In Shawn Murphy’s book, The Optimistic Workplace, he argues that leaders should allow “the human side of business to flourish.” The book and the advice therein are based on extensive interviews with business leaders, 20+ years consulting experience, and academic research. In the book Murphy provides a roadmap for leaders who want to transform or create workplaces where people can grow and have meaningful workplace experiences.
So how does one create more positive workplaces and increase employee engagement? In his interviews Murphy found common advice: “Start small and show you care.” The best leaders build quality relationships. To do so means being self-aware, authentic, genuine. He states, “Without an evolving sense of who you are and an active inquiry into why you believe what you do, you risk reducing your leadership effectiveness” (pp. 168-169).
Murphy discusses several characteristics of leaders who are truly good stewards of those they lead:
- Humility: Helps you stay grounded; understand your flaws; pursue success but also the greater good.
- Honesty: Not only with others but also with yourself. Fundamental to building trust and credibility.
- Grit: Stick-to-it-ness, perseverance, motivation to work through challenges to meet long-term goals.
- Resilience: Growing from setbacks, adapting, recovering; is built throughout your life.
- Vulnerability: “not weakness”, “takes strength to show it”, but showing vulnerability can make relationships stronger
- Reflection: Take time to think about the interactions in your day; what worked; what did not; what really happened.
- Sense making: Developing a deeper understanding of the meaning of events around you. True understanding can make your actions more effective.
1. Mary Follett wrote in the 1920s that self-awareness was key to effective leadership. I fully agree. The best leaders know themselves – their strengths and their flaws. They are authentic – and many of the best are servant leaders.
2. On humility: Jim Collins (Good to Great) characterized Level 5 leaders as being very humble. Humility is a great characteristic in a leader but many great leaders are not humble. I would agree with Murphy, however, that some degree of humility is important for leaders to effect positive climate change at the workplace level.
3. On honesty: Being honest with others is the easier part here. Being honest with one’s self might be harder. Feedback from someone who knows you well and whom you value and who values you might be helpful.
4. On grit and resilience: If you have grit, you will be resilient, and if you have resilience, you will demonstrate grit. Grit sums up some of life’s most important lesson – as I discussed in a blog in 2014.
5. On vulnerability: Everything in its place and time. There are moments where showing that one is vulnerable could strengthen relationships. There are also moments where showing vulnerability might make a situation more difficult to manage. Judgment is important here.
6. On reflection and sense making: These go hand-in-hand. In my book, Decoding the Workplace, I argue that reflecting on what goes on around you is key to upping your game. Decoding the Workplace helps leaders and others develop deeper insights into what is happening around them.
Murphy, S. (2015). The optimistic workplace: Creating an environment that energizes everyone. New York: Amacom.
Ballard, J. (2015). Decoding the workplace: 50 Keys to understanding people in organizations. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger
Image, “Leader”, by Vic. Obtained from https://www.flickr.com/photos/59632563@N04/6460461969/
Used with permission https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2015. Updated 2020. All rights reserved.