How can a sustainable leadership practice improve team performance?

Are you a Manager, or part of a team, that often feels like the energy of your group flips all over the place? Let’s not criticise this – it’s actually natural for energy to shift and change. What isn’t ideal, is allowing it to free-flow without awareness of what is driving the fluctuations, leading to a sense of being out of control. Teams cannot expect energy levels to remain the same in this sped up, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we play in. However there are opportunities to steady the pace, and look at ways of changing team dynamics and behaviours to stabilise and drive optimal performance.

Working with teams, I often get feedback that the pace of the group is too much. For some it is overwhelming to attend a weekly progress meeting as what is required to be delivered is pushing their limits, or there’s an imbalance in focus and energy (aka enthusiasm or drive) within the group, or often the team is not educated or familiar enough with each other to be able to exploit one another’s differences and similarities to sustain the vitality, connections with one another, and ambitions of the group. Just as individuals have finite amounts of energy, so does a group – and regular modifications are required to maintain performance over time.

What’s driving us away from these types of behaviours (and conversations)?

Team success is often driven and measured by sales or revenue – the bottom line of the financial sheet – not looking at the wellbeing of the staff, retention figures may come into play as a measure of success, but not the ways the group treats (or feels about) one another.

Which leads to the point we don’t have the language, permission to discuss, and trust between the team members, to have open conversations on energy levels, wellbeing and admitting when you may be struggling (inside or outside of work).

There is a current fixation on short-term rewards for Managers, which can often lead to driving profits and revenue at any cost, which leads to long hours, loss of productivity, and ultimately the departure of top talent.

People can fall into destructive behaviours by acting on unconscious judgments. Some common examples… why one person is allowed to leave earlier, how workload is distributed, what balance means to us all and how its interpreted e.g. being single (you’re able to work back later) to having a family (less hours visible on the floor translates to not working as hard). These reactions become the culture of the team. People jump to conclusions, blame, see negatives and hang on to gossip.

People don’t often stop and think ‘why’. To see the person beyond their behavior, what may be driving ‘undesirable’ actions, having open conversations and offering constructive feedback. There is a reluctance to want to help one another, often seen as ‘too hard’ basket.

A sustainable leadership practice in teams sees the wellbeing of the business and it’s people as a joint responsibility

It’s actually walking the talk. Not promoting externally that you have curfews on everyone leaving on time (as staff growl at being there past 6pm to manage Client requests vs. permission to re-prioritise), sponsoring flexible hours (and then requesting all staff be in the office and marked on a roll by 9am), allowing staff to hang back socialising so they can get a free meal and taxi ride home (endorsing ‘working back’ beliefs), some people love their job and are willing to put in the hours because they are passionate about a project (but not penalising others for a dissonance in enthusiasm or priorities), or rewarding people for going ‘above and beyond’ whilst not actually delivering the core requirements of the role.

Consider some of the behaviours in your place of work – and the congruency on what is promoted vs. behaved…

Here is one pivot a team could make… what if your team had an open conversation at the weekly meeting on what each individuals ‘focus areas where’? Perhaps why a parent needs to come in late for a school award assembly, why one person is training for a half marathon, how another has a sick grandparent, how a particular deadline is driving anxiety and overwhelm in two team members and who can help resource what needs to get done in time? Consider how could this lead to a more compassionate state of awareness about one another.

Sustainable leadership practice in teams is about presence and awareness, and building your ability to have relational intelligence

Steve Saccone coined the term relational intelligence. It means moving beyond emotional resilience to cultivating deeper empathy and rapport with people, the ability to connect and hold compassion. This ability requires skills in awareness, presence and mindfulness. To stop and reflect on what is important and how it is influencing behavior. Often tied up with both personal and team values, and how these are translated through thoughts, emotions and actions. It’s also about listening, deeply.

If you’d like to delve into Values further, please see the link here to a previous blog in this area.

The best way to learn and practice is through mindfulness or attention training, building a stronger mind muscle. If your leadership presence is an open heart and a trained mind, you’re able to listen to your inner wisdom and intuition more effectively and create solutions that benefit the entire team.

How can a team apply relational intelligence?

It’s never on the shoulders of a ‘designated leader’ (by title) to apply relational intelligence principles, but rather for each individual to take on being able to lead themselves and the team, in a healthy sustainable approach to managing energy. The ability to manage a team in a sustainable way is directly connected to:

–      The ability to connect; with yourself, others in the team, and the wider culture of the company inside and out.

–      The ability to skillfully navigate change; being responsive, holding ambiguity, endorsing collaboration, being respectful and creative in solving problems

–      Knowing how to influence; vs. emphasis on titles

–      The ability to genuinely reach out; an awareness of, and ability to respond appropriately with others emotional states.

To quote Janice Marturano, “when we’re better able to master our mind, and see our capabilities clearly, we re-organise the chaos of our world. We see our own ripple effect. We can make choices on how the ripple impacts others and us. These choices are fuelled by our ability to stop and see beyond the ‘crisis’ of today, beyond our next objective, beyond ourselves, and the narrow focus to get ahead. You’re more frequently able to see the bigger picture”.

How can you integrate it into your way of being?

How can you take responsibility? How can you start with one thing, and do it really well?

The next blog we’re going to look at having a wider impact outside your direct team, to influence change for sustainable leadership principles across the organisation.

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‘be the change you wish to see’  - Mahatma Gandhi