I had the opportunity of running an annual planning conference with a group of very experienced and very insightful executive leaders. Among the many challenges discussed, was the tendency for Teams and Team Members to demonstrate a need to be ‘instructed’ about what needs to be done to really develop the business. This is a common theme and one that I experience often with different clients from different industries. What are the critical success factors for Leaders when it comes to building teams who are courageous and will fearlessly take initiative rather depending on the Leader to generate the ideas?

The Leaders in the group were all commercially minded and in agreement about the impact of their own Leadership style as a major contributor or detractor to the Teams’ willingness to innovate and create with courage.

I was able to summarise 3 of the main points from the discussion and added clear and easy to remember headlines. Importantly, they agreed that these are not new concepts but require their ongoing focus as Leaders who are accountable for growing people and the business.

  • Be Courageous Yourself. Really effective Leaders must demonstrate ‘courage’ in order to give people permission to be courageous. Leaders who regularly ‘await’ approval from above send a message to their own people about the risks involved when it comes to being courageous; a trait that leads to real innovation. Courageous Leaders do things such as seek regular feedback from around their organisation about the impact they are having. They don’t wait for the formal review processes that exist in the organisation. They are willing to make hard decisions and hold those difficult conversations that are often left undone. Rarely are they described as indecisive. They work with the view that ‘taking a chance with an action’ is better than taking no action at all. All of these behaviours invite others to be courageous in what they do every day.

  • Listen with Curiosity. Many Leaders today recognise the importance of listening as did this group of experienced Leaders. We expanded on the importance of listening that goes beyond active listing to ‘listening with curiosity’. This involves genuinely believing that those you are listening-to just might have more and better insights to contribute to the discussion than the views that you bring as a Leader with your many years of experience. It goes without saying that this behaviour comes with a serious amount of self-strength; your own sense of being a Leader is seen as being strengthened not challenged when you are genuinely listening. And those around you once again observe the role modelling in your behaviour. They become great at ‘followership’ rather than being ‘dependent’ on you and others when it comes to developing themselves and the business.

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  • Flexibility and Adaptability. When we discussed the real impact of being a flexible Leader, I found it helpful to share this concept grounded in systems theory. “The person with the greatest flexibility controls the system”. In practical terms, this really means that the person with the most options and behavioural choices will have the greatest impact on what is happening at that time. Effective Leaders recognise that limiting their behavioural choices gives others the competitive edge. If you’re able to respond to any situation in a variety of ways, you are more likely to achieve a desirable outcome. Leading others using this trait as part of your leadership toolkit will invite others to be more flexible often resulting in even greater quality thinking when it comes to developing the business.

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Reflecting on the experience, I’m inspired by the willingness of some amazing Leaders to be courageous and really examine the impact that their Leadership style is having on their business. And even more inspired by their willingness to confront some of the less helpful tendencies and ‘act’ now to change them.