Leadership, at its core, is extremely simple. Yet very few people are willing to do what it takes to boil leadership down to what it really is.
According to leadership expert Jack Christianson, leadership is about relationships. Jack has a very powerful book on leadership you’ve probably never heard of called Frogs Matter Most. In that book, Jack explains that relationships are far more important than issues. Yet most leaders focus on issues and never truly develop relationships of trust.
Of course, all issues need to be resolved. However, those issues resolve themselves when the relationships are trusting, intimate, and secure. When confronted by a challenge, the leader indeed needs to determine which role everyone will take, and how they will approach the problem. Leadership isn’t two-dimensional, and neither are people. Good leaders take on different roles and different styles depending on the situation and person they are dealing with.
According to Jack, people are the ultimate goal. The “bottom line” will take care of itself when the relationship works. When there is deep trust between the employee and the leader.
When there is trust, then feelings aren’t hurt when correction is given. This lines up with Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, wherein Patrick explains that “healthy ideological conflict” is essential to growth and progress. Yet few people have trust in their relationships, and thus few people engage in healthy conflict. Instead of engaging in conflict, most people lie to their leaders and most leaders lie to their followers.
At some point or another, correction needs to happen, and it doesn’t really go over well. It doesn’t lead to the intended effect, which is a deeper relationship and higher performance. Sure, performance may increase for a short period of time. However, that performance certainly won’t last. And if the relationship isn’t secure, then in the long term, that relationship is headed toward disaster, which is very costly to all involved. Yet this is how most leader-follower relationships are.
Frogs Matter Most offers some powerful advice on reaching a deep relationship of trust. As someone who has studied leadership as a PhD candidate in organizational psychology, I’ve read a lot of books and research on leadership. This book is a rare gem of clarity and strategy.
Interestingly, both Jack’s and Patrick’s books are framed as fictional stories–as either a parable or fable. Having studied the art of teaching, I found this method to be very useful.
It is a commonly held myth that on average, people’s attention spans are decreasing. This isn’t actually true. The average movie today is approximately 2.5 hours long. The average movie in the 1990s was 1.5 hours long. Moreover, on the internet, the longer the article is, the higher likelihood it has of going viral. Articles over 3,000 words do substantially better on average than articles 1,000 words in length.
Therefore, the use of parables, although initially maybe turning some readers off, allows those who want to go deep to really go deep. And for those who are willing to go deep, there are powerful gems available that those only wanting to go shallow can’t get.
Which brings me back to Frogs Matter Most. In that book, Jack explains that leadership is all about people. When the leader gets relationships right, everything else falls into place.
I know this principle is true. As someone who leads a team, I see dramatic improvements in performance when my people feel heard. When they have confidence to share their thoughts and concerns with me.
When communication and trust are low, all I have are assumptions about why things are wrong. Moreover, when communication and trust are low, the employee has no sense of security in their role. They don’t know what their leader is thinking. Without a sense of stability, they can’t operate at their highest creative levels, which is essential.
So, how is your relationship with your followers?
Do you have trust?
Do you take the time?
Could you engage in healthy conflict and it make the relationship deeper? Or is there no foundation and thus no ability to be honest?
By Benjamin P. Hardy
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