Leadership Best Practices don’t make a great leader. But here’s what actually does.

I desperately try to stop my knees from shaking, as we wait to present the outcome of a very critical project to the CEO. Barely a couple of years out of university, I am still very much a rookie. I can hardly believe that my boss entrusted a rookie with something so high visibility on the CEO’s goals, gave me the autonomy to do it unconventionally, and dragged me into a presentation with this iconic CEO. He took a chance on me, even when I hadn’t earned his trust yet. Joydeep is one of the best bosses I’ve ever worked with. What stands out the most about him is his authenticity.

Let’s take another story.

The frustrated leadership team has gathered in a conference room for what seems like the thousandth review of the same results. “I’ve just got 2 more resignations in my team” says Maya. “These pointless reviews exponentially increase the workload on the team, and they can’t get the critical deliverables out”, she says. The team has come to expect this knee jerk reaction, panic, excessive control and reviews whenever their leader is under pressure. They sense his mistrust, and it crushes their spirit.

This leader is amazing on his best days, but the opposite when he is under pressure. He doesn’t realize the impact he has on his team. He doesn’t know what triggers him, or who he becomes when he is under stress.

Like me, I am sure you know both these kinds of leaders.

Who do you think is the right leader for the future of work?

We are at THE tipping point of the Greatest Leadership Challenge of our times.

People Leaders directly impact the largest number of employees… yet they don’t feel equipped for the future of work

People leaders drive 70% of the variance in employee engagement YET 71% of them are not very confident in their ability to address talent retention and >50% don’t feel equipped to manage team performance or workload. This is alarming. What is more worrying is that many organizations over index on technology solutions to manage scale, while not investing enough in building deep leadership capability for the future of work. It is like using band-aids for a surgical incision and hoping it holds!

Leaders are causing burnout… and they are burning out themselves

Employee burnout has become an epidemic with 89% saying they have experienced burnout since 2020. A Gallup study shows that the top 5 causes of employee burnout have a common link – the manager. (Gallup 2022 Global Workplace Study) The cost  of stress related absenteeism alone are estimated at $154 bn. This is alarming.
What is even more worrying is that 60% of leaders themselves are feeling significant burnout, exacerbated by not feeling equipped by their organization or supported by their own leaders.

People expect more…and are willing to tolerate less

Work-life integration has become more of a norm, as the lines between work and life blurred. This has created the impetus to embrace the complexity of the whole human being at work, if we want people to be at their best and thrive.
This requires a different leadership style, one that can meet the needs of diverse human beings in a team, and help each of them thrive.
A leader has to help their team navigate the impact of multiple black swan events and the increasing headwinds that their people are facing, as well as the micro and macro factors – from pandemic to war to inflation to social unrest to unprecedented natural disasters, to the epidemic of loneliness, to rising levels of global unhappiness, stress and burnout, to the sheer collective grief from losing loved ones to the pandemic. This requires empathy, actionable empathy at a very different level.

The imminent need for continuous innovation for a VUCA world

Digital natives work differently, collaborate differently, and build communities and culture differently. They are learning to seamlessly integrate people, technologies and AI to enhance productivity in new and unexpected ways.
In this environment of continuous disruption, the need for innovation is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Our only hope is the infinity of human potential, and the leaders who can enable it.

Leadership Best Practices are NOT the answer

Think of the best leaders you’ve ever worked with, you may not remember their best practices but you will remember who they were at their core.

In our Listening Labs, we invited people to talk to us, about their best and worst day at work. They shared intensely personal stories of the leaders who helped them thrive, and the leaders who were soul crushing.

They talked about the leaders they trusted, the ones who had their back, the ones who cared for them, took a chance on them. Interestingly, they didn’t focus on the tactics or ‘best practices’ either. Rather they focused on who the leaders were at their core and how they showed up consistently.

We talked to several beloved leaders as well. Interestingly, they didn’t talk about best practices either! They talked about their journey to discover who they wanted to be as a leader, their purpose, the aha moments and internal struggles. We’ve seen this in our own journeys too. This inner work is crucial in our journey to grow as a leader.

Best practices are about activity. The inner work is about delivering an outcome.

It is not the number of 1x1s, but rather the quality of the conversation.
It is not sending random impersonal gifts to show you care, but rather being there for them in tough times.
It is not sending someone for a tick-the-box training program, but rather about helping them grow, apply what they learnt, and live upto their true potential.
It is not about summarily asking ‘how are you?’, but rather waiting to hear the answer to understand what support they need.

What makes a good leader – the missing link

Most of us fall into leadership. We rarely have the time or space to reflect on who we are, who we want to be as a leader, and what is the impact we want to have on our team. We rarely have the opportunity to do the inner work, that is necessary in our journey to grow as a leader.

As we face rising headwinds and expectations, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to operate. Leaders can quickly go from being busy and effective, to being too busy to be effective.

Leaders need a strong anchor. Without a strong anchor, leaders can be like a leaf blowing aimlessly in a storm – no direction, no grounding, no consistency, no impact.

And the strongest anchor we have, is our authenticity, and it comes from having a clear purpose, values and a seamless integration between who we are, how we lead and how we translate our purpose into everyday actions.

But, how do we OPERATIONALIZE AUTHENTICITY? How do we translate intent into everyday actions?
Unfortunately, very few organizations focus on this inner work in the design of their programs.

So, what can we do?

We need to equip leaders to help their team thrive in this complex new world of work. We need to shift our focus from peddling best practices as the answer to developing leaders, and start focusing on helping leaders do the inner work and build a strong core that stands the test of time.

Mindful Leadership is the greatest unlock for the future of work.

What is Mindful Leadership

Mindful leadership is about connecting who you are, to how you lead, to translating your purpose into everyday actions that help your teams and businesses thrive.

Mindful Leaders:

are Powered by their Purpose and
Are Anchored in their Authenticity
Connect who they are to How they lead
Translate their purpose into everyday actions, in good times and bad, at crossroads and crises
challenge status quo and existing paradigms
Do different things…differently

We see this consistently in the leaders we interview on The Mindful Leadership Podcast. We started this podcast because we often see successful people, but  never get a glimpse into the crossroads they were at, how they made choices that defined their life, what were they thinking, and why is it important to them. You will hear stories of how these leaders make the choice to translate their purpose into everyday actions, even under pressure, even in crises, even at crossroads, and that is what sets them apart.

Isn’t that the kind of leader we all want to work for?

In our leader workshops and coaching, we use proven tools as well as proprietary methodologies to help leaders on this journey. We can help you on your journey to develop leaders of the future.

Learn more about Mindful Leadership and what we do here.

Listen to the Mindful Leadership Podcast here.

If you want to learn more about how Mindful Leadership can help your business, schedule a 30 min free call (link in comments). You get to pick our brain, we get to pick yours…great deal!

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Data Sources: Gallup 2022 Global Workplace Study; Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2020; Cigna’s Loneliness Index data, Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, 2022; DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2021

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