequence. And it also works the other way around: it is easy to see the purpose of something we are passionate about. Many people do not feel that their job has a purpose because the big picture and their personal contribution to a greater goal have become obscured in the complexity of today’s reality. At some organizations, the corporate purpose is too abstract or a commitment only made on paper. Purpose has to be the goal of a conscious search. And you can also adopt the right approach to feeling that there is a purpose – by becoming aware of your own effectiveness.
Somebody who is zealous is actively invested in a cause and devotes much time and energy to it. In the professional world, we need passion when knowledge and experience have reached a dead end. Passion produces energy, focus, and resilience and is, next to health, the most valuable capital we have. It is the passion to keep trying new things and uncovering novel paths that enables managers to inspire their teams to do the same. Many people are not in touch with their own sense of purpose and intrinsic motivation. But it is still possible to excite them about a fascinating project – if you are passionate yourself and truly invested in it.
If you want to read the first part of the ABC of Leadership Values, please click here.