This results in a lack of 'big picture' thinking, and a business that isn't operating at optimal levels. If a corporation is going to survive in the 'age of information', then this attitude needs to be re-examined and a new way of working brought into being. Isolationist leadership is just that: isolating. Commercial success means commercial collaboration – a shift from the ‘me’ space to the ‘we’ space.
The question, of course, is how can leaders make this move? To effectively re-connect with your team, it is not just a matter of paying lip service, or appearing from behind a closed office door every so often. Working in a truly collaborative way means understanding why you need to be a part of your team, rather than being apart from your team.
If you are used to operating from a place of ‘this is my idea, my project, my outcome, my result and my credit’, it can be incredibly difficult to switch your mindset. But the business landscape has, and will, continue to change at a rapid rate. The digital age has brought with it consumers (whether they be internal or external) who have access to information, innovation, ideas and products that are available 24/7 – and if they don’t see what they like in your offering, they can look online within the space of a heartbeat and find it somewhere else.
What this means for you as a leader is a need to not only be up to date with what is happening in your industry or sector, but also to realise that you may be hit by threats you could not possibly have envisioned two, five or 10 years ago. And you are only one person. You would need to be a superhuman to be able to grasp every aspect of what is necessary to survive in this type of environment. As a result, your team is absolutely essential to continuing success. Why? Because as a team you have the complete skill set to turn threats into opportunities. Instead of doing several things in an average way yourself, you need to surround yourself with several people who all do one thing extremely well. Expert knowledge gives you expert results.
Reaching this place takes hard work. It doesn't come naturally to everyone, especially those who have had to make the leadership journey by themselves and have not had a great deal of encouragement. But a willingness to engage and take small steps will show your team that you are able to make the transition to connecting with them effectively.
1. The working environment
Don’t set yourself up in a cushy corner office with closed walls. Studies have shown that working within a collaborative physical environment actually improves team engagement and drives results. This doesn't mean that there isn't a need for thoughtful ‘outspaces’, which allow for privacy and quiet, and the chance to create and reflect. What a collaborative workspace does engender is a sense of belonging, and ensures no one is excluded from the big decisions that will affect the whole team.
2. Vulnerable leadership
Allowing yourself to show ‘weakness’ in front of your team is not weak; it is actually strength, and can and will lead to reconnection. If you are able to admit when you have made a less-than-stellar decision, or that you are having trouble reaching a successful conclusion to a problem, and that you need assistance, it engenders trust. It allows your team to speak up and admit that they may need assistance in turn. It also means that they are able to showcase skills that you may not have recognised or acknowledged in the past. On two fronts, you will be succeeding; building personal relationships and at the same time engendering a bank of skills for future projects.
3. Give credit where it is due
Make sure that you are adequately acknowledging when your team members are the ones responsible for a result, whether that is an idea or a product. Too often, it is easy for a leader to be the one to stand solo in the spotlight and leave the team standing in the shadows, meaning a disconnect in terms of trust and a willingness to stand up and give 100 per cent to future projects. When someone adds value, it is essential to acknowledge that contribution – and to do it publicly.
4. Be brave in your leadership
Being willing to take risks that will be for the benefit of your team – even if they may not necessarily benefit you in the short term – means your team will see not just a leader, but someone who has the collective interests at heart. This doesn't entail being a sacrificial lamb; what it does entail is a degree of business bravery that you may not have thought about before. But think about this: how does your team view you? As someone who stands up for their best interests, or as someone who would be running in front of women and children for the lifeboats?
Take a leap – not for those lifeboats – but towards your team. Make your mindset one of collaboration and the reconnect can happen. Don’t leave it to a corporate function, but make it a core function of your own leadership.