Corrinne Armour (pictured below) is a leadership expert who helps leaders and organisations develop “fearless leadership” and deliver transformational results. She is the author of Leaders Who Ask: Building Fearless Cultures by telling less and asking more. In this guest post, Armour offers her tips to removing the fear gene from your company or agency…
Leadership teams today operate in a complex environment of rapid change. In this interconnected 24/7 world information is communicated instantly via social media, so private decisions become instantly public.
When we are both disrupters and the disrupted, competition comes from unexpected places. Executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, believes the ‘industrial revolution’ we are living through now is ‘evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace’. He claims, ‘the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.’ It feels like the world is spinning faster and building a fearless culture can seem too daunting.
what is a fearless culture?
When people come together; conversations are focussed, lively and creative. The things that matter are surfaced and resolved. Positive risk taking comes from safety to try things and fail. People feel empowered in their roles and confident to speak out. This lifts the performance bar and leads to individual and team development and accountability. Fearless cultures get results.
Six key leadership challenges to building a Fearless Culture
- Big delivery agenda or significant change planned. Board, key stakeholders and markets are watching executive performance. Measurement is precise, constant and short-term focussed, while community and regulatory expectations are constantly shifting. Environments demand agile leaders capable of doing more with less.
- Leaders are working in silos. The executive lacks a shared purpose and is not a cohesive team providing organisation-wide leadership. Divisional heads are independently strong; yet their individual achievements cannot secure the organisation’s future. Strong divisional allegiances, reinforced by ego, can result in competitive behaviour counter to organisational effectiveness.
- Low trust within the leadership team. Building aligned executive teams is always a challenge in the detail of delivery. Teams frequently balance competing priorities with contrasting deliverables and drivers. In a low trust environment, different styles are interpreted as difficult or undermining, leading to misunderstanding and friction. Decisions and agreements are made with little real debate and are not supported outside the boardroom.
- Inappropriate or incongruent behaviour goes unchallenged. Unethical behaviour is allowed to continue because dissenting voices are stifled. When leadership teams lose sight of community values and stakeholder expectations, this leads to a values conflict around the executive table at best. And at worst significant reputational damage – even criminal charges – can result.
- Staff are watching – and not liking what they see. People across your organisation aren’t listening to what’s being said or adopting the values posted on the walls. They are following the lead from the executive behaviour they experience, and it’s not always pretty.
- The focus is limiting and inward facing. With tension around the executive table, and challenges experienced across the organisation, attention is focussed on internal relationships and organisational processes. Social and industry trends beyond the most obvious are given little thought, so faint signals of opportunity and risk are easily missed.
Building a fearless leadership team
The key levers to pull in building a fearless leadership team developing a fearless culture are trust, purpose, motivation and communication.
Trust is like oxygen. You don’t notice it’s there, but when it’s gone in a team you are in trouble. Trust is central to powerful teams. It enables leaders to be vulnerable and open, and lead with integrity. Trust provides the safety net in a culture that allows people to be creative, innovative and take risks.
People want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they often don’t see that’s possible at work. A well-defined shared purpose is a necessary foundation for fearless leadership, underpinning vision and enabling results. When executives are all pulling in different directions, the waves are felt throughout the organisation.
Knowing what truly motivates each other assists understanding, increases connection and boosts collaboration. Organisations that can leverage thinking diversity are well placed to compete. They are twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial targets and eight times more likely to have better business outcomes overall##.
Economic times are uncertain and increasingly complex. For a team to make sense of all information available and to draw on the talents of the whole executive team, open, intelligent and fearless discussions are the price of entry. Fearless leadership teams hear and debate all points of view, and then make and enact courageous decisions, with full and ongoing commitment to implementation.
Over to you
Which challenges ring true for your leadership team? And which lever will give you the boost towards building a fearless culture?