Are You Stuck in the Old Way?

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It was once enough, or so we thought, for leaders to lead from the front, forge ahead, direct people where to go and performance manage them if they didn't follow. 

It was once enough for leaders to get in the trenches and work beside their people, helping them do their work, sometimes finishing it for them.

And it was once enough to measure success on numbers alone - number of dollars, resources, hours worked. 

But all of that belongs to the old way, the old paradigm of leadership.... and it's no longer enough to meet the outcomes that business, community and economies are forecasting and the practices people are seeking.

Bigger questions are being asked than we dared ask before, more demands are being made than we once considered ourselves worthy of making, and expectations are heightened beyond what we ever considered were fair to expect.

The world has changed, people are waking up and leadership must evolve with it. To meet the hunger for opportunity from new generations who want more than a job, leaders now need to choose how they lead, rather than lead from default.

Where once we relied upon our expertise, experience and a dose of our personality, leaders now need to assess their ability to engage their people, meet them where they're at and take them further in ways that inspire people to buy-in rather than check-out.


The ability of leaders to influence their people is a skillset most leaders need to re-learn. I use the term re-learn because these skills are innate in all of us, we've just divested our focus and energy for so long that they now feel foreign.

The new leadership paradigm is about trust. The kind of trust that empowers people to share their ideas, own their mistakes and challenge the status quo with no fear of judgement, rejection or being ostracised. 

When trust is high, we know that stress goes down, and engagement, satisfaction and productivity increase.

This kind of trust, though, doesn't wait for everyone else to change, it's not conditional or co-dependent - that's the old model most organisations still operate within. 

The new paradigm of trusted leadership is built through self-leadership and co-creative teams. Where everyone leads from a foundation of self-awareness, self-responsibility and self-accountability, and from there people contribute to their best to each other and the common vision.

The evolution has already arrived and organisations that are holding onto the old model in fear of the unknown are suffering significant opportunity cost. As Stephen M. R. Covey shares in his book The Speed of Trust, "trust is not a 'nice to have', it's a hard nosed business asset that speeds business up."

The kind of language you'll hear in teams that have cultivated this kind of trust is:

- I think we're on different paths, can you explain it in another way to help me understand?
- I'm not sure if I'm doing this right, what am I missing?
- The story I'm telling myself about this that what you meant? (I love how Brene Brown uses this phrase for the meaning we add to things)
- I'm scared I'm going to fail here, do you have any advice?
- I don't know how to have this conversation, will you help me?
- We covered this last week, what will be different after this conversation and what do you need from me to ensure we don't repeat ourselves next week?

If your people aren't leaning in and challenging themselves and each other daily with intention, accountability and partnership, then your trust diagnosis would return an opportunity for improvement.

This is good news though because you now have an opportunity to cause transformational change, as opposed to slow and incremental improvement over time.

As a leader, whether formal or informal, to build trust you must go first. There's no getting around that. 

1. Become more self aware - Daniel Goleman, psychologist and known for his work in emotional intelligence, quotes self-awareness as the first pillar of mindfulness. Understand your triggers, catch your negative self-talk, be aware of how you impact others - do you leave them empowered to act or defensive and feeling they need to cover their tracks?

2. Actively look for new opportunities for self-responsibility. If you are human you are blaming someone about something. Find where you're doing this and ask yourself "what can I be responsible for here?" or "what did I miss?" Give yourself permission to be human and model the behaviour you want to see in your people.

3. Initiate the conversations you've been avoiding and do it with new self-awareness and from a new level of self-responsibility. Results will surprise you.

Leading the future requires us to develop skills we may have put off for 'one day'. That day has arrived. Attracting and retaining top talent means organisations need to position themselves as offering much more than a good job with a few perks.

Your trust climate communicates what you value and how you treat yourself and others. People with big questions will be looking for you to answer what kind of trust you are creating.