In the first half of my discussion on becoming a transformational leader, I outlined some of the inner work which can be done to help achieve this state of leadership. Next, I want to explore with you the ways this work can translate into unifying your team and giving each of your team members a greater opportunity to achieve FLOW @ WORK.
First let’s quickly review what the state of Flow looks like and why it is worth achieving.
The process of finding Flow
Flow is nothing else than the perfect balance between the usability of your skills and the right level of challenge. In other words, when you do the things that you love, you are always willing to put in the work to learn more, you are innovative and always a step ahead.
This state isn’t just reserved for the hours we’re at work. It’s my hope that we bring a more holistic approach to seeking flow and optimal performance. The word holistic is not looked at enough in the workplace.
As leaders, we may have been taught to look at people through the lens of their performance, what KPIs they deliver. But if we can move away from KPIs to looking at the output of the whole person: their mental health, their emotional balance, their happiness index, it can give us exponentially positive returns. When they do their job in a state of flow, they inspire others, they become gems that shine so bright that they inspire others and it’s contagious.
When you are in flow you’re never tired, you do what you love and in a way that makes you the best at what you do you. This can be especially important for a leader to work towards. The opposite scenario is an arousal state where you feel outside of your comfort zone. This can lead you to be in a constant state of anxiety, which brings out the opposite of productivity, empathy and creativity.
Real change is possible
Those are the states of being you want for yourself and your team. With the right coaching and training, you can start moving towards your zone of flow. Remember, nothing is set in stone, everything is motion. And the role of a leader is to identify what needs to be done, to put the plan in action, to bring those people into their flow and to accept that is our reality.
Action makes change happen, so let’s examine what those steps are you can take after you’ve done the internal work to identify cognitive dissonance and remove mental blocks from your own mindset. It begins with a simple questionnaire.
Ask your team for input
It can often be daunting to ask others for feedback on yourself, particularly when it’s your work team. But once you do the internal work, you’ll be much more prepared to use their feedback and see it as constructive criticism. It’s also good to keep in mind that none of us are perfect. As long as you’re willing to do the work and are open to improvement with your team, they will see that. And this is a crucial part of the process. Every time I ask my team to give me feedback, I show them that I’m willing to evolve for the greater good of the team.
Asking for input can begin with asking your team to fill out a questionnaire on their experiences as an employee. This can evolve to roundtable discussions and greater exploration. Don’t worry if everyone seems intimidated to start! I know firsthand how awkward this process can be at the start, but once you gain the trust of your team, the energy will quickly switch to one of enthusiasm and excitement.
Be willing to let people find their path, even if it’s not with you
When you begin opening up to your team, walls and barriers can quickly begin to crumble. Suddenly you might find your team sharing things about their lives and journeys, what they’re going through or what they’re trying to achieve. A more honest environment begins to take shape with greater transparency. But through this process of self-discovery, you may lose people. Some may realize that they are not in flow in their current position. The process can become an eye-opening moment when they realize that what they are doing is actually not what inspires them. And that’s okay. It’s part of the process.
Some people will realize that they simply want to make a change, and that’s okay because it’s good for them and it’s good for you, because you don’t want someone who isn’t the right fit for your team. Other people may realize that they are not ready to be in this sphere of self-examination. After this however is the moment the team gels together within this new dynamic that you create, the team begins to really carry one another. It’s this type of energy that is extremely transformative. All of a sudden, people want to be better, they want to grow.
Stay confident in the process
Another reason why I included this step, is because when it happens, it can make you question your process. I personally experienced someone leave during this process. I could have stopped there and said, “maybe it’s not a good workshop?” But it’s a great workshop because it gives people clarity. It gives them planning. In challenging our own happiness, we question what is our flow, what is our happiness. Some may discover this process doesn’t work for them, but this doesn’t negate its intrinsic value and the positive impact it can have on the vast majority of staff.
The process can trigger less than favorable reactions for some people. For whatever reason (not wanting to work on self, a default of blaming others, a habit of rationalizing or unflinching belief in a self story) it can cause a negative reaction. And that’s okay. Knowing this may occur can save you from significant doubt and stress as the process unfolds.
Gain the ability to connect on a human-to-human level
Casual conversations where you share personal aspects of your life can humanize the dynamic between leaders and staff. This can feel intimidating or like a loss of power for some leaders. You may have fears inside of yourself that are unresolved. If you have gone in to do your personal work then you’re not scared of all these things because you own the space. Why would you be scared of sharing something that belongs to you? You know that you are worth something because you are working at it every day.
Of course, everything needs to be done in balance. You’re not going to overshare and tell your team everything about your life but you can give them enough so that they can see that you’re like them. We are all human. You are sharing the same reality that they have.
I realized that by talking about my kids or you know, making them laugh by saying that after my twin pregnancy, I had to give away all my shoes that I collected over the years because I gained a shoe size. Telling them little stories opens them up to having the opportunity to share the same about their life. It humanizes the approach and sometimes we don’t do it because we are scared to mix our business and personal lives. But I am not scared anymore. My team sees me as a human and they can see that there is a window into my life that gives them the opportunity to then speak about themselves and open up about certain challenges they are facing. It creates this nice rapport.
Set healthy boundaries
Sometimes we hesitate about sharing our personal lives or even our feedback critique because we don’t know what our boundaries are. In our workshops, we established a tool that I wanted: a manifesto or rules for our team. We needed to ask, what are our rules? So we created six or seven rules that we all need as a team to function well. It was all about our needs. It was all about my needs and their needs. And we agreed on it and we signed it and it was a nice formal contract process.
During this process, I was debating with myself if I would ask them to do this. I told them that I want to be the kind of leader who, for example, respects the fact that when they are off work, they’re off work. That meant promising to not send them emails when they are not at work, which I did in the past and I am horrified about how I was working. I was not considerate of the others in my team because I was just a workaholic.
Proactive communication can mitigate problems before they begin
Now, understanding the benefit of boundaries, I pay closer attention to them. So I decided to share one with my team. I told them, “I would like you on Fridays to not email me because I am not working on Fridays. Those days are for my children, to be with my twins.”
I have a natural tendency to go back to my inbox and look at emails as they come in. Then I can’t really enjoy my time off because I’m thinking about the work that I just read. “So how about you don’t email me on Fridays?” And the reaction was not what I was expecting. One of my team members said, “That’s perfect. We’ll just put the delayed delivery and you’ll receive our emails on Monday. Then it’s fresh. We know you are going to get back to us in no time because you are super fast. That way we can get the work done and you don’t get harassed during your day off.”
What I realize is that simply by stating the need and establishing a clear boundary, I was role modeling to them the need for a work/life balance. I was showing them how we can articulate the need and develop a solution.
As leaders we often don’t want to do this. We always need to show that we’re working, that business comes first. But this process can help make everyone realize that I’m expecting them to be balanced in their life. Boundaries are encouraged. We have to respect the time to regenerate. And for me, that’s a transformational leader. Giving people time to switch off to recharge and then to come back is key. Talking it through together was an amazing experience.