All too often, leaders reserve little time for self-reflection. Yet the value of self-knowledge in leadership should never be underestimated. Employee engagement can be at risk, according to Rasmus Hougaard, founder and managing partner of Potential Project, a provider of corporate mindfulness training solutions.
Hougaard and his organization have just completed two years of research in collaboration with Harvard Business Review. The report will be released in March 2018.
They surveyed more than 35,000 leaders from more than 120 countries and 900 companies, and interviewed more than 200 CEOs and C-suite leaders of global companies.
In a recent visit to Toronto, Hougaard took time to share some preliminary findings.
One of the key takeaways from the research is that leaders need to be better at creating engagement for their people, and building cultures that are people-centric.
According to the survey findings, only 13 per cent of the global workforce is engaged. Another 24 per cent are actively disengaged. “There is a lot of suffering going on in organizations,” Hougaard says. “For example, 35 per cent of employees would forego a pay raise to see their leader fired.”
The most troubling factor is that leaders have a very different perception about their ability to engage others. Hougaard cites a McKinsey & Co. study of 80,000 leaders, where 77 per cent felt they were doing well engaging people and creating productive employees. “But when employees were asked, 82 per cent said their leaders were not good at engagement and productivity. That’s a massive, massive gap in terms of the way leaders perceive themselves.”
This is further supported by other data, he adds. “Engagement surveys from Gallup show that over 15 years engagement scales have dropped year by year, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.”
So what makes a good leader? And perhaps more to the point, how can you assess yourself? Hougaard breaks it down into three key attributes.
Mindfulness – A mindful leader is present, fully focused and fully aware without the myriad distractions that come their way. Yet 73 per cent of leaders feel unmindful most of the time, and 96 per cent says they would like to be more mindful.
A mindful leader must be able to manage their thoughts and emotions as they are unfolding, he adds. “If you can’t monitor your mind, you can’t manage your decisions.”
It’s not as simple as it sounds. “If you look at research on how irrational we human beings are, it’s shocking. We think our decisions are based on rational thinking. However, 95 per cent of decisions are based on emotion. A Canadian study showed that even judges trained to give measured judgments tend to give shorter sentences before lunch and longer sentences in the late afternoon when they are hungry.”
Selflessness – The research also shows that the more people are preoccupied with themselves, the more their behaviour is corrupted. “Leaders with strong sense of self create more conflict and make more mistakes. Selfless people are better at showing gratitude and being inclusive, and less vulnerable to criticism or susceptible to manipulation.”
While it seems simple, speaking selflessly is an important element of successful leaderships, he notes. “Try not to use I, me, my or mine. Studies conducted in Australia on candidates running for office showed that there was a strong correlation between how people referenced themselves and who wins and loses.”
Compassion – A default orientation for a strong leader should be focused on being a benefit to the people they are serving. According to survey respondents, 91 per cent of leaders say compassion is very important for leadership, and 80 per cent said they would like to enhance their compassion but didn’t know how. The study also shows that organizations with more compassionate cultures and leaders have stronger connections between people, better collaboration, higher trust, enhanced loyalty and lower turnover.
Hougaard’s findings will be included in a new co-authored book, The Mind of the Leader – How to Lead Yourself, Your People and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results, which is scheduled for release in March 2018. He is also the co-author of One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance At Work with Mindfulness.Surveysays:centemployeeswouldgiveraisetheirleaderfired