Are humble leaders the key to good engagement?

Internal communication has a central role in helping both managers and employees handle change. We asked Stacy Gibbs, a Senior Account Manager for Internal Communications at the Home Office, to share her thoughts with us.

Humble leaders can be the key to good engagement

The rules in business have changed. No longer do we assume our leaders have all the answers in the workplace. Teams should be able to help shape their work, explore new ideas and own the changes.

When this is in place, it can lead to some pretty powerful and sometimes surprising results. Staff report being happier knowing that they are being listened to and that their ideas matter.

According to Daniel L. Cable’s book, ‘Alive at Work’, leaders should be humble and conscious of their actions and the shadow they cast. Research shows that good leaders listen more effectively, inspire great teamwork and focus everyone on the organisational goals. The phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ is hugely important as people follow what you do, not what you say. But it’s equally important for leaders to look after themselves first before others and that includes focusing on their own health and wellbeing.

The environment that we work in can also affect how employees feel about an organisation. Over the last few decades, policies, targets and performance management processes in large organisations have controlled what we do and how we work. This stifles our creativity and the intrinsic nature in humans that wants to learn, explore and seek new things.

Fight or flight

As we inevitably face changes at work our fight or flight response kicks in. We move to a ‘threat’ response, where blood is diverted away from our prefrontal cortex – the front part of our brain which is important for thinking, decision-making and emotional control. This can lead to us seeing the workplace as more hostile than it actually is and can cause a significant drop in performance. If a threat state is not managed well, it impacts our ability to think and rationalise.

So, what can we do to overcome this? In business we can’t avoid change but we can minimise the impact of it. The Institute of Internal Comms run a masterclass on the neuroscience of behaviour change and encourage the use of the SCARF model to guide communications professionals on how people could react to things. It reminds us that, as individuals, we all need to receive information differently and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Lowering the ‘threat’ response

The more we can support our teams and organisations to prepare for and handle change the better. Those who experience a lower threat response are better equipped to handle new concepts, different views, and to accept new people. Any fundamental business change needs to have a decent lead-in time allowing people to understand the impact of what it means to them. It’s important to break down the details into meaningful chunks. This helps people to digest the information.

When things are done well, employees are better equipped to be an active part of the journey with an improved ability to think, function and be creative. Setting short-term achievable goals, celebrating past achievements, giving praise and recognition, having fun and providing a level of certainty are all good ways to offer the best environment for colleagues to be the most engaged and fulfilled at work. And internal communications plays a fundamental role in that.