Speed is an Incredible Drug
Managers are under snowballing pressure to deliver ever faster and more expectable returns and to restrain riskier investments intended for meeting future needs and finding creative solutions to the problems confronting people around the world.
Just ask a Formula One driver, a day-trader, or the CEO of any startup trying to get to market first with the next great idea or technology. We are convinced faster is better; indeed, complacency could mean death in today’s markets. But what fuel is driving you? Is it high-octane intelligence or the fumes of fear-fear you’ll lose the race, be left behind, be dumped in the trash heap of what could have been?
The next challenge of leadership is not just to increase speed but to maximize the intelligence of people. Research has advanced our knowledge of human intelligence, opening up incredible new possibilities for creating more productive, resilient workplaces. Emotion plays a critical role in decision-making, innovative thinking, and effectiveness. Intelligence is distributed throughout the body-not just localized in the brain. The heart is an intelligent system profoundly affecting brain processing.
How can leaders balance these complex and often competing demands? The core question for modern leaders is to become more entirely human—to energetically develop a wider range of competences and to more deeply understand themselves.
Four leadership dynamics are crucial to creating a culture that honors the contributions of each person, while maintaining a clear vision and focus.
Leadership Dynamic #1: Manage Yourself
More than ever we have to see outside ourselves. The new economy is all about connecting, partnering, collaborating, and leveraging what we have through the strengths and talents of others. Many executives realize that the adaptability, creativity, and innovative intelligence within people is their only competitive advantage.
Three things are clear in this time of unprecedented change:
- Stress will increase because of pressure to grow, to learn, to adapt, to flex, to find and maintain balance among conflicting priorities.
- Understanding mental, emotional, and physical processes is essential to enhancing performance. Emotional mismanagement strains the heart. We can’t divorce personal or professional success from the everyday emotional pressures we face. Emotional turmoil causes poor health, weak morale, high turnover, and lost productivity.
- Identifying and plugging the leaks in your own system saves energy. A leak is caused by anything unresolved: a tough decision still unmade, a relationship that worries you, guilt over mishandling a project or relationship, or the gnawing anxiety that you are not doing work that fulfills your talent and potential.
We see a negative impact on clear thinking and decision-making when our emotions run amuck. Positive emotions—such as appreciation, care, and compassion—create an internal environment that neutralizes negative reactions and increases resilience.
Leadership Dynamic #2: Build Coherent Relationships
In a connected world, communication becomes more demanding. The speed of response is often critical. However, when you are rushing or frantic, incoherent thinking results. A balanced response, while appearing to take more time, actually saves time because of the added clarity. Coherent communication reduces internal noise while encouraging meaningful conversations among coworkers, customers, and constituents. You do this in four ways:
- achieve understanding first—don’t jump to conclusions or assume you know;
- listen nonjudgmentally—put your judgments aside to hear the views or concerns of staff;
- Listen for the essence—don’t react just to the words or tone or get lost sword-fighting over details. Listen for deeper meanings and patterns. Assume others have essential knowledge you need to succeed.
- Be authentic—Leaders soar in credibility and praise when delivering tough messages forthrightly. Leaders who cover up or sugar-coat are greeted with skepticism, cynicism, and apathy. Paralysis follows leaders afraid to take a stand with compassion.
As Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, said: “Engage your heart, your gut, and your mind in every decision you make. Engage your whole self, and the journey will reveal itself with time.”
Leadership Dynamic #3: Create a Positive Climate
Leaders understand the necessity of a positive workplace climate for innovation and creativity. Anyone who has been through a merger knows first-hand just how dramatic a climate change can be and how devastating to productivity are people who are unhappy about their role, or the organization’s direction (or lack of direction). Dissension and antagonism act like a virus that infects an organization, weakening vitality and resilience as it spreads.
A healthy climate combats the virus through an inoculation of essential human values and behaviors, such as supporting initiatives, valuing individual contribution, encouraging self-expression, and providing recognition, role clarity, and challenge. Adaptability, shared core values, care, and appreciation are not only qualities of great places to work, they also nurture an innovative spirit that serves all interests and stakeholders.
Leadership Dynamic #4: Renew Yourself and Your Organization
Balance is essential in people and organizations. As speed increases, imbalance becomes more apparent and catastrophic. A living system, like a mechanical one, needs to be renewed, refreshed, rejuvenated, and balanced.
- Introduce methods to help you examine your individual interests, desires, and goals
- Understand your workplace’s priorities and culture, and offer tips for identifying where there’s either a match or a gap
- Prepare to move forward through the creation of a personalized strategic professional plan that addresses professional development, gaining additional experience, and other options for growth
- Share your skills and experience through mentorship
Every Person and Organization Needs Renewal
To meet the challenges of the new economy, speed is essential. Balance will guarantee we don’t spin out of control in the process.
The success of a leader has more to do with intrinsic motivation, skills, capabilities, and character than with whether his or her pay is tied to shareholder returns.
The ambition is not to find a perfect balance, but to build a harmonizing set of strengths, so that we can move elegantly along a spectrum of leadership qualities. Incorporating our own complexity makes us more wholly human and gives us added resources to manage ourselves and others in an gradually complex world.