“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams
I always want to simplify big concepts and make them easier to understand and remember. In the past week’s leadership journey that I took a group of leaders through, I opened my training program by saying that the role of a leader is to make the VCC work. Now, what is a VCC? A VCC is the abbreviation for Vision Culture and Conditions. Based on my skillsets and experience on leadership, engineering and neuroscience, I came up with this abbreviation which encapsulates the three leader’s pressing areas of attention.
Neuroscience is the study of the brain and the entire nervous system. I always give this background when I do my talks using the vehicle ‘Veli Ndaba NeuroEngineering leadership Effect’ – #VNNLE because it explains how the environment impacts, negatively and positively, our brain. This is the knowledge that every leader needs to have in order to lead effectively. The brain is wired for certainty, it’s constantly attempting to anticipate the future. According to the philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennet, a human being is an anticipation machine. With layoffs looming, for example, most of the people around you are likely to be in a threat mode, wondering, “Am I on the list?” This is when a leader needs to balance hard-power with smart-power. Hard-power is when a leader is resorting to the hierarchical structure/position, issuing instructions, commanding and controlling. In times of crisis like this however, the leader has to balance the hard-power with smart power which is social intelligence. Smart-power is the understanding that the people you are leading are in pain. It is the understanding that they are going through a challenging period in their lives. The balance between the two powers is critical.
With this knowledge that the brain is always seeking for certainty or possible future outcomes, the leader needs to provide a clear vision for the team or organization. The Vision helps a lot in minimising threat responses that the brain creates by generating possible future outcomes. When the vision is not clear in an organization, rumours take over, they spread like wild-fire. As a leader, you need to keep on communicating the Vision, the picture of where the department/organisation is headed. Instead of letting a rumour network take root, leaders can create a culture of trust through consistency in their own communication network and practices.
One of the most effective ways of addressing possible rumours is to add ‘rumour busting’ to your meeting agendas despite issues that might arise. Leaders and managers who invite open dialogue can foster a sense of “we are all in this together” and avoid creating a culture where no one speaks up (and they instead head straight to the gossip train).
The organisational Culture is all about the beliefs, assumptions, behaviours that people embrace in the workplace. Leaders create workplace culture, wittingly or unwittingly. If you don’t create a platform for an open dialogue, you are automatically creating a platform for rumours to thrive. When you don’t constantly communicate the vision, you will automatically be creating a platform where employees will mislead each other and rely on rumours. By adding ‘rumour busting’ in your meeting agendas, as a leader, this gives you a chance to know what’s on people’ minds and make sure they know what you think from the start. Invite questions to learn about people’s concerns. If you aren’t hearing much, don’t kick the can down the road (don’t put off confronting a difficult issue or making an important decision), instead, communicate about the concerns you anticipate they may have. These concerns may be around:
- What you see coming based on known or predicted revenue shifts in the company;
- How leadership teams are enacting cost controls as a result;
- When tough decisions will need to be made about jobs, when and what that could look like. Be sure to be caring and honest about what is known (and what cannot be known) and be clear that you will keep people in the loop;
- If bonuses, or other benefits or perks that will affect your employees’ wellbeing will be impacted, let them know what you know now.
These are but some of the most critical conversations that leaders in organizations need to openly and honestly engage in. In most of the organizations I work with, these issues keep coming up, again and again hence I am able to easily mention them from the top of my head.
It can be hard to address failures, controversies and awkward gossip that may come up in these questions. And especially now, given the tough topics that surface in times of crisis, but by dealing with this situation and those concerns in a caring but direct manner, you can become trusted and more relatable as a leader.
Simply being open shows employees that they can come to you with gossip. That you are willing to deal with them openly. And that, even if you don’t know the answer, or don’t know the appropriate one, you can find out and report back to them. In all cases, if employees can trust you with sensitive topics, the topics themselves can become less problematic and will be less prone to causing insecurity.
The organization may boast to have a culture of innovation. They may claim that they encourage employees to come up with new ideas but only to find that the conditions in the workplace are not conducive for those new ideas. In almost all my leadership interventions, I come across this situation. Encouraging employees to come up with new ideas and raise their concerns where possible without proper conditions is problematic. Many managers claim to have an open-door policy, but they are never there or available to listen let alone to have open and candid discussions. Individual insecurity triggers instincts of self-preservation and drives people apart, while safety draws them together.
So, as a leader, how are you creating the memories of the future? Do you communicate and clarify the Vision and how often? Do you create the right Culture that minimises the brain’s environmental threat responses? And Finally, do you Create supportive Conditions for the successful implementation of the desired Vision and Culture? This is what the Veli Ndaba NeuroEngineering Leadership Effect is all about. Let the #VNNLE touch your soul.
Veli Ndaba is a NeuroEngineering Leadership Effect Speaker and Trainer, Mind Coach and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!), Newspaper Columnist and Entrepreneur. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org, www.velindaba.com or +27 83 304 9773