We’re operating in a working world in which we’re overloaded, overextended, and overstressed. As we try to handle customer demands, workload, and the daily pressures of our jobs, we’re struggling to stay focused on what matters most.
The challenge of having to be ‘always on’ forces us to spend much of our time working on automatic pilot, as it’s the only way our brains can cope with the pressure. Recent research by Microsoft on British employees found that 86 percent had experienced anxiety due to work pressure in the last year. And 30 percent regularly sacrificed their personal life for work.
Having a workforce on automatic pilot is no good for business. It means we’re not paying enough attention, but that’s no surprise: there’s too much to pay attention to. As our stress levels rise, pressure builds, and we have less time to pay attention to what matters to us as people, our productivity and creativity plummets. We turn up to work when we feel bad, we make choices born out of frustration, and we can’t make good quality decisions.
No surprise, then, that we’re talking more about the importance of employee wellbeing. And in this modern world of work, that means more than discounted gym memberships and health insurance. Our prosperity as individuals is inextricably linked to the environments in which we operate, and the obstacles and strain we face. As leaders, that means we need to clear the path if people are to do great work.
According to Bill Gates, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Taking a conscious approach to leadership will best meet the needs of both the shareholders and the delivery engine — the people you employ. That means being focused on creating an environment that balances autonomy with support, pressure with balance, and which pays attention to people’s fundamental human need to matter. Conscious leadership is based on these five essential factors:
Awake: Recognize that you don’t have all of the answers. But through radical listening, and through being present for the people around you, you will give people the space to express themselves, unleashing an army of people who can solve the challenges they’re facing.
Resilient: Become conscious of the way you work. When you have more time to re-energize and seek solitude, you are more effective at your job (and you become a better person).
Together: Recognize the power of emotional connection and help people to spend more time together, and spend more time getting to know the people in your team too. Be there to offer support when people need it. Then know when to get out of the way and allow people to create their own answers and possibilities.
Growing: Believe in your people (even if you don’t always believe in yourself). Coach them to understand themselves and where to focus. And allow them to build on their strengths. That’s where all of the untapped potential, energy, and commitment are.
Purposeful: Instill radical focus through setting clear direction, allowing everyone to pay attention to what matters most. This requires you to be disciplined, stick to plans, and make conscious decisions to course-correct when things need to shift.
When leaders see that their role is to empower and to help individuals to sustain their energy and then place it where it matters most, it provides a new focus. Leaders can’t solve all of the problems, because there are too many to solve, but they can bring much-needed meaning and growth to employees’ roles. If we’re expecting them to keep grinding, there has to be something in it for them besides a paycheck.
Instead of wasting so much energy by seeing long hours as a badge of honor, thinking that people need to be told what to do (rather than being given clear direction), and seeing work as a delivery machine, conscious leaders create a place of real growth and true alignment. People can work in a way that allows them to manage their energy, express their opinions, and shape their roles and objectives around their strengths and values, as well as the needs and goals of the organization.