For 2017 I Wish For Effective Leadership

With the holiday season upon us, now is a good time to pause and reflect on current trends and developments in business – and in the spirit of the New Year, set some goals for 2017.

My professional holiday wish list is quite short this year. I really only have one wish. However, my one wish has wide-reaching influence on many workplace aspects, from the employee experience to bottom line business results, so it is an important one.:

I wish for organizations of all sizes to take serious stock in developing effective and empowered leaders at all levels.

Why leadership effectiveness matters

It is true we all want to enjoy what we do and have fun with people we work with, but more importantly, we want to work with individuals who keep us accountable; who challenge us to give our best and who empower us to achieve and grow our careers.

Effective leadership — leadership that is transparent and empowering, and focused on leading experiences vs. people — has a positive impact on employee engagement, retention, customer loyalty, the recruitment of top talent and overall brand perception and influence.

From wish to reality

What effective leadership comes down to is having the right people with the right talents and experience in place, helping cultivate employees who feel empowered and self-guided. Trust and business acumen are key to building this type of work culture.

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Having said that, we have to be honest with ourselves and our people. Not everyone is destined to be a leader. Nor is everyone born to lead. Strong leadership behaviors are something we have or don’t. When we find people who are natural leaders, we have to invest in them and develop their leadership strengths. By investing in their strengths and extending their leadership reach, we assist in the facilitation of driving employee empowerment, which in turn drives employee engagement, retention and loyalty.

If you are a leader, I encourage you to consider the following:

  • Encourage on-the-spot developmental feedback when working with individual people, or teams to help troubleshoot issues immediately.
  • Help people understand the organization’s main goals and what you’re trying to achieve so they have a clear understanding of their contribution and how it matters. This isn’t a goal cascading event but rather a bottoms up approach to aligning priorities and outcomes.
  • Present new challenges and opportunities to help people reach their full potential and to motivate them to do their best every day.
  • Allow for flexibility and creative input from individual people and teams when it comes to problem solving – give them a chance to tackle the problem first.
  • Take a step back and let people do their job. The most successful leaders get out of the way of their people.
  • Show your appreciation – find ways to say “thank you” in ways that resonate with the individual or team. Remember to personalize when possible.

For organizations to transform; for “regrettable turnover” to cease; for employees to achieve; for solutions to be uncovered; for customers to be delighted it starts at the top. Select leaders who can naturally lead. Educate and develop your leaders continuously, and hold them accountable to their overall effectiveness. If you can get these pieces right, everything else on your holiday wish list for your organization will begin to fall into place.

Lisa Sterling is the Chief People Officer for Ceridian, focused on executing the organization’s global people strategy combined with leading the vision of Dayforce Talent Management. Lisa originally joined Ceridian in June 2015 as Vice President of Dayforce Talent Management, responsible for global product strategy for Talent technologies. Lisa’s broad range of expertise covers the entire people experience as well as talent management technology. A recognized thought leader to the market and Ceridian’s clientele, Lisa has a true passion for people and products and promotes new ways of bringing the two together in a way that drives business outcomes. Follow her @lisamsterling.


1 Comment on “For 2017 I Wish For Effective Leadership

  1. I am a teacher and am seeing so many problems with leadership and team dynamics. i wrote a letter and would love to hear your thoughts as to how to fix the following problems:Many teachers have reported additional stress, gossip, gas lighting and miscommunication in our district lately. After brainstorming these problems with colleagues, many of us believe this negative behavior seems to have resulted in the changes that have taken place with the grade level leadership model (not the mentoring model) over the past 8 years. The current leadership model seems to creates division, displacing children’s immediate issues as top priority, contributing to a system of communication where much is lost in translation. The current team leader model makes it hard to suggest opinions without backlash. It has become too political creating hostility between district members when the system should be creating unity.

    After teaching for 17 years in elementary education, I have seen positive and negative changes take place. I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth, mandates come and go. I have witnessed both struggles and growth. Of all the changes, I think this grade level leadership model has caused more problems than solutions. I say this as a teacher who has been leader on and off the teams so I view it from both sides. Before the present team model, the entire school was a team, all were leaders, we still met as grade levels but we decided the agenda and we were all on equal playing field. Because our entire school was a team, we were friends across the grades, we lunched as one team, our team was our school, each an equal member. This brought a feeling of school team dynamic as opposed to such emphasis on grade levels. Our goal was to improve our schools for children looking at problems as they arose. Grade levels would meet and discuss plans. There was not one chosen leader, all were leaders, voices were equal, and conversations were natural as the politics of the meeting were not predominant, rather the problems occurring in the classroom at that moment.

