Great leaders aren’t born. They don’t become effective leaders by reading a book, taking a seminar or even getting advanced degrees. Of course, education is effective for laying the foundation of business theories and practices. But there is another journey every strong leader needs to explore in order to not only achieve their full potential, but transform their team and work environment.
This element is purely internal. It’s the introspective work that needs to be done. Elements like working through cognitive dissonance and building greater empathy can help transform a leader and a workplace. These are the soft skills that are easy to overlook. Thankfully, we are seeing a new interest from high level leaders to explore these self-development techniques. At the same time, companies across the globe are looking for better ways to nurture employee engagement and happiness. The transformational leader plays a critical role in those improvements.
The elements that lead to greater leader self-awareness
You’re probably wondering how you can be proactive and take the steps to be more self-aware and empathetic. Let’s start by outlining the basic steps.
Cognitive Dissonance and the Transformational Leader
First, let’s discuss cognitive dissonance. In a previous article, I explained how cognitive dissonance can get in the way of working mothers progressing in the workplace. I also gave suggestions for how both leaders and working mothers can eliminate the stress and mental friction that comes with cognitive dissonance.
Leaders can identify and transcend the issues that cognitive dissonance can create. Cognitive dissonance is the mental state of being unsettled by conflicting beliefs and actions. Cognitive dissonance results in holding two conflicting ideas, beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviors. The uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the brain at the same time. Example: I should spend more time with my kids / I should spend more time at work.
In an unpredictable world, our minds want to learn things and then rely on those things to always be true. When we’re presented with new, conflicting information, this causes stress and reactionary thinking. We may dig into our old set beliefs, rationalizing why we continue to be right. Our minds may look for ways to justify maintaining our long held beliefs.
Cognitive dissonance is quite common and prevalent in the workplace. As you can imagine, it can limit growth and lead to us expend energy on conflicts that don’t deserve so much attention.
Practicing Introspection to Transcend Cognitive Dissonance
The benefits of recognizing and minimizing the negative effects of cognitive dissonance are great. When we become more socially aware it provides us with better understanding on how to crack the cognitive dissonance code. We become better able to understand individuals at the core of who they are, what they’re made of and what animates them so as to start stimulating and leading with a better knowledge and understanding of our teams.
Going against your flow, cognitive dissonance can wear you out and create mental fatigue. Conversely, making mental health care a priority can have profoundly positive results on your effectiveness as a leader. Mental immunity is the state of creating protections (not barriers) that keep the trials of the day from depleting us. The more we can resolve issues before they arise, the more mental immunity we can create.
Begin by asking the following questions:
Do I have a cognitive dissonance?
How do I know if I have a cognitive dissonance?
What actions would I need to take to eliminate Cognitive Dissonance?
Do I need to change behaviors, mindset, beliefs?
How important is it for me to change my cognitive dissonance?
The more you ask yourself these questions, the more a habit will form in how you think. Introspection is a practice that we can get into the habit of practicing. Interoception, the monitoring and understanding of the body’s inner workings by the brain, is also a crucial part. Our brain is continuously monitoring both the external world around us and all the functions, stimuli and needs of the body. Your brain is well equipped to monitor and respond to thoughts. You can become more in control of your thoughts and how you respond to them.
Steps a Transformational Leader Can Take with their Teams
Stimulate your brain
Creativity can provide wonderful ways for you to explore your thoughts and emotions. Encouraging your team to have creative time and different ways to approach tasks can keep things fresh and novel, giving the brain new ways to react.
Each of your employees is an individual. When we approach people as singular individuals, we are able to offer more empathy, connect in authentic ways and encourage real engagement and communication. Asking questions, setting aside time for one-on-one conversations are ways to nurture this approach.
Keep it simple
Allow your team to understand your vision with clear speech, uncluttered by jargon and based on scenarios your team can relate to and connect with. The clearer your articulation, the better chance you have of winning them over.
Be a role model
Getting back to the idea that you can’t fake true leadership, it’s not enough to just tell your team about your values and vision. To truly be effective you need to live it. This can be quite the challenge! It involves real personal change, not just company mottos or well-written scripts. But you also are in the wonderful position to influence and inspire others, to mentor them not only in their work, but in their personal growth as well so each can become a transformational leader in their own space.
What are the benefits of a transformational leader?
Of course, self-awareness is a beneficial journey for each of us. It can make us better partners, parents and friends. Beyond that, it can help us lead from a more connected, effective position. Beyond these benefits however are the ones experienced by the team who works with the transformational leader.
Groups led by transformational leaders tend to be both successful and loyal. They give more to the team and care deeply about the group’s ability to accomplish its goals. Turnover tends to be quite low as transformational leaders are able to inspire a great deal of commitment in their followers.