What if our leaders actually took responsibility for their behaviour?

Tread carefully – you don’t want to break an eggshell!

If you work in an environment where temper tantrums, a bad atmosphere and a controlling, temperamental leader are the norm, you’ll recognise how draining the situation is.

Our behaviour impacts the people around us and the situations we encounter, and this is even more prevalent when the individual is in a leadership position. This personal impact makes staff reluctant to approach leaders, drives up stress levels, and crashes morale and productivity.

A familiar scene…?

“I am what I am…I can’t do anything about it.”  Have you heard this before? Whether it’s your colleague, a relative, your friend, or a politician, no doubt you’ve witnessed disruptive behaviour at some point. The actions of one person have a profound impact on others. Yet most people are not willing to examine their behaviour – least of all make changes to it.

It begs the question of how individuals can be so unaware of their impact when the effects are so stark. A lack of self-awareness is at the heart of it. Not because leaders are in any way ignorant, insensitive, or unobservant. Quite the opposite. The truth is, it’s very difficult to look in the mirror. So, while leaders may be fully aware of poor productivity or low morale, the leap from noticing a less-than-ideal situation to asking, ‘Am I contributing to it?’ is not just a crack in the pavement but a chasm.

Emotions and behaviour – not just for the screen or stage

The notion of emotionally-driven behaviour may sound more like something which afflicts the characters of an epic love story or a wronged hero seeking revenge. The truth is, we are all driven by our emotions. Life experiences, often in childhood, leave an emotional imprint on our brain. When faced with a similar circumstance, our brain searches through the archives for guidance and offers up an emotive response. When this response is allowed to play out, the behaviour is unchecked and may not be appropriate for the situation.

How do you feel if your boss says to you, “Can I have a word with you in my office? Now.” Maybe your heart starts to race, your palms sweat, your mind turns to a thousand thoughts at once. This is a classic example of an emotionally-led response. When looking back through the files, your brain understands that the last time someone said something similar to you, something terrible followed.

So, what happens if your response is allowed to play out? Maybe you start talking rapidly, explaining away something that happened recently. Perhaps you even talk over the person opposite you, driven on by a desire to reach some place of comfort or safety.

Our example is light-hearted. The alternative – taking responsibility for our behaviour and doing something different – is much trickier.

Do the hard work, make a more effective personal impact

For leaders to make changes, they first need to become aware of their behaviour as well as their personalities and underlying drivers. Psychometrics are a useful tool for digging below the surface of behaviour. At Farscape, we use various models to help leaders see how their emotions impact their responses, including the character-development tool ‘Heartstyles’.

Knowledge is the first step. As with everything in business, what you do with the information is what counts. Let’s go back to our leader-follower example. If you know that you usually begin to gabble when called into the boardroom by somebody senior, you have the opportunity to try a different tack. Take a deep breath. Allow the other person to speak first, so you can listen to what their point is, and then give a thoughtful, considered response.

It’s not an easy task. Behavioural change is difficult, whether you’ve been a leader for decades or it’s your first day as CEO. Support helps you to overcome the emotional reaction and to explore different options. Farscape works with senior leaders to provide coaching – either in a group or one-on-one scenario – which creates a safe space to explore and practise new behaviour.

Change isn’t about persecution. It’s about taking stock of the current situation and finding the courage to try something new. And as challenging as taking that first step can be, it becomes much easier as you notice how your colleagues’ responses change for the better when you acknowledge your emotions, without allowing them to rule the roost.

The commercial impact of taking responsibility

When leaders take responsibility for their behaviour, it changes everything. They create a situation where it’s OK for colleagues and team members alike to hold them accountable for their actions, their words and their behaviour. Leaders who are accountable take their hands off their ears, stop screaming and start listening. Instead of letting the ebb and flow of their emotions hold sway, they think before acting and set a positive example which filters through the business. The atmosphere improves, productivity increases and staff are happier and better able to contribute from their authentic sense of self than when they are tiptoeing around a slumbering bear. Leaders who take responsibility for their behaviour put the emotional, physical and mental wellbeing of the entire organisation at the heart of what they do – and that has profoundly positive implications for the commercial success of the business too.

Do you struggle with the behaviour of those around you? If one or two individuals impact the entire team, department or organisation, call us on 0117 370 1800. We’d welcome the opportunity of a conversation, and who knows? It could be the start of a much-needed change, not only for you and your colleagues, but the whole organisation.

Special thanks to Alison Morgan, Farscape facilitator and Heartstyles practitioner, for her contribution to this blog.

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