    Team models where there is one constant leader seem to create division. Often, pecking order is established within the grade and the school due to the politics that arise in groups. Survival becomes the goal rather than the issues in the classrooms. Becoming friends with the leader so you have a voice is the underlying concern instead of speaking true feelings. Rather than focusing on problems at hand, there is a natural propensity to constantly speak in a manner that will be well perceived by the leader who then has discussions with the coach and principal. This is not always the case because there is the occasional team that works, however it is a shot in the dark where we assume positive intentions at all times from every member. There is no flexibility in this mindset as nobody is perfect all the time. Also consider the competition this elicits in our profession. If a teacher is a very good teacher this can be viewed as a threat to a leader’s position. In addition, if a teacher wants the position of leader, finding faults with the leader where faults don’t exist can also happen. With the past team model, all were team leaders, the conversations, leadership and objectivity were organic and student driven. On given days, different members lead due to natural variables like good days, good plans that week. This way, organic dynamics could be called into action depending on the situation. As it is, there is no formula to how a teacher is chosen as team leader, not high test scores, years of experience etc. so when others are supposed to follow, the reasons are very illusive thus again adding to a feeling of mistrust.

    This system automatically takes away transparency. The team members can’t be transparent, and the leader must speak in a way that is acceptable to the administration. This is a system where control is not in the hands of the teachers. The leadership/coach/admin meetings become a place where conversations are had in privacy and only the chosen are invited instead of the full staff meetings. This seems to have a negative effect on comradery and ownership of school ideas and spirit.

    Many colleagues and I are very concerned about what we see happening here, but not sure how to approach fixing it because of repercussions and labels such as bad team member or pot stirrer. This brings up the most important flaw in this system, that this model creates fear in our teachers. It puts us in survival mode where the only choice often feels like fight or flight. When we are not all team leaders, we don’t have authority over the problems, we are soon pointing fingers at those around us and nothing gets accomplished. We have noticed this happens with teachers, coaches, admins etc, the entire district. I believe this is because is too much bureaucracy and not enough specific responsibility allotted to the teachers, not enough invested ownership. The ending of “team leader” model would allow us to all be part of the agenda making, we could go back to addressing the actual needs of our students and their

    immediacy would take priority, meeting it with equality and support. The data information is important but absolutely should not be the reason for every meeting, and should not be priority. It should be a system that merits discussion but not worthy of costs and position requiring full leadership attention and focus.

    After discussing this with others who have seen problems arise, we brainstormed a few possible solutions. One option is to go back where meetings are had as one team, where all are invited. If schools returned to the traditional team model, I think we would feel trusted to discuss topics we see as problematic. With the micromanagement removed, we could discuss the immediate problems in our own classrooms at the moment instead of being forced to be bobble heads in survival mode. Veteran teachers and new teachers would have equal voice as it used to be and problems could be taken to one person, the administrator, so we are no longer playing a game of telephone where issues get lost in translation, but actually addressing the needs of our students.

    The other possibility we considered in our conversations was the possibility of making sure our leadership/team meetings are very intentional as are the roles. We wondered if possibly the teams were blaming each other because the guidelines are not specific or the expectations are not explicit enough for people to understand their roles. When we currently have meetings, we sometimes have agendas, sometimes we don’t. We often don’t have enough time to finish data let alone the extras. We are not sharing the data consistently across the grade levels or the same as schools, this can lead to frustration rather than independence. Not all grade levels are following PLC so when teachers share PLC training they have had, they are met with opposition. I think the district’s intent is to create ownership but compare it to a ship in the ocean with many captains. This does not make the passage easier, rather the whole trip ends in mutiny. The ambiguity also is present in leadership. We are not clear as to their role, where is separates leader from coach and principal so when we go to one place we are told to go to another because nobody is quite sure. If this can be an agreed upon system where jobs are delegated, I think this would help clarify everyone’s roles and solidify contribution. Here is a possible website with explicit directions that might be helpful…

    We also thought if this models stays, it might be appropriate to rotate teachers each year as to value the opinions and leadership from every teacher while simultaneously eliminating competition and blame.

    Teacher friends and I are of the consensus that this is not a flaw of people, not the flaw of district, but rather a flaw in a system that is too bureaucratic, prioritizes numbers instead of people, and does not trust its teachers to state opinions for themselves. This change has resulted in demeaned feelings and mistrust on behalf of several district members. It feels like it flips support where district used to be there to support teachers, it feels like the reverse it true now, the teachers are there to support the needs of district and data. Many wonder if this is due to a trickle down top heavy mandate from a political entity with its own agenda because it feels a little controlling and oppressive.

    I hope this letter is helpful and not just a page full of complaints. My intention is to truly help share some of the talk that is happening here in the district but also alert you to why it isn’t being shared. I love our district, it has the best heart in the world, but our body seems dysfunctional as the parts don’t seem to serve a definitive purpose so suffering is a result.

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