Are You Able to Lead with Clarity and Calmness?

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

One of the “tweetable” leadership thoughts I like to share often is the following:

Followers need clarity and calmness in challenging times.
Provide authenticity and a non-anxious presence for those you lead.

There is actually a lot of thought, and research, that goes behind this call for clarity, calmness, and a non-anxious presence. Some of this research may be found in an article a colleague and I have published in the academic journal Management Research Review. If you don’t have access to this journal, you may find another discussion of the research directly here through the American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences.

In the face of challenging times, followers need clarity, calmness, authenticity, and a non-anxious presence from their leaders.

What do I mean by this? I’ll use some quick points of contrast to explain.

This Type of Leadership IS NOT About:

  • Leaders “having it all together,”
  • Leaders pretending to have all the answers, or
  • Leaders being overly controlling.

This Type of Leadership IS About:

  • Leaders being calm… engaging with a non-anxious presence,
  • Leaders providing followers with clarity … being clear and authentic with what can be shared, and
  • Leaders guiding with conviction … leading with moral resolve and fortitude.

“Self-Differentiation”

In the study noted above, we found that leader resiliency was associated with a social science construct called self-differentiation. Self-differentiated leaders are able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of what often raises anxiety for others.

The reality is those who lead in the manner described in this post face challenges just like any other leader. The difference is in how they respond.

Responding with Clarity and Calmness

Rather than letting circumstances dictate their demeanor, self-differentiated leaders find a way to recognize the challenging realities and then approach these realities in a calm and non-anxious manner.

I don’t know about you, but I love to work for and follow leaders like this. I also desire to provide such leadership for others as I’m able.

So what about you? Are you able and willing to lead with clarity and calmness? Remember:

Followers need clarity and calmness in challenging times.
Provide authenticity and a non-anxious presence for those you lead!

Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

Humanity, Love, Respect (B.S. Wise, Flickr)

Photo Credit: Humanity, Love, Respect, by B.S. Wise, Flickr

The challenges leaders face in developing motivation and empowerment among followers are many.

There may be challenges in the interpersonal or dyadic relationship between individual leaders and followers. There may be challenges within the team or group environment at any of the forming, storming, norming, or performing stages. There may be challenges at the level of organizational systems within which leaders and followers are embedded. Or, there may be challenges external to the organization such as a difficult economic environment straining follower and leader expectations of performance.

Beginning with Leader Self-Reflection

While each of these levels may be challenges to motivation and empowerment, leaders should begin by considering their own role in leadership challenges. In a previous post I argued that Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership. When leaders face challenges in motivating and empowering followers it is important to first look to themselves as leaders—to begin seeing how they personally may have contributed to demotivating followers. The Bible makes this priority personal: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

As a leader,
are you prone to look first to the proverbial speck in a follower’s eye,
or the log in our own eye?

Avoiding the Fundamental Attribution Error

In challenging times it is easy to look to others or our environment and assign fault to them. This tendency is described by some as the fundamental attribution error or actor-observer bias. But thoughtful leaders are self-reflective leaders. They resist the fundamental attribution error and consider how they personally may be contributing to a problem and how followers may be impacted by their environment. They are leaders willing to look first to their contribution to a situation and work out from there to other relevant contributing factors.

Desiring Personal Humility

In light of such logic, we might argue that the greatest challenge to motivating and empowering followers is me and you. It is about self-reflection and self-leadership first. Jim Collin’s notes this point in his book Good to Great. At the heart of Collins’ work is the concept of level five leadership. Collins describes Level Five Leaders as having a unique blend of both professional will and personal humility. With such a blend, a leader has the self-confidence and self-efficacy to own that they do not have all of the answers and that they have less control than they may have originally thought. They also are willing to look into the mirror and see what their contribution is to the lack of motivation among followers.

Pressing Forward with Personal Humility and Follower Motivation

As leaders engage in personal reflection, embrace a spirit of humility, and acknowledge their own contribution to challenges … powerful result emerges. Rather than thinking less of leaders, followers generally grow in their respect for leaders who demonstrate authenticity and a willingness to own their part in challenges. Along this path, leaders begin by truly recognizing where actual power lies—with the wider organizational membership and not just leaders. From this place, leaders are able to motivate followers in authentic and meaningful ways. This motivation may take the form of genuinely valuing and developing people. It may also take the form of channeling followers to orient their attention on vision and performance that matters to them and the organization.

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Leader self-reflection and humility is a key starting point in making such motivation and empowerment come to life. Have you seen positive examples of leader humility in your organizations? What impact did this have on the community and the overall motivation experienced by organizational members?