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To lead others, manage yourself

Any employee who has been working in a company for even a few weeks will form opinions about the competency and daily workplace behaviour of their manager – and this opinion will have a very significant impact on the level of engagement, motivation and commitment of that employee.

I have been facilitating and consulting leadership and organisational culture change programmes in small, medium and large companies for over 25 years. One of the things that became absolutely clear early in my career is how important the daily behaviour of managers is in the morale and performance of the people they lead. Any employee who has been working in a company for even a few weeks will form opinions about the competency and daily workplace behaviour of their manager – and this opinion will have a very significant impact on the level of engagement, motivation and commitment of that employee.

When we are hired or promoted to management or executive positions, we have two roles: a management role and a leadership role. The management role is mainly about the efficient organisation or complexity – developing organisational systems, structures, business processes, budgeting, etc. By contrast, our leadership role has a strategic and (especially) a strong people focus. While both roles are important, it is our leadership role that is critically important in gaining both the trust and commitment of our company’s people.

As a leader, our first responsibility is communicating our organisation’s mission, vision and values that are intended to underpin the organisation’s culture. Doing this is both implicitly and explicitly part of a range of leadership activities such as: teambuilding, creating an environment that encourages engagement, innovation, mutual trust and respect, fostering good workplace relationships and winning peoples’ full and willing participation. It is through these types of activities that a good leader embeds the shared values that create an empowering high performance culture – and culture is the single most important factor in successfully fulfilling the organisation’s mission and achieving its vision.

The leadership role requires us to develop and use two capabilities: firstly the ability to communicate well both to and with the people we lead, and equally to really listen to them; secondly, (and even more importantly) to effectively role model the values, behaviour and workplace practices that we communicate verbally. The role modelling is critical because people will constantly compare what we, as leaders, say with what we do. And they will be far more greatly affected by our behaviour and workplace practices than by what we say.

As a leader our ability to role model is a direct function of our ability to manage ourselves effectively. This certainly requires managing our behaviour – which is what others directly see – but our behaviour is largely a result of the internal process of thinking and our emotional state. However, our thinking and emotional responses tend to occur quite spontaneously. When we are around certain types of people, when a crisis threatens to occur or does occur, or during certain types of events or situations, it’s like a button has been pushed within us. This button then sets off an emotion and perhaps some negative thoughts – and this in turn causes us to do or say something that is inconsistent with the values we have espoused.

Thus, learning to manage our behaviour (what we both say and do) requires two things:
• We need to have a really accurate and in depth understanding of the patterns of thinking and emotions that set off unwanted behaviour – and of what in our environment triggers these thoughts and emotions; and

• When a recognisable trigger is occurring or likely to occur, we need to develop and adopt strategies for intervening within ourselves to first ease, and then change, the thoughts and emotions – and then learn to make a very different behavioural response.

Two resources can be invaluable in assisting us with this process. Firstly, using a good quality psychological profiling instrument can be a very useful aid for gaining good self awareness. Secondly, using the services of a well qualified executive coach can assist us with the process of changing the mental and emotional habits that set off the unwanted behaviour – and (of course) changing the behaviour.

This can lead to one of the most important qualities a leader (or anyone) can have: a high level of self mastery.