Our recent Thought Leaders breakfast was facilitated by Within People, a global network of coaches who help leaders grow the businesses they love. This is the first in a series of four Accelerate Cape Town Thought Leadership sessions on ‘Unlearning Leadership’.
Successful 21st Century leaders need to unlearn – or let go of – some of their assumptions and narratives that get in the way of being great leaders. The role of leaders, more than ever before, is to unlock people’s potential, given the shift in business from efficiency in the 20th Century to creating value in the 21st Century, where everyone is involved.
This idea of ‘Unlearning Leadership’ refers to leaders challenging some of their underlying and often unconscious assumptions made about concepts (such as purpose and inclusion in this session) which no longer serve them or their people. This does not mean forgetting or unlearning what has been useful and significant. It means becoming aware of what no longer serves and bringing intention to changing it.
In the context of the session topic on ‘how leaders use purpose to inspire inclusion and trust’, the first exploration was to define what we mean by purpose and inclusion, which exposed some of the assumptions we need to challenge.
Inclusion was defined as:
- Everyone’s input is valuable (no hierarchy)
- Everyone has a voice that is actively listened to
- Everyone feels valued / like they belong
- We are aware of bias and don’t allow it to come into play
Purpose was defined as your why, your reason for existing, reflecting your passion and the impact you make in the world.
Some of the assumptions surfaced in the session that need to be unlearned by leaders are:
- The purpose of business is to make profit
- Purpose is about the soft stuff
- People are seen as a cost, not an opportunity
- If you stay connected to your purpose, you stay connected to your source of success, and profit flows as an outcome
- There is a hard business case that shows that purpose drives growth
- When you truly value and involve your people, they feel valued and they own and live it
Woolworths and One&Only, who have both been on purpose journeys over the last few years, shared some of their key learnings around how purpose can inspire inclusion, with trust being a natural outcome.
The top five key learnings about how leaders can use purpose to inspire inclusion and trust are:
- Get leaders aligned around the change / opportunity around purpose and the business case for it, so they believe in it and back it.
- Use a bottom up approach of listening to and using people’s input, so they feel valued and believe in and own the outcome.
- Include leaders and staff in sessions together to create inclusion. Equalise the playing field between leaders and staff by creating a space for both to share personal stories.
- Co-facilitate the process using an external partner who has experience with purpose, so the process is owned internally and strengthened with outside expertise.
- Sustain belief in purpose, through leaders living it, positive reinforcement behaviours, consequences for those who aren’t living it, and by integrating it with everything in the business (from EVP to recruitment to on-boarding to measurement, etc).
In terms of a way forward for businesses on this journey, some of the common struggles Within People sees with leaders and their teams are the following, and here are some tips of how to work with each of these:
- People are focused on differences.
Tip: Build CLARITY by defining the why, the shared passion your people have for what they do.
- Lack of awareness of the stories we hold about each other & concepts.
Tip: Build BELIEF by creating a space for people to share personal stories.
- The leadership team is full of drama & energy is being sucked into this rather than into what’s important.
Tip: Build CONFIDENCE by developing leadership capability to overcome fear & unlock the potential of your people.
We would once again like to thank our sponsor, Webber Wentzel, for their continued support.
Kind regards, Ryan