When we think of a great leader, we often imagine a wise veteran who holds all the answers. However, there is more to leadership than just knowledge and experience. To lead successfully, you have to inspire others, communicate with clarity, facilitate consensus, maintain high energy levels, etc. In short, you have to exhibit a wide range of leadership behaviors that make up the core of who you are. According to Caroline Ménard, President of Brio Conseils and founder of the Transformation League, as leaders, “it’s really important that we always be at our best, that we identify our blind spots, so we work a lot on knowing what to do, but also knowing how to be.” To help you on this journey of continuous improvement, here are three activities to help develop your leadership skills.
1. Read about innovative management solutions
As more and more companies shift from traditional hierarchies to a more team-based approach, the question of how to be an effective leader has risen to the forefront of business conversations everywhere, with thought leaders and authors from different fields offering science-based solutions that truly challenge the way we look at management. For example, Ménard recommends that you pick up Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do by Daniel M. Cable, Professor of Organisational Behavior at London Business School.
Based in neuroscience, Cable’s approach to leadership observes that “the reason for all the unhappiness at work is biological: organizations, in an effort to routinize work and establish clear-cut performance metrics, are suppressing what neuroscientists call our ‘seeking systems’ […] the part of our brain that craves exploration and learning.” In his book, the expert social scientist offers Humble Leadership as a solution: “To prompt employees’ curiosity and learning through experimentation, a leader can start with the humble purpose of serving others and being open to learning from employees.”
While you read Alive at Work, Ménard invites you to pay close attention to three notions that can help activate your workforce’s seeking systems:
- The expression of our unique strengths
- The opportunity to learn and experiment
- A sense of purpose
“As leaders, as managers in organisations, our challenge is to stimulate this part of the brain so that our employees can feel mobilized,” explains Ménard. “We know from a study by Gallup that we can really correlate mobilization with performance, the quality of our customer service, our financial results, and reduced absenteeism.”
2. Find out and celebrate what you’re good at
Self-awareness is a vital part of growing as a leader. However, when we think of the Socratic dictum, “Know thyself”, we tend to fixate on our limitations and the parts of ourselves we wish we could improve. This can greatly reduce our sense of empowerment, so instead, Ménard encourages us to focus on our strengths. “A fish doesn’t know that it’s wet,” she remarks. “We all have strengths, but we don’t necessarily know them. We take our qualities for granted. For example, I’m good at organizing. I tend to assume that everyone is like me, [but] we each have our strong suits.”
To help you in this process, Ménard invites you to try the Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE) developed by the Michigan Ross School for Business’ Center for Positive Organizations. The feedback activity can be broken down into four steps:
- Ask 10 to 20 people you know (friends, family members, colleagues, supervisors, etc.) to share three anecdotes in which you were at your best.
- Analyze their answers, noting every recurrent theme and pattern.
- Write a self-portrait based on this analysis.
- Make changes at work to capitalize on your strengths.
As a celebrated leader herself, Ménard finds the RBSE very enriching. “First of all, it’s an extraordinary gift to ourselves because certain things come out that are real gems, things that we’d forgotten. But also, we see that, whether in our personal life or at work, our strengths are the same,” she explains. “So [it’s] a very, very powerful exercise, and I recommend that people integrate it either in their personal life or within their organization.”
3. Study the leaders you admire
The world is filled with great examples of successful leadership. In terms of providing employees with a meaningful vision, Ménard cites a number of companies from around the globe: “We can think of Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia in the USA. In Quebec, we can think of businesses like Prana, Cascades, and Énergir […] In France, we can think of Bonduelle and Danone. So there are plenty of beautiful examples to inspire us.”
In particular, Ménard believes we could all learn from Italian chef Massimo Bottura, whose innovative management style has made Osteria Francescana one of the most celebrated restaurants in the world, topping William Reed’s “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list both in 2016 and 2018. “We might imagine that a chef would be rigid, that everyone would need to fall in line. We’ve all seen it in movies or in real life: it’s a system that provides little freedom,” she remarks. “Well, this chef claims to owe his success to the latitude he grants his staff; […] to the freedom each person has to express themselves, from the young rookie who just got hired to the oldest veteran; and to the responsibility he gives each of them, specifically in relation to their strengths.”
Indeed, the restaurateur exemplifies Cable’s conception of a Humble Leader, following the three aforementioned principles to activate the brain’s seeking system. Not only do his cooks have room to express their individual strengths; Bottura regularly promotes their growth and experimentation with creative challenges like inventing a dish inspired by the song “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed. As for imparting a sense of purpose, one need only look at the mission statement for his non-profit organization Food for Soul: “By enabling the transformation of people, places, and food, we build a culture of value that will strengthen community resilience, open opportunities for social and economic mobility, and build healthier and more equitable food systems.”
Leadership through growth
Given our everchanging commercial reality, leaders today have a responsibility to stay up to date with the latest shifts and advances within their industry. As such, a great leader never stops learning and growing as a person. This is true in any professional setting, but especially in Agile frameworks, where a flexible approach is key. “When we talk about Agile, we often talk about the methodology,” says Ménard, “but we forget the attitude of leadership […] that comes with this Agile Mindset.” Luckily, with so many resources available, there has never been a more exciting time to refine ourselves as leaders!
To listen to Caroline Ménard’s full interview (in French), subscribe to the People Potential with Amanda podcast.