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What does good inclusive leadership look like?

‘You can’t not have a leadership culture’ Steve Stanley

We partnered with corporate wellbeing and mindful leadership experts, iKan Health for a webinar to explore the principles underpinning leadership in the modern workplace and the role mindfulness plays in it.

The thinking around what makes a great leader is changing.

While this has been true for much of the 21st century so far, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the relationship between leaders and their employees, bringing the issue into sharp focus in recent months.

Joining us from Ikan Health were director, Hannilee Fish (who is also a litigator), and leadership facilitator and coach, Steve Stanley.

Kindness as a leadership attribute

To set the tone, Steve opened his presentation with the ‘Best ever advice to leaders’ which is simply: Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.

Kindness unlocks a range of positive qualities, including helpfulness, generosity and consideration for others – all of which drive excellent leadership and underscore the distinctions between leading and managing.

Gender traits and leadership

A key focus of the webinar was on how masculine and feminine traits play into leadership styles. Though not hard and fast, these can characterise how leaders act. In broad terms, Steve highlighted some of the contrasts between these traits. Among them were:

  • Transactional (m) vs transformational (f) leadership style, where transactional is based on the ‘I pay you, you do the job’ premise as opposed to the principle of ‘I’m doing it because I’m inspired by you’ implicit in a transformational style;
  • Assertive (m) vs flexible (f), highlighting a departure from a ‘what the boss says goes’ culture to one of greater inclusiveness;
  • Task orientated (m) vs people orientated (f), hinting at the concept of the servant leader, a style that prioritises team members’ needs above the leader’s own. This is a big trend right now; and
  • Persuasive (m) vs consensual (f) contrasting the practice of persuading others to follow an agenda with that of building a consensus among leaders and colleagues.

Typically, leaders find their place on the sliding scale between these (and other) stances based on what they feel is expected of them. However, the context of their role, their objectives and the make-up of their teams can necessitate a change of focus.

This is where self-evaluation comes in. You need to know where you are on the sliding scale between the masculine and feminine traits – and where you think you should be.

In turn, this calls for:

  • Self-awareness: knowing the energy you project through your actions, words and body language. When positive, they’re infectious and people will follow you;
  • Intuition: listening to your heart as well as your head and following emotion as well as logic is increasingly valued in organisations;
  • Compassion: while it’s not your job to know what people are thinking or feeling, it is important to ask how they are and listen when they want to talk; and
  • Vulnerability: the more you reveal about yourself, the more people will trust you. That’s human nature.

In summarising, Steve set out an approach to leadership devised by the former racing driver turned performance coach, Sir John Whitmore.

Known as GROW, Sir John’s process focuses on four stages of development:

  • Goals – define what yours are and be clear about them.
  • Reality – what’s happening right now and how does that affect your goals? Do you need to redefine the goals?
  • Options – how can you achieve our goals?
  • Will and When – what will you do and when will you do it?

A great thing about GROW is that it compels a leader to shift across the masculine – feminine sliding scale according to the context of their role.

Mindful leadership

The shift in leadership priorities towards human values is consistent with the principles of mindfulness, as Hannilee explained.

This is because its central pillar - living in the moment rather than ruminating in the past - requires effortful regulation of our attention.

By staying integrated, focused and attentive to events and people around us, we increase engagement with people. At work – including when working remotely and interacting digitally – this heightens the influence we can have on others and leads to better relationships and improved wellbeing among colleagues.

You can practise mindfulness in two ways:

  • Informally, such as cleaning your teeth using your non-dominant hand, forcing you to concentrate on the task, ie living in the moment; and
  • Formally, such as attending meditation session and other coach-led events.

Either way, give it time. It can take up to eight weeks of practice before you see the full benefits of mindfulness on your effectiveness as a leader. A great way to start is through this three-step breathing space meditation.

Step 1: Become aware

Close your eyes and focus your attention on your feelings, emotions, posture and physical sensations. Put distance between yourself and your thoughts. If possible, detach from them and simply observe them.

Step 2: Narrow your attention

Focus on your breathing by observing how your stomach is moving. It’s natural for your mind to wander, but when it does, bring it back to the here and now by refocusing on your breathing.

Step 3: Expand your awareness

Now widen your awareness out to include your whole body. Feel your feet touching the floor, your legs touching your chair and any other physical sensations. As you expand your attention, you’ll develop a sense of wholeness.

You can practise this meditation any time anywhere. It takes just a few minutes and is great for grounding yourself and bringing yourself fully into the moment.

Which, for great leaders is a great place to be.