” Executives can thrive at work and in life by adopting a leadership model that revolves around finding their strengths and connecting with others”.
For the past six years, we have been on a journey to learn from leaders who are able to find the best in themselves and in turn inspire, engage, and mobilize others, even in the most demanding circumstances. And the business environment has become more demanding: the global financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn have ratcheted up the pressure on leaders already grappling with a world in transformation. More than half of the CEOs we and our colleagues have spoken with in the past year have said that their organization must fundamentally rethink its business model.
Our work can help. We have conducted interviews with more than 140 leaders; analysis of a wide range of academic research in fields as diverse as organizational development, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, positive psychology, and leadership; workshops with hundreds of clients to test our ideas; and global surveys.
Through this research, we distilled a set of Five capabilities that, in combination, generate high levels of professional performance and life satisfaction. We described this set of capabilities, which we call “centered leadership,” in the Quarterly in 2008 and subsequently in a book, How Remarkable Women Lead. Since then, through additional interviews and quantitative research, we’ve continued to validate the model’s applicability to leaders across different regions, cultures, and seniority levels. Better yet, we have confirmed that centered leadership appears equally useful to men. In other words, it is not just for women, but for all leaders in demanding circumstances.
FIVE capabilities, are at the heart of centered leadership :
- Finding meaning in work
- Converting Emotions such as fear OR stress into opportunity
- Leveraging Connections & Community
- Acting in the face of Risk
- Sustaining the Energy that is the life force of change
A recent McKinsey global survey of executives shows that leaders who have mastered even one of these skills are twice as likely as those who have mastered none to feel that they can lead through change; masters of all five are more than four times as likely.
Strikingly, leaders who have mastered all FIVE capabilities are also more than 20 times as likely to say they are satisfied with their performance as leaders and their lives in general.
While such results help make the case for centered leadership, executives seeking to enhance their leadership performance and general satisfaction often find personal stories more tangible. Accordingly, as this article revisits the five dimensions of centered leadership—and their applicability to times of uncertainty, stress, and change.
We all recognize leaders who infuse their life and work with a sense of meaning. They convey energy and enthusiasm because the goal is important to them personally, because they are actively enjoying its pursuit, and because their work plays to their strengths. Our survey results show that, of all the dimensions of centered leadership, meaning has a significant impact on satisfaction with both work and life; indeed, its contribution to general life satisfaction is five times more powerful than that of any other dimension.
Positive framing :
Positive psychologists have shown that some people tend to frame the world optimistically, others pessimistically. Optimists often have an edge: in our survey, three-quarters of the respondents who were particularly good at positive framing thought they had the right skills to lead change, while only 15 percent of those who weren’t thought so.
With communications traveling at warp speed, simple hierarchical cascades—from the CEO down until the chain breaks—are becoming less and less effective for leaders. For starters, leaders depend increasingly on their ability to manage complex webs of connections that aren’t suited to traditional, linear communication styles. Further, leaders can find the volume of communication in such networks overwhelming. While this environment can be challenging, it also allows more people to contribute, generating not only wisdom and a wealth of ideas but also immeasurable commitment.
Of survey respondents who indicated they were poor at engaging—with risk, with fear, and even with opportunity—only 13 % thought they had the skills to lead change. That’s hardly surprising: risk aversion and fear run rampant during times of change. Leaders who are good at acknowledging and countering these emotions can help their people summon the courage to act and thus unleash tremendous potential.
Managing energy :
Sustaining change requires the enthusiasm and commitment of large numbers of people across an organization for an extended period of time. All too often, though, a change effort starts with a big bang of vision statements and detailed initiatives, only to see energy peter out. The opposite, when work escalates maniacally through a culture of “relentless enthusiasm,” is equally problematic. Either way, leaders will find it hard to sustain energy and commitment within the organization unless they systemically restore their own energy (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual), as well as create the conditions and serve as role models for others to do the same. Our research suggests sustaining and restoring energy is something leaders often skimp on.
Centered leadership is a journey, not a destination, and it starts with a highly personal decision. We’ll leave you with the words of one executive who recently chose to embark on this path :
“ Our senior team is always talking about changing the organization, changing the mind-sets and behavior of everyone. Now I see that transformation is not about that…. It starts with me and my willingness and ability to transform myself……Only then will others transform.”