In Fred Kofman’s book, The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership, I read about the reasons that engagement initiatives quite often fail. Often such initiatives stem from results of engagement surveys showing what people want or what is lacking. In an effort to increase the engagement scores, leaders may be tempted to provide what people seem to be looking for – for example, leadership skills training.
If they do this, they may not look beyond this tactical aspect. Unfortunately, solely providing the training does not work. People are looking for leaders to demonstrate the skills themselves, provide safety and support to apply those skills, and encourage risk in trying these new approaches.
Success starts with the leaders. Leaders must exemplify learning, application, support, and risk-taking. Think about taking a language course as an example. Even though you may understand the written language and have an idea of how to verbalize that language, how easy is it to speak the language in a real-life setting? In my experience, it feels vulnerable and takes courage to speak, knowing that we are at a beginner level and that we may fall flat on our face when trying it out. I remember learning beginner German when the company that I was working for had German-speaking investors. One of them, on learning that I was taking German lessons, asked me the simple question of “Wie geht es Ihnen?“ (How are you?) to which I answered “Ich bin gut“ (I am good). I received a surprising response like “Oh, really??“. I then realized that it was an incorrect response. The correct response was “Es geht mir gut“ (It goes well with me; I’m fine) and corrected myself. My first response, in their language, was interpreted as “Hey, I’m really good. Look at me“, which came across as arrogant … not exactly the type of impression I wanted to give to important stakeholders. Fortunately, they understood the learning process and appreciated that I was trying to speak their language, and we all had a good chuckle! In the absence of this, I may have shut down and not tried again.
If we don’t have a safe and supportive environment, we tend not to apply skills and learning.
What does safe and supportive look like:
- The skills are tied in with the vision, mission, values of the organization.
- The skills are aligned with the values of the team members as well as the performance indicators.
- Leaders consistently message the value in using the skills.
- Leaders themselves are learning and taking the risk to visibly apply the skills and are transparent about it.
- Leaders are sharing their learning, both their wins and their challenges, so others can learn from them and, also, understand that it ok to strive versus be perfect.
- Leaders are helping others to reflect on their learning through reflection meetings, feedback, and coaching (and/or bringing in external coaches).
- Leaders are having others share their learning, both wins and challenges, so others can learn from them and know that they are in this together.
- Leaders find new ways to tie in the practice of new skills/behaviours to the organization’s vision/mission/values and individuals’ values.
- Leadership creates space and time for people to reflect – group reflection activities.
- Leaders provide helpful reminders – stories, quotes.
- Leaders find champions who will amplify the value of learning and practicing.
- Leaders reward practiced new behaviours.
How do you see the importance of leaders creating safety and support to enact new skills and behaviours? I would love to hear from you!
Successful engagement initiatives are not for the faint of heart. They require a courageous and strategic approach.
Yours in applied learning,
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