In this edition, we feature Stephen Shedletzky who is one of inspiring Igniters of Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ team and teach leadership around the world.
He helped us understand major challenges when leading an organisation we may expect in 2019, significance of making a workplace for tomorrow, and key characteristics of a true leader. He also shared his thoughts on impact of emotional intelligence of a leader.
Q1. What is most challenging about leading an organisation in 2019 and coming years?
Stephen: Two challenges are top of mind – metrics and focus. We live in a world where it is easier to focus on what can be measured and maximized rather than what is just and right.
Milton Friedman won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976 with a belief that the responsibility of business is to maximise profit while staying within the bounds of the law. That’s a pretty low standard. What about ethics? We are in a time where the perspective is shifting. Where the belief of the purpose of business is more akin to Admin Smith’s definition of Capitalism – to do well by doing good.
Another challenge is sustained attention and focus in our digital world. According to a University of California Irvine study, it takes our brains roughly 23 minutes to get into deep focused work or flow. Gloria Mark, in partnership with Microsoft, found the average person is distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds when working in front of a computer. You do the math on that. We need to find ways to create more consistent time and space for creativity and focus.
Q2. Why is it necessary to build a workplace for tomorrow?
Stephen: If we don’t have tomorrow, what is the purpose of today? The most powerful human force is hope – a belief that a brighter future exists and that we have the capacity to contribute toward getting us closer toward that vision.
Q3. What are 5 key characteristics of a true leader?
Stephen: I’m not sure if there are necessarily five. It’s not vision or charisma. I know many leaders who lack their own vision. They certainly follow a vision, though to be a leader you don’t need to, yourself, be a Steve Jobs-ian visionary. You also need not be charismatic. Some of the best leaders I know are quite introverted.
One thing I’ve seen all true leaders exhibit is courage. Courage is the ability, on a consistent basis, to put what is in the group’s best interest ahead of what is in their own selfish interests. Leaders serve and put their people first ahead of anything else. And when they do this, their people will work tirelessly to see that their leader’s goals and vision be advanced. Not because they have to, because they want to.
Another quality I see as essential for leadership is empathy.
Imagine two scenarios. In the first, an employee is struggling. Their superior comes to them and says, “Your numbers are down for the third quarter in a row. We’ve had this conversation before. If you don’t pick it up, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to you.”
Or, imagine the second scenario with the same struggling team member: “Your numbers are down for the quarter in a row. We’ve had this conversation before. Are you okay?”
In the second scenario, the leader cares for and extends empathy to their team member. In which scenario will the leader better be able to support their team member to flourish and contribute their best?
Q4. What should a leader do; in order to foster a culture at work that enables people to solve their own problems?
Stephen: As human beings we are social animals. We have never been the fastest or the strongest. We have survived, adapted and thrived as a species because of our ability to form bonds of trust and cooperation.
While I am strong believer that each one of us must take responsibility for our attitude and efforts, I am equally as strong of a believer that together is better.
My life and career changed for the better when I realized I didn’t have to know every answer and I didn’t have to pretend I did. I was better able to solve my own problems when I came clean, I was honest and vulnerable about my strengths and weakness – I asked for help.
I believe leaders should create a culture where people naturally share their gifts and struggles with one another. That way we can help one another achieve and make progress toward our common vision and goals.
Q5. What do you suggest to keep feedback comfortable and open? How does it encourage people to keep doing great work
Stephen: Like Simon Sinek and the rest of the Start With Why team, I am a big believer in a culture full of feedback. Receiving and giving feedback is a vehicle to help us grow, personally and professionally. Without feedback, we often don’t know how we’re doing or how to improve.
There is a great formula for effective confrontation and feedback that I learned in a listening skills course at a wonderful, truly human company called Berry-Wehmiller. The formula is FBI: Feeling, Behaviour & Impact.
If you have feedback for someone, positive or constructive, you can include those three ingredients to make your feedback valuable and effective. The order does not matter, so long as each ingredient is included.
For example, you could say to Person X: When you did this specific thing (Behaviour), it made me feel (Feeling). The impact of that is (Impact). More specifically, When you arrived late to our meeting without an explanation after you had made a commitment to both be more punctual and be a better communicator, it made me feel frustrated and betrayed. The impact is I am less likely to recommend you for the upcoming project with our new client as my trust in you has diminished.
The value of this FBI formula is that it enables the deliverer of the feedback to own their emotions and explain the impact, intended or unintended, that someone had on them. It allows the recipient of the feedback to take ownership, understand someone else’s’ experience of them and work on making improvements. The deliverer of the feedback must not be attached to being right. They must own their emotions and be open to hearing the other person’s experience as well.
Q6. Trust plays a critical role in high performance of an individual, a team or an enterprise. Please elaborate your views on the same.
Stephen: Absolutely. Trust is essential for our ability to make progress together. You can have high performers who erode trust and do more damage than good for the team. Even though they may generate results, they have a toxic impact on the people around them.
I’d rather have a group of low or average performers who I trust than a bunch of high performers who I don’t trust. The latter situation leads to volatility and self-preservation. The former situation of high trust provides us with a foundation to grow sustainably.
Q7. Share your thoughts on impact of emotional intelligence of a leader.
Stephen: I believe emotional intelligence and empathy are highly linked and the good news is both are a muscle. You can work on improving your emotional intelligence and empathy. Asking genuine, open-ended questions and then caring to hear the answer is what true leaders do. We can all work on our emotional intelligence and be more empathetic. It’s about focusing on the well-being of others.
Q8. One question you think, I should have asked you. Please suggest with your answer.
Stephen: What is most exciting and inspiring you ahead?
I’m looking forward to talking with others about Simon’s next work, The Infinite Game, which examines how to be an idealist in a realist’s world. It will be available later this year!
In The Infinite Game, he looks at Game Theory, finite and infinite games, from an organizational and geo-political perspective. And he explores the belief that the ability to adopt an infinite mindset is a prerequisite for any leader who aspires to leave their organization in better shape than they found it.
Stephen Shedletzky engages people in meaningful ways so that we connect with depth and live in a more fulfilled world. With a knack for sharing the right words at the right moment, he delivers evidence-based content in a provocative and humorous way.
Feeling stifled on his corporate track, Stephen was struck by Simon Sinek’s vision of a more inspired and fulfilled world. He joined Sinek’s Start With Why team in 2012. What started as a position answering fan email, Stephen now leads the Brand Voice team to ensure every product and communication authentically reflects the organization’s most deeply-held beliefs.