Organizational leadership today is finding itself in a rapidly changing landscape or context. Not just because of the multitude of global crises that are raging, but also because of longer-term changes in our society which have led to human resources, executive coaching and therapy, and mindfulness at work. Leaders and managers of all stripes and ranks have to increasingly be truly comfortable with their emotions and those of others, as they flex their influencing styles to bring out the best ideas from the team and guide them into the decision-making processes of their organization.
This means all leaders and managers are having more challenging, more intimate, and more exposing personal conversations with their staff and direct reports. All other more ‘administrative’ aspects of leadership will be taken over by computers or artificial intelligence, or they will be resisted as stifling, autocratic, or pointless. Leaders have to increasingly get out of the way of their reports, whilst deeply connecting with them.
This means leaders will have to learn much more deeply to ‘coach’ their team and individual employees. Equally important, those reports will have to be allowed to coach the leader in turn. In other words, openness to everyone’s suggestions, feelings, and ideas has been shown to be of crucial importance (De Haan & Kasozi, 2013). This includes the ability to be swayed by those contributions, to be confused by them at times but still remaining curious, and to not always know the answer to them whilst remaining calm and secure.
More and more of us are having to bring our ‘whole person’ to the workplace, in order to contribute the feelings, hunches, and creative ideas that are being called for. That means that we will have to wrestle with our demons in the workplace – with our very own, highly personal leadership shadows. Shadow patterns, born out of neglect or overuse of leadership strength, are a demonstrable consequence of all leadership, but they are also where those really good ideas and challenges come from. If a leader realizes that they are very good at gossip but as a consequence, some people do not feel safe around them, or another leader realizes they are very passionate and that comes through, but that people are scared of them as well – then that moment of realization can bring great freshness and new solutions. For balance and security, the observations from their team need to be integrated into their leadership strengths, the ‘bright side’ of our leadership.
All of this means leaders will have to open up personal conversations with employees around motivation and suggestions for change, deepen those conversations, release emotions and doubts, find ways to look at conflict and confusion together, and find creative ways to integrate the many ideas and feelings that are around so that the team innovates. Part of the challenge is to acknowledge and openly share and reflect on shadow patterns where they exist.
We have developed models of this kind of coaching and consulting for managers. Coaching to bring out the best of your individual contributors. Consulting to bring out the best of your leadership team and make the best decisions, which should be made through distributed leadership, i.e. everyone taking responsibility and influencing top decisions so that they become a demonstrably better quality (Surowiecki, 2005).