A seeker approached a master and pleaded, “Please set me free. I want to be liberated.” The gentle master asked him to come early in the morning the next day. The next morning the seeker saw the master holding on to a tree and shouting, “Set me free, set me free.” Seeing this, the seeker asked the master, “How can you be free when you are holding on to the tree so hard.” Simple, isn’t it? How can we be free when we are holding on to something very tight?
Now, let's reflect on the implications of this story for leaders.
Often, as leaders, we staunchly adhere to our established approaches, beliefs, and truths shaped by our life experiences, deeming them as universal realities. Layered on top of this are our preconceived notions and judgments about life, work, and our colleagues in the workplace. How does this stance serve us in effectively leading teams? And, more importantly, what steps can we take to navigate this?
Bringing a shift in one’s way of being: In another instance, a leader shared that people get paid for the tasks done and not for the relationships built!Here,e the intention was to focus on tasks and their accomplishment and the approach was to micromanage. The constant attention to deliverables made work mechanical and took away the joy from work. The team’s discontent was rooted in the intrinsic need for status and autonomy, two essential drivers of human motivation. When employees feel their sense of status and autonomy are under threat—creating a physiological fight-or-flight response—they’re more motivated to disengage or quit. It took a long time and effort for the leader through the coaching process to understand this and make the shift.
Inquiring into the team’s perspective: I was working with a team where the leader wanted a performance culture while the team was rooting for a relationship culture. When asked why, the leader shared an experience where the relationship soured and the task could not be accomplished! Just one experience rooted in the belief that relationship culture means performance is not achieved. A gentle inquiry into this helped the leader understand that this could be an exception and not the rule and what helped was his willingness to have a conversation with the team to understand their viewpoint. It’s not an EITHER/OR but an AND which could be worked out to bring out the best of both – relations and performance.
Working on feedback: In another case, based on the feedback received, a leader shared: “A team member had a problem with me as I expected her to work the way I did. I was a workaholic and at the same time, I realised that expecting the same from the other person may not be the best way to work with her. When she brought it to my notice, I changed my pattern of behaviour.”
Reiterating purpose: In another conversation, a leader shared - “Communication was key. Repeated conversations along with a draft view of the product helped to get everyone on board on the purpose.”
Leading is about the influence one has on the team and its performance. Letting go of behaviours, limiting beliefs and mindsets that get in the way of meeting the purpose of the project enhances productivity and motivates team members to perform to their potential.
So, here’s what needs to be held onto:
- The purpose, the Why of the project/department/organisation
- Strengthening connections with the self, team and wider organisational web
- Holding people responsible and accountable for the tasks based on their competence
- A safe environment to discuss disagreements openly gives a diversity of ideas and thoughts a priority leading to innovation
And, what could be let go of and worked upon:
- Behaviours which do not meet with achieving the purpose
- Limiting beliefs, assumptions and judgements that come in the way of working with others
- Fears, ego needs and unproductive habits
The list is not exhaustive. I would like you to explore and add your own as you read this based on your own experience.