“What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. ” - Mark Twain
How relevant this quote is to business life. As a business leader you do all that you can to facilitate the best performance possible from your team. Clear goals, appropriate reward, comfortable environment, the right systems and processes. Yet you’re not seeing the optimum performance you seek. So why aren’t your people delivering peak performance? Perhaps you haven’t thought about a key factor – the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and motivations that influence and inform their behaviour as they react to their experience.
We’re all subject to the same processes and can certainly develop ourselves by becoming more self aware. In doing so, we create the possibility of consciously making choices about how to react. Perhaps you’ve already experienced that route to developing your leadership – but what of those around us?
How do you affect and influence your team?
As a leader, you have immense power over the inner lives of those you work with, in part because they give you that power. You’re one of the most significant factors influencing their reactions simply because of the hierarchical power you have in your organisation and often it’s simply their perception of that power; that you can dismiss or promote them, for example. Because of this perception, which may or may not be true, they will adapt their behaviour accordingly. If they’re behaving out of fear of negative consequences, it’s easy to see how that would have a negative impact on performance. When people form negative perceptions—of their manager, organisation, team, work, or themselves—they feel frustrated and unhappy. Motivation dips and performance suffers in the short and long term.
Every experience and event triggers a response that involves thoughts, feelings and motivation. An individual goes through a process of making sense of that event and deciding on its significance or meaning, which in turn determines their behaviour or performance. This is a constant and continuing process and what makes it even more significant is that often it’s not something that we’re consciously aware of. Would a hidden observer watching your day understand your inner work life? Absolutely not. And yet this unseen information has an impact on how your team is performing. As a leader, how can you tap into that unseen potential?
How can you deliver optimum performance from your team?
Received wisdom suggests that we perform better when we are happier. To be more specific, people perform better when their work experiences include more positive responses. An individual who feels motivated by their work has positive perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders and their organisation and will deliver optimum performance. Perhaps there’s nothing new in this but the importance of an individual’s inner life in relation to whether their feelings are positive or negative is significant.
Research undertaken by Teresa Amabile (Professor at Harvard) and Steven Kramer (Independent Researcher) demonstrated that because an individual’s inner life is a constant, its effects are inescapable. At every moment your team members are performing under the influence of their inner work lives. By getting 12,000 participants to complete daily diaries chronicling their inner experiences at work, Amabile and Kramer were able to identify that the two most important factors where a leader can positively influence that inner life are enabling people to feel progress in their work and treating them decently as human beings. In practical terms, what does this mean you need to provide as a leader?
What actions can you take to help?
- Providing direct help
- Adequate resources and time
- Reacting to success and failure with a learning focus
- Setting clear goals
When it comes to treating people decently, key aspects are listening, showing respect, developing trust, and praise when real progress is evident. In some ways, none of this is new, but the research showed that too many leaders are not doing these things well. All too often, goals are not clear and some examples in the research actually showed one part of an organisation working against the goals of another.
Perhaps this is not something you feel you have time for when you’re under pressure and have to deliver more from less. But as a leader, you have to deliver through others, and employee satisfaction is what drives the bottom line. It comes down to organisational values; people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If that’s how you operate, it’s not only good for business, it’s good for all concerned.