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People and Change

Human Race, Human Pace

Neil Hughes Neil Hughes

In a recent meeting with the director of the Potential Project, Grattan Donnelly and I were discussing the impact of the modern work environment and the appropriate response required from leaders in order for everyone to reach their true potential.

In this increasingly fast-paced, uncertain environment full of distractions, people are typically juggling multiple priorities, with ever-tighter deadlines. Under pressure, it is almost inevitable that they will make mistakes. The mistakes add to the pressure, and this, in turn, increases the stress. It seems like a downward cycle, with no potential.

In those situations, leaders often mistakenly believe that putting pressure on people will increase their performance. What it actually does is increase stress, which research shows carries a cost to both employers and employees.

If organisations want to continue to be successful and retain their people, the response to the pressure is a more human and compassionate style of leadership.

Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail in Spain, summarised this nicely as; “Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” This quote was first referenced in the book “The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People and Your Organisation for Extraordinary Results” by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter of the Potential Project; and is what prompted my discussion with Grattan Donnelly, their representative in Ireland.

We are emotional human beings and leaders today need to relearn how to truly connect with people. This becomes increasingly important as millennials enter the workplace, and become the major population in most companies. Research shows millennials expect more than just a paycheque. They want purpose, meaning, and connection, too. The most successful organisations will be those who can meet their demands and expectations, which will require more human and compassionate leadership.

Tips for becoming a more human and compassionate leader:

One of the simplest things leaders can do to create more human environments is to ‘Catch people doing things right.’ How often do you witness that in your leaders in your organisation? All too often people hear only about what they did wrong. Make it your job to highlight the positive and notice the impact this has.

Stress is contagious. So is calm. How do you behave as a leader in those moments of high pressure? Remember, if you are stressed, it is more likely your people will be too. When a stressful situation arises, before you do anything, practice taking three deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the nose. Research shows that deep breathing in this way activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the soothing system.

Take an intentional short break! How often do we have back-to-back meetings where we are running into the next meeting, yet our minds are still in the previous meeting. A good way to allow people to become present and fully arrive is by taking a two-minute pause to stop and be at the start of every meeting. This allows people to transition from the previous meeting or task, and be present in the meeting they are in now.

Be kind to yourself. Notice your internal dialogue. Notice any ‘should’s’. People who are perfectionists tend to suffer from higher levels of anxiety, and lower self-esteem, which can lead to poor performance. Often when things aren’t going right, the inner voice becomes even more critical. The temptation is to force yourself and push harder. If you make a mistake, acknowledge you are human, give yourself a mental break, and silence your inner critic.

Become a ‘Do as I Do’ leader – not a ‘Do as I say’ leader. Lead by example.

If you do all of the above, you will already be on the road to becoming a more kind, compassionate and human leader, helping yourself and others to reach their full potential.