A common thread across high-performing organizations is the relentless pursuit of betterment. KPIs and OKRs drive progress forward while self-development helps us keep up with the speed of change. This approach, lauded by high-performing teams worldwide, gets amazing results. But it is not without its pitfalls.
Fabien Bonavia, former Senior Director, Legal and Transaction Management at OakNorth Bank, believes this focus can cause individuals to lose sight of what true leadership is. "I'll be quite a blunt about this, leadership is fundamentally about giving. There are people who maybe hold themselves out to be leaders, but I don't consider them as such because they seem to be takers more than givers.
"That's not to say leaders don't need to utilize their team, don't need to rely on or leverage their team, they do need to take resources and people's time. But the flip side of that is they have to give something back in return."
Outside of the more chaotic periods, leadership's give and take should be roughly in equilibrium. Which means the amount they take or leverage from their employees and team members should be roughly equal to what they give in return in the form of inspiration, empathy and value.
This sentiment is at the root of Bonavia's perception of leadership. "The best leaders are those who rely on their team but focus on giving ideas and new solutions, innovating and being disruptive. It's an exceedingly difficult skill. They are good listeners who make an effort to learn from others, even those who work in different fields from theirs.
"The best leaders are often the soft-spoken ones. Silent leadership is particularly lacking in institutions and organizations."
The most overlooked part of leadership giving is the gift of time. Not only to talk about work, plans and projects, but to make a concerted effort to understand the peculiarities and differences of those they work with. Learning to not only leverage them but to celebrate them as well.
"Great leadership is being able to formulate and promote an idea as an objective. The trickier part is you're trying to sell that to people, all of whom are different. They have different capabilities, personalities and backgrounds. The better leaders recognize and embrace that and successfully communicate the group objective to these different individuals and generate buy-in," says Bonavia. "There's an element of empathy as well, and you have to communicate a sense of ambition."
The authentic and empathetic leadership Bonavia speaks of is impossible to achieve without devoting time and energy to your team. The result is a collective of individuals who will work hard for each other to realize a shared vision, who will happily go the extra mile.
While setting ever more aggressive KPRs may yield comparable results, it may come at the cost of a lack of cohesion, of dissent and disenfranchisement. And in an environment when disenfranchisement and quiet quitting are at an all-time high, a show of effort and care could be the start of a cultural shift which brings your team to new heights.
It is often the simple acts which carry the most significance. It doesn't take a complex leadership course to make an impact on people's lives, just the gift of your time, effort and care.