12 Most Necessary Shifts in Your Leadership Thinking

The dominant way leaders and employees work together is outdated, divisive. It alienates employees and managers from one another. The familiar way is that employees accept a paycheck in exchange for work. Keep personal interests outside of work. Stay within your defined box.

Imbued in this relationship is a command-and-control hierarchy. Charlene Li’s work has shown us that this type of hierarchy is closed. Meaning that nothing from the outside can easily penetrate how things are. The current state is closely guarded against unwanted reasons for change. There is little to no room for employees to share ideas.

It’s time for a shift. For businesses and organizations to succeed in today’s complex world, the command-and-control hierarchy triggers restrictive expectations that limit employees’ exploration and implementation of fresh ideas.

But, what do you shift? Here are 12 ideas to consider.

1. Foster community

The workplace is a community. In a community, people share a common attitude towards its purpose. In healthy communities, the people internalize the identity as part of their own. There is joint ownership of what the community creates. People are willing to contribute and help others. We need more leaders to help make this shift away from silos, turfs, and extreme individuality dominate in our workplaces.

2. Know your “Selfless-Why”

At a base level, we work to survive. That, though, doesn’t need to be the only reason to work. Your work can be an extension of your desire to help others experience success and satisfaction from their efforts. Identify your “Selfless-Why.” It’s the reason you arrive at work to do good things. It’s bigger than you. It requires help from others.

3. Create an environment of optimism

Managers have a responsibility to create a working environment that enables employees to contribute their talents and do their best work. An environment of optimism helps do that. Predominate beliefs include (1) things are possible, (2) what I do matters, (3) work can be a source of joy, and (4) employees passions should be harnessed.

4. Redefine achievement

Achievement at work has a variety of meanings for employees. Research has repeatedly shown that for employees it’s not more money. Managers seem stuck on the belief that it is. Employees want to contribute and make a difference. They want meaningful work. Shift your leadership to help make that happen.

5. Get to know the whole person

Businesses don’t run themselves on the numbers captured in the financial statements. Those numbers are generated by the hard work of people. People who have hopes and aspirations. We need more leaders to understand their employees’ hopes and aspirations. When we are understood we want to give more of ourselves.

6. Know your personal values

When you know what you value in life and in people clarity emerges. The clarity typically centers on the quality of life and relationships. That clarity reveals that the significance of helping others is far more enriching than satisfying one’s own needs. Imagine how that can strengthen relationships at work.

7. Help your peers just because

Those silos I mentioned previously, well a good way to tear them down is to offer your support to a peer. Offer support because it’s the right thing for everyone. No agenda.

8. Link profit and people

When I talk with financially-minded people, which is often, rarely does the conversation include how people will be affected by their financial analysis. We need more leaders who can link profit focused conversations to also include workforce implications. However, it’s not how do we get “those people” to do what we need. The shift is what are the potential implications and how do I help my community navigate the changes?

9. Encourage more

The cynicism in organizations is thick. The needed shift is not to succumb to it. It’s to act in defiance of it. Encourage employees to apply their talents. Put employees on projects that tap into their passions. Have conversations about failures and help them pull lessons from them.

10. Adopt a “Green Mentality”

A colleague once said about professional development, “If you’re ripe you’re rotting; If you’re green you’re growing.” Professional development never ends. A green mentality keeps your mind sharp and your skills fresh. Curiosity deepens.

11. Partner better

Stop rushing your thinking and work. Make time in your calendar to read, prepare ideas, review documents at least a day before the meeting. Your partnership with others improves: your better prepared, your questions and ideas are stronger. Read Seth Godin’s view on this here. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/06/when-is-it-due.html

12. Make work satisfying

If you began to do any of the items in this list, you will help to make work satisfying for others and yourself.

Paychecks are important. Meaningful relationships between manager and employees AND a paycheck is invaluable.


I wrote this post originally for the good people at 12 Most.

Photo courtesy of  Khalilm

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of ExchangeGain. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • http://www.endgamebusiness.com Steve Borek

    A great list. The one idea that out shined the rest was getting to know the person.

    For some reason, leaders think paying attention to the soft stuff makes them soft. As an executive coach, I can tell you from experience, the quicker the leader understands each team member on a personal level, the better off everyone will be. This includes the leader, team, customer services, and the bottom line.

    Taking an interest in your constituents shows you care. This makes you humble and human. People want to follow those that show everything about themselves. It’s called being vulnerable.

