Senior leaders need people to lean on, too

Posted 24 June 2011 by

The economic turmoil of the last three years has created change and turmoil for many employees – redundant colleagues, reduced hours, and salary cuts. It’s clear that many of these people are now tired, demotivated and struggling to remain engaged. I believe the challenge for senior leadership teams is not only to chart a course to a healthier financial future for organisations but also to urgently find ways to re-engage and energise the talent in their organisations – a fact highlighted in the CIPD Annual Survey.

I think it’s all too easy to forget, though, that leaders are people too and are personally affected by changes within their organisation. Many have had to drive through difficult changes only to experience a delayed emotional reaction, and for some this has sapped their energy and confidence.

So where can leaders turn for support? How can they become revitalised?

I believe that one of the most powerful potential sources of support for leaders is from their colleagues within their leadership teams, but all too often these relationships are yet another source of stress.

To access this support, leaders must first feel that this team is their “home” team, feeling closer and more connected to it than any other team they belong to – even the team they lead. Next, the individuals in the team must invest in relationships within the team to build close and trusting bonds.

Tuckman’s model of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing) has been around for years and it still provides a useful and accessible guide to the key tasks that a team needs to accomplish to be strong and high performing. The FIRO Business tool maps neatly onto the Tuckman model, and provides an accessible and powerful way for leadership teams understand the core interpersonal needs that each member has and how they can build a stronger and supportive team environment.

People build strong relationships by going through three familiar phases in sequence:

  1. You work out if you have any interest in spending time with another person (or team), and that probably means finding some common interests. For a team, hopefully a common business purpose provides much of this.

  2. You work out who takes the lead on which issues, who influences who about what. In a team, the team get clear about who are likely to lock horns and how disagreements are resolved and decisions made.

  3. You decide whether a person is someone who you can trust enough to open up to and tell some of your hopes and fears.

All these stages need to be worked through by members of the leadership team to some extent if it is to work in an effective, supportive way.

I think that the third step is generally best achieved between individuals - it’s too exposing to attempt at a group level. But if team members can develop trusting and close relationships with other in the team, then the team as a whole benefits enormously. Leaders will feel that the team is their “home”, and on those bad days - when the pressure eventually gets to them, when they feel they have lost their spark – they’ll know where to turn for support.

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