When leaders reach the C-suite, they focus on competencies that drive business outcomes. Leaders believe they add the most value through their work on concepts such as visioning, strategic execution, global mindset and change management.
They would be right — and wrong.
Some C-suite leaders have not mastered basic core competencies, such as effective interpersonal skills, relationship building, collaboration and even something as straightforward as mutual respect.
Any inappropriate behaviors or lapses in focus in these core competencies can derail the leader and foster a toxic environment as well as unhealthy relationships systemwide.
In contrast, if a leader pays continual attention to mastering and executing these core competencies, he or she can set a tone in the culture that helps the organization to flourish in the long term.
Let’s look at mutual respect, for example. It is human nature to want to feel valued, included and recognized as having a place of significance. It is here where engagement and commitment are at their highest. When individuals feel devalued and disconnected, they compensate with a focus more on themselves than the success of the community.
Psychologist Alfred Adler emphasized these ideas almost 90 years ago. Yet, today, many organizations tend to misunderstand and misuse these concepts.
One aspect of mutual respect is inclusion. Many leaders make all major company decisions behind closed doors and justify this through the idea that confidentiality protects the company’s competitive advantage. Or at a minimum, that it minimizes resistance or conflict.
However, it is well documented that diversity of opinions leads to better outcomes. One example is in Jeff Howe’s seminal 2009 work “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business,” which highlighted the collective power of a diverse group to enhance business decisions. Employees often feel disconnected from the company even though they are the closest to the customers and might have a clear sense of needs and business opportunities.
Employers often impose goals on employees because of broader corporate strategy. Employees might react with discouragement if the goals are unrealistic and if they hear month after month that they must do better.
Also, employees may even see company leaders apply arbitrary rules or give incentives to some groups while other groups are excluded from the opportunity. In Daniel Pink’s 2009 book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” he discussed doing away with incentives altogether. Instead, Pink emphasized giving employees a real choice, allowing them to continue to improve in areas that really matter and to have a sense of purpose by focusing on something larger than themselves.
Employees must feel respected and included to clearly understand where the organization is heading. They also must know what role they can play in its ultimate success. Leaders would do well to consider more transparency and engage employees as true partners.
When employees don’t feel respected, they justify their personal strivings. This adds substantial risks, including an exodus of talent and/or intellectual capital from the organization, increased ethical lapses, dissatisfied customers and transformational efforts that fall flat.
Mutual respect starts with truly listening to employees and engaging them as valued partners. It also requires the competency of facilitation, which goes well beyond running meetings to true inclusion.
Mastering core competencies means continually applying them, especially after assuming a C-suite role. Leaders would do well to add metrics to ensure that they actively practice and model these skills.
Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA, is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (312) 213-3421.