Albert Einstein often receives credit for saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” According to “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,” edited by Alice Calaprice, Rita Mae Brown, the mystery novelist, first penned the quote in her 1983 book “Sudden Death.”
Attributions aside, the quote captures the paradox of leadership training: We spend billions of dollars every year, yet most organizations remain mediocre in their key performance measures.
Now, I may be an outlier, but in my 30-year career, I don’t recall expecting the result of an investment in leadership training to be the maintenance of mediocrity. Too often, however, that was the result. And, despite a lack of measurable difference in business results, training funds continued to flow in the next budget cycle. Year after year, there was an expectation that we would do the same things — or a variation on a theme (e.g., “Our training is now online” or, “You can access a coach via an app”) — and produce a distinctively different result.
We know that leadership training can and does work and that when it works, the results can be dramatic. The challenge is that leadership development is like golf: There is an almost unlimited number of ways to spoil a shot, but when the mind and mechanics converge to deliver an effortless swing and perfect contact with the ball, the results are magical. That magic is what keeps us coming back, investing our time and money in both golf and leadership development.
Unfortunately, missed shots in leadership development are far more costly than missed shots on a Saturday morning at the golf course: lost productivity, slower innovation, higher stress, more turnover and, perhaps the most significant casualty, the human spirit. In its report “Re-Engineering Performance Management,” Gallup estimates the cost of poor leadership to be close to a trillion dollars a year in the U.S.
If you’ve ever been part of — or worked with and coached — an elite team, you know that exceptional skills are table stakes. What differentiates the best of the best from the rest are a few key behaviors that revolve around trust — not trust as a character trait (though it is important) but trust as a spark that shapes behaviors and fires up the brain’s reward system to make change stick.
That trust is the key to successful leadership development. If you focus on the key behaviors that leverage our neurobiology, you make it easier to turn new behaviors into habits. It’s not rocket science, but it is behavioral science. The good news is that there are three essential behaviors, and any aspiring leader can quickly learn them.
3 Essential Behaviors
These behaviors put managers on the path to becoming exceptional team leaders, and they share a common core: They revolve around maximizing trust. By making these behaviors the foundation of your leadership development program, you will dramatically increase success in terms of return on investment (ROI) and behavioral change that sticks.
1. Living Values
Exceptional team leaders make values explicit and use them to reinforce and guide behaviors on their team and between teams every day. The connection among trust, values and performance is vital. No team reaches its highest potential when values erode and trust breaks down.
2. Inspiring Motivation
Every manager should understand what gets their team members out of bed and energized to do their best and be their best. With that understanding, they can help people strengthen the skills they need to realize the purpose they find in their work. Doing so builds trust, fosters resiliency and makes change easier.
3. Coaching Team Relationships
There are a million and one performance metrics, and rarely do they inspire peak performance. By focusing on developing and sustaining healthy, trusting relationships within and between teams, leaders lay the groundwork for superior performance. Soft skills metrics like team trust and relationship strength are reliable predictors of overall performance.
Trust is the (not so) secret ingredient to making change stick. These three key behaviors are vital because they maximize trust and connect the dots to performance.
There Is a Better Way
Most leadership training fails because people don’t translate lessons into real-world results. Though leadership “experts” and human resources (HR) leaders sometimes push outdated or faddish ideas and approaches, most of the time, the issue is behavioral. By first focusing on ensuring that people master the art and science of creating behavioral change and making it stick, you can help them quickly translate any new idea or capability into the real world.
The best way to foster this behavior change that is by putting trust at the center and leveraging people’s neurobiology to shape behaviors that inspire performance. These three essential leader behaviors do just that. By doing something a little different, you can and should expect much better results from your leadership development efforts.