  • http://www.bensimonton.com Ben Simonton (@BenSimonton)

    Great post Shawn. As your 12 points so clearly show, leading is all about how you treat people and the command and control approach is anti-people by its nature resulting in demotivation and demoralization.

    I used the top-down approach for 12 years though I tried my best to learn how to correct the many performance problems that approach caused (though I did not realize I was the cause until later). Then I started truly listening to my people and responding to their complaints, suggestions and questions. Strangely, their performance rose and the more I did it the more their performance rose.

    Eventually, I realized that the performance of my people was dictated by the extent to which I met their five basic needs: to be heard, to be respected, and to have competence, autonomy, and purpose, these last three being what motivates us all as revealed by the research of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.

    As you would expect, there are some fine points to this process, but I found that people are actually more than four times more capable than I had thought humanly possible.

    Best regards, Ben

  • http://Website Welly Reagan

    I also notice the shift needed in my company is the Link between profit n people. There’s always people who make big profit for the company, and the others didn’t profitable.

    Since we all want our company to last long term, we should not use short term solution (such as downsizing without any future strategy).

    I think managers should be concerning on mapping a long term human resources development, since most of HRD departments nowadays are more concerned about counting paychecks and timesheets than developing training / developing strategy. The bigger the company, the bigger is the challenge to put all the heads into productive places.

    That’s when the managers should dig n reveal the link between profit n people evenmore.

    Ur article reminds me of a lesson I get from the Three Kingdoms in Chinese history: More people means more food to eat. But more people also means more people in the farm to produce more food. When the farm is fully loaded, we can always train them into soldiers and start our kingdom expansion for more soils and glories.

  • http://Www.dicksonstkd.com Bob Dickson

    I really like the thought process here! As Kate pointed out, many times leadership at high levels focus on reducing costs for profits (almost a knee-jerk reaction) while efforts aimed at improved focus and purpose throughout the organization can increase productivity, and thereby Return On Investment.

  • http://Website Jane Perdue

    Great list, Shawn! Here’s a suggestion for expanding #8: link people and profits and principles. The finance folks and the big kahunas do need reminding that it’s people who get the work done, yet everyone needs to focused on doing the right work from a principles standpoint. Too many execs I’ve encountered have the “Rupert Murdock syndrome: make money, not ethics.”

  • http://katenasser.com Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

    Hi Shawn,
    This really is a great list. Of all of them, I think the biggest shift needed is “Link Profit & People”. It’s quite normal for high level leaders to focus on profit. They must.

    Yet we have strayed into a myth that people reduce profit. Hence sudden downsizings etc… Yet if we put more thought into the hiring and then developing to help people to be more versatile — people and profit partner well.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://exchangegain.com Shawn Murphy

    Steve, your comment makes me think of the importance of uncovering each person’s story. And indeed, it takes a leader’s willingness to be vulnerable before his or her peers, direct reports, board members. This “risky” behavior indeed has a worthwhile payoff.

    Be well,

  • http://exchangegain.com Shawn Murphy

    Hi Kate,
    Yeah, it’s an age old strategy: reduce headcount. It merely makes the balance sheets look good in the short term. Yet, ugly problems often rear their heads that create uglier problems: poor customer service, quality issues, morale issues, attrition, costly recruitment and training expenses, and so on.

    Always great to see you, Kate. Be well.

  • http://exchangegain.com Shawn Murphy

    You point out a timeless truth: what you put out is what you get back. In this case, your former leadership approach treated people as incompetent and signaled distrust. Your team responded in kind. The magical moment when you begin to see people as people, and not a means to your desired ends, they often respond in kind. Relationships deepen and we get to learn the personal stories of those with whom we work. By our nature we are social. And when we leverage that basic human truth in our work relationships things move in a completely different, uplifting direction.

    Good on you to be humble and open to seeing what you really had to offer and what others had to offer, too.


  • http://www.bensimonton.com Ben Simonton (@BenSimonton)


    Mostly I agree, but not with the part about the personal stories of those with whom we work. I never did that though because I was so open to helping there were those who came to me for help with their personal problems. I actually do not believe that bonding on a personal level is necessary, but fully meeting the five needs is.

    I might add that my methods included converting the 95% who are conformists, some more and some less, what I call followers who waste a huge amount of brainpower following, back to their original state of being their own person as a non-follower. Non-followers apply 100% of their brainpower on their work and don’t waste any on conforming to what is supposedly expected of them. Leading people to use high standards is about half the possible gain, while conversion to non-followers is the other half if not slightly more.


  • There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

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