Being a good role model is a critical aspect of leadership, says organizational development expert Natalie Wolfson.

Two Critical Things All Leaders Need to Do

Jan. 15, 2016
Help employees succeed in a perpetually changing world by encouraging resiliency and agility. Here's how.

A constantly changing workplace is guaranteed but there are very specific things leaders can do to help employees be prepared for this change. Learning how to treat employees as individuals is the first step.

Business owners and leaders can help their employees both to create positive change (what we call agility) and respond productively to change forced upon them (resiliency). Here are some tips to follow.

1. Encourage Greater Resiliency Among Employees

To do this, you need to:

Be a Good Role Model. A leader acts with resiliency him/herself, displays confidence, elicits respect and pride in his subordinates, and looks beyond his own interests. Basically, a leader models the behavior he/she wants to see. 

People have what neuroscientists call “mirror neurons” – we activate the same neurocircuitry in our own brains when observing another as we would if we were the ones actually performing the behavior. Mirror neurons are critical for learning new skills by imitation. So, a great way to build employee resiliency is simply by modeling resilient behaviors yourself. Examples include remaining calm in the face of unexpected shifts in demands, setting ambitious but achievable goals for the company, and asking questions freely and openly.

Stimulate Your People. A leader provides intellectual and creative stimulation. He or she demonstrates effective problem-solving by challenging assumptions and seeking different perspectives. A leader also presents crises as challenges that can be overcome. In this way, you encourage thoughtful solutions to problems rather than hurried, stress-driven ones. Examples include asking questions in different ways, seeking unique perspectives, and framing crises as opportunities for development and challenges that can be overcome.

Know Your People. A leader considers each of his or her employees individually so they feel valued and respected according to his or her unique needs. Examples include asking employees questions about themselves, remembering unique details about each employee, and behaving with versatility across employees (i.e. changing your interpersonal approach based on the needs of the individual).

2. Encourage Greater Agility & Innovation Among Employees

To do this, practice the following:

Beware of the "Negativity Bias." Recognize that people demonstrate a negative bias toward creativity (versus practicality) when they experience uncertainty. This bias against creativity can interfere with someone’s ability to recognize a creative idea. Once you recognize this bias, you can prepare for and counteract it. 

Recognize that people demonstrate a negative bias toward creativity (versus practicality) when they experience uncertainty. This bias against creativity can interfere with someone’s ability to recognize a creative idea.
—Natalie Wolfson, Ph.D.

Make Innovation a Job Requirement. Understand that innovation happens with diversity and conflict. You can encourage innovation by giving employees time to work on their own ideas and projects. You can also be a better leader in this area by hiring people who disagree with you, drawing attention to differences in opinion and encouraging active debates. 

Give Employees Freedom. Employees of the future need autonomy over the means, not necessarily the ends. In other words, they need some freedom to determine how they approach tasks ­-- the process, not the end goal. Managers tend to mismanage freedom by changing goals frequently or failing to define them clearly.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain, and that is a constantly changing workplace. By encouraging a resilient and agile workplace, you are creating an environment that boosts individual productivity and organizational performance. Happy employees are productive employees, and great leadership is the only way to get there.

Natalie Wolfson, Ph.D. is an organizational research consultant at TRACOM Group.  She is a frequent speaker at leadership industry events and has authored numerous book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles around organizational training and development. 

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