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How to lead with purpose and direction – Leadership series

My description of a good leader is; someone able to give people a sense of direction and clarity of purpose. 

I’m Tamson. I am an Insight Coach, Speaker and Trainer for PUSH, specialising in psychological skills and leadership. In the first of this Leadership blog series, I will share my views on two qualities that contribute to great leadership: direction and purpose.

 

Where are you heading?

My question for you: If I was to walk into your organisation, gather everyone together on a nearby London bus and ask, “Which direction are we heading?”, what would I hear? A shout from the back saying “Hackney”, a call of “Clapham” from the front, or a clear cheer from everyone that we’re headed to “Mayfair”.

 

In my work as a leadership coach, I recognise how low productivity and poor job satisfaction are often caused by unclear messages, inaccurate delegation and low rapport between leadership and team members.

 

Neuroscience tells us that when humans have a sense of purpose and understand why they are doing something, the prefrontal context – the executive thinking part of the mind at the front of the brain – lights up and directs our thinking. Accuracy of work activity, balanced decision making and seeing tasks through is highly probable when this part of the brain is charged up with a high blood flow.

 

When blood flow is charged in the amygdala – our emotional processing brain and home to our survival instincts – the accuracy and commitment to tasks is hijacked and compromised by emotional thinking and unwanted reactions.

 

A leader who is clear on both the direction of success for an organisation and how the work activity of teams and individuals impacts this vision neurologically soothes their team members’ minds. They send blood away from the amygdala and into the prefrontal cortex where productivity increases.

 

These parts of the mind have been captured playfully by Professor Steve Peters in his mind management book, The Chimp Paradox.  He describes the emotionally reactive part of the mind as our ‘inner chimp’ and the executive thinking part as the ‘human’. Effective leaders use messages and interactions to settle the chimp in others and wake up the more performing human.

 

Greater togetherness and sharper decisions

As a Senior Psychological Mentor, I worked for and was trained by Prof Peters in the craft of coaching leaders and teams around the country. We coached them to apply the principles of neuroscience to get the best out of themselves and others. Working with teams as a coach for PUSH, my first question to any leader is, “What do you want?”. It is not uncommon to hear a leader complain about the lack of productivity and motivation in their team. Then when I check in with the team, I hear confusion and a lack of clarity about the teams purpose; why they are doing the specific work activity that they are doing and how does it fit into the bigger picture?

 

A simple method I encourage leaders to adopt is the principle of a ‘red thread’.  This is the purpose of the work activity, the very nature of what it is the team has come together to create. For instance, if a team’s purpose is to create ‘the world’s fastest boat’, the red thread question becomes, ‘What decision or action will make the boat go faster?’. A leader who keeps in alignment with this thread is better able to make decisions and direct team effort towards the vision. The team is energised, clear and productive. They know where they are heading and how they impact the vision. This avoids conflict as well as time, energy and cost wasted on activity which will slow the boat down.

 

Keeping aligned

So how do you regularly bring your team back to the purpose of their work activity and the overall organisational direction? i.e. How do you keep aligned with your ‘red thread’?

 

The answer is to first reflect on the purpose of your business or team’s work yourself. Then bring it to your team and discuss it explicitly. If your business survival is based on client satisfaction, perhaps your red thread question would be, ‘Will this decision or action contribute to greater client satisfaction?’ Keep bringing your team back to this question.

 

Clarifying what your red thread is – and specifically your red thread question – will help your team become more engaged and energised. Using this simple strategy will help your team make daily connections between their efforts and the impact they have on the bigger picture. This creates a greater sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, which will lead to greater productivity.

 

PUSH help create leaders who are living, breathing examples of excellence. Who are confident and capable, who listen and value their team members and allow them the opportunity to grow and develop beyond what they thought they were capable of. To find out more, please get in touch.

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