If you think saying good morning to your people is a waste of time, think again.
Leadership is not always best expressed through rallying cries, motivational speeches or disproportional rewards. Learn more about the value of individual consideration. Simple courtesy, respect and genuine interest in people are powerful means for building an engaged organisation.
How did he get the job done? By his human touch. He greeted every employee in a personal and interested way. He thanked people after each meeting or presentation sincerely and showed appreciation for the work done. This friendliness was besides his expertise and brilliant analytical skills the essence of his influence in the organisation.
Wouter Degeesti, CEO BASF Antwerp, and acknowledged for his leadership says it like this: “I have more and more normal conversations with my employees. If you want people to think for themselves and take ownership, then you have to treat them as adults.” A lot has been said and written about the authoritarian leadership of Steve Jobs. He too chose for informal communication at Pixar and Apple by putting the coffee machines, the post boxes and even the toilets central in the office-layout in order to stimulate casual talks and encounters (ii).
Leadership research confirms this human aspect of leadership. Bass and Rigio (iii) differentiate transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leadership is an ongoing negotiation process: “If you do this for me, then you will…” A lot of organisations institutionalize this kind of people management throught various HR processes. It starts with the labor contract and goes on in endless and tiring negotiation of objectives and benefits. Transactional leadership reduces and formalizes people into objectives, performance scores and competency profiles.
Transformational leadership develops people and makes them stronger. This kind of leadership is far more effective in times of change and insecurity where people are expected to take initiative and risks, and to develop themselves. Transformational leadership behaviour has four dimensions: intellectual stimulation, being a role model, inspiring motivation and individual consideration. This last dimension is what our first leadership thought is about. If you want people to move, you have to be connected. You have to be ‘one of them’. People will trust you only if you are sociable. You also have to be competent and integer, but if you don’t pay attention to people, you’ll be less trusted.
(iv)So, the leadership question for you is how much attention you have for the human person behind the function, the project, the strategy? How people-oriented are you?
What can you do?
- Lower the high tension in your work. Without some reserve capacity, you’ll never be able to pay attention to the human aspect of your work.
- Build in routines to have informal meetings with your people.
- Connect to people in a real, personal way.
- Don’t ever reduce people to competency or performance scores to take important decisions about people. Gather as many information as possible and take decisions in a holistic way.
- Start meetings with a check in moment or some white space. Ask how people are doing. Break the illusion that people can work effectively with each other without knowing each other.
- Give room and stimulate casual talks.
- Know your limits. If people don’t interest you, accept this as a limit for your leadership.
- Work for organisations and directors that have attention for people. Distrust leaders who are only concerned about results and their own agenda, no matter how charismatic they are.
(i) De Geest, W. (2011). Wouter Degeest is CEO of BASF Antwerp and has leadership positions in a number of economic organisations. He led his organisation successfully through the crisis of 2009 and a number of the BASF Antwerp practices became best practices at group level. The full report in Dutch of a leadership interview with him can be found here.
(ii) Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 656 p.
(iii) Bass, B. & Riggio, R. (2006). Transformational Leadership. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 282 p.
(iv) Mayer, R., Davis, J., & Schoorman, F. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of management review, 20 (3), 709-734.
A word on the guest author:
Prof. Koen Marichal is psychologist with 20 years experience in Human Resources. He’s now director of The Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School. He develops leadership, designs programs and organizes research.
Prof. Dr. Jesse Segers is academic director of TFLI, psychologist and phd in Applied Economical Sciences. He teaches leadership, organizational behaviour and human resources at the University of Antwerp and Antwerp Management School and does research in the field of shared and ambidextrous leadership.