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Rita Trehan

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Leaders are neglecting purpose, connection and collaboration

Many leaders are out of touch with what today’s workforce needs. Purpose, connection and collaboration are key – neglect them at your peril.

A strong, long-term trend towards digitalisation in business and life was sent into overdrive last year. Unable to go into offices, those running organisations in even the most old-fashioned sectors were forced to embrace Zoom, Google Meets, Teams, and a panoply of other forms of technology that have now almost become synonymous with the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is perhaps unsurprising then, that in 2021, many are appreciating the value of technology in driving wholesale business transformation. Organisations that can use data to inform their decision-making will be able to adapt in the face of volatility, so goes the thinking.

The solution... is a change in mindset from the leadership, and a wider, cultural change in how we think and talk about good leadership.

This is only one piece of the puzzle, however. Central to the kind of business transformation that will make modern organisations truly future-proof is an emphasis on the triad of purpose, connection and collaboration. In fact, without this, a genuinely comprehensive understanding of the technological and data needs of an organisation is hard to attain.

Purpose, connection and collaboration, all of which are bound up with inclusivity, are prerequisites to long-term success for modern businesses. Without them, organisations start to come apart at the seams.

Focus in the wrong areas

This was laid bare in a survey run by my company, Dare Worldwide, in collaboration with the global polling giant YouGov. We spoke to over a 1,000 employees in the United States about their working experiences, including their perceptions of their leadership teams and what they perceived to be the weak spots in their respective organisations.

One major takeaway was that the prevailing focus of leaders in US businesses has to do primarily with factors relating to expediency – factors that will have only a minimal impact on company performance over the next five years. In those areas key to achieving long-term sustainability – purpose, connection and collaboration – employees gave their companies relatively low ratings. Leaders are devoting their time and energy to the wrong things.

Our survey made it clear that there is a real problem with leadership in the business world.

The solution to this is a change in mindset from the leadership, and a wider, cultural change in how we think and talk about good leadership. We must be wary of fetishising both the visionary type of leader and the autocratic type of leader, rejecting both in favour of mature, humble, transparent leadership of the kind that invites criticism and scrutiny and allows a wealth of diverse perspectives to colour and be involved in decision-making.

Start from a place of awareness

Leaders themselves, many of whom are being guided by past successes rather than future needs, must have the courage to admit to having gaps in their knowledge, and to articulate a sincere, long-term commitment to an inclusive governance style. This alone will begin to heal the fractures that have emerged between leaders and their teams, and between teams stuck in silos, which have widened during the pandemic.

Leaders can also work backwards from those forms of behaviour that harm inclusivity. They can avoid working according to their own values, rather than the values of the organisation, and from isolating themselves from their teams. They cannot assume that what worked in the past will work in the future; this is a kind of fallacy that is especially dangerous in a changing and unstable world.

They must look honestly at those around them and ask themselves whether they are receiving the honest feedback they need to do their work well. So-called ‘yes men’ can be toxic to a leader, warping the reality of a situation and inviting bad decisions to be made. They must consider whether they have developed (or are developing) a reputation as someone unapproachable; without having a sense of psychological safety, employees will be far less likely to speak their minds.

As with anything, awareness is the first step to making positive change. Our survey made it clear that there is a real problem with leadership in the business world. Being honest about that, communicating it, and committing to doing things differently is a good start. The next step is to translate that to action.

Interested in this topic? Read The four Cs of humane leadership.

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