Written by Melissa Summer. 1 min read.
In this episode of The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, we speak with Dr. Martin Boult, psychologist, leadership expert and Senior Director of Professional Services and International Training at The Myers-Briggs Company.
Dr. Boult shares his expertise around how to foster the best connections with the people you lead, how to be a better, more self-aware leader, and much more.
“The starting point for a new manager who’s wanting to work out ‘what’s the best way of leading’ is to start with yourself. If a manager isn’t aware of what they naturally focus on, in decisions or communication, all that’s going to get in the road when they try to lead or manage other people,” says Dr. Boult.
With the evolution of the workplace, more people working remotely across time zones and cultures, and the advancement of technology for communicating, connection is more important than ever between employees and their managers.
In fact, bad relationships with managers are one the leading causes of turnover.
“We work in a world where you can’t afford to have leaders and followers disconnected. If there ever was a time where people need to work together, it’s now,” adds Dr. Boult.
Other questions answered in this episode:
- How leaders can foster better relationships with employees
- The business impact of good leader-employee connections
- Tips for people to better communicate with their managers
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Intro: Welcome to The Myers-Briggs Company podcast, where we bring together thought leaders, psychologists and personality experts from around the world to talk about work life, home life, and how to get the best from life.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC ENDS]
Melissa Summer (MS): Welcome everyone to the podcast. My name is Melissa Summer. I will be your host for this season.
There’s a saying that most people know, and that’s, “Employees leave managers, not companies.” Research by Good Hire recently stated that 82% of people would consider quitting their job because of a bad manager. We know that the connection between managers and employees is crucial to employee well-being and engagement. So why do so many managers keep getting it wrong?
In today’s episode, we’ll explore the importance of connection between leaders and those that they lead, and the impact it can have on employee engagement and business performance.
And to help us with this topic is Dr. Martin Boult. Dr. Boult has worked as a psychologist in the field of management and organizational development since 1998, with a focus in the areas of executive leadership development, strategic planning, the psychology of change, team performance, talent development and workplace wellbeing. Martin is a member of The Myers-Briggs Company’s Asia-Pacific Executive Leadership Team, where he’s responsible for managing consulting services and overseeing the certification programs for a range of psychometric instruments.
He’s also a certification trainer in the AQI 2.0 Emotional Intelligence Assessment. He’s been an adjunct faculty member of the Center for Creative Leadership and a faculty facilitator on the executive MBA programs of the China European International Business School and the Moscow School of Management. He has a Bachelor’s in Behavioral Science with honors, a doctorate in Neuropsychology, and is a member of the Australian Psychological Society. So welcome, Dr. Martin Boult.
Dr. Martin Boult (MB): Thank you, Melissa. Great intro.
MS: Thank you. I wrote it myself.
MB: Well done.
MS: So, first things first. The title of this episode is “Connecting with the People You Lead,” not necessarily connecting with the people you manage. So first, can you tell us what’s the difference between leading and managing?
MB: Yeah, it’s a common question. A long-standing question. But to probably put it in the simplest or easiest terms to understand, managers are really focused on coordinating things in an organization or business, and that’s coordinating plans of what needs to get done, and how, and resources, and what are the sort of outcomes. And usually that’s done by managers, by putting systems in place, or policies, or designing job roles and structures that people then fit into and work with.
And management really is a discipline. Its origins of it really start in the first military organizations. So, a lot of organizations, as the Industrial Age emerged, people were building organizations to try and work out what’s the most efficient way of getting things done. They really adopted a lot of military management principles, and that today even stands as the main practice of management coming from that origin.
So, to be a manager is actually a role. You get appointed, assigned, and that management role fits within the structure of an organization or a business. Leadership is something that’s been around since human beings have been on the planet. So, it’s ancient and it’s part of human existence. Humans have always lived and worked and done things together in groups, and because of that, leadership has been there from the very beginning.
Now, leaders need to have followers. You can’t be a leader unless you’ve got people who are willing to follow you. And to do that, people, when they’re in a leadership role, they’re finding ways to motivate and inspire people to do something, to take action, or to move in a particular direction. So, in ancient times, the leader of a social group would have been motivating or inspiring the group to head in the direction to find food or shelter, and gaining the trust of the group that way.
So, leadership is really not a job title. I know it appears in a lot of organizational structures; you know, head of corporate leadership or financial leadership. And in essence, it’s actually a process. It’s not a title or a role like management would be.
Now, all managers, in order to be effective managing people, need to exercise leadership. However, not everyone who’s a leader needs to be a manager. So, there are plenty of people in an organization who don’t have the title “manager,” but they actually are motivating and inspiring people to do things. Managers are important. We need to have people who understand their role as manager, and the people that they’re managing understand they are the manager.
But there’s only so much a manager can do when it comes to inspiring people, particularly if much of their approach to leading people is to coordinate and set policies and structures that gets people coordinated. But it doesn’t always inspire them. So, they’re often intertwined. But there are distinct things that you’re doing if you’re a manager or a leader.
MS: That’s interesting. I haven’t thought about the fact that there have been leaders since the beginning of time, but before organizations, none of those leaders had a management title.
MB: Correct. Yeah. And to look in and who knows this, you’d have to go back into anthropology and other areas of the history of human beings. There were definitely roles that leaders in ancient tribes and groups would have had. But it wouldn’t have been the title “manager.” Really, chief or chieftain would probably be those kind of examples that we’re aware of for the older social groups. But leadership is something that’s been around since human beings have been here.
MS: You mentioned leaders and followers, right? You’re not a leader if no one is following you. So why is it important, in your opinion, to connect with the people that are following you?
MB: It’s really a two-way relationship. If someone aspires to be a leader, they can’t do that unless someone’s willing to follow them. So, there has to be some sort of connection. And it’s a human and a psychological connection that’s happening there. People decide who they want to follow, and also sometimes they decide who they think should be the leader.
So, when groups or teams bring it back to work settings, when groups or teams of people are working together, it’s ultimately to work towards some common cause or common objective. It could be a team building a product together. It could be a team trying to find a more efficient process at an organizational level. It’s how do you make the organization or the business successful on whatever outcomes or metrics it’s working to.
It’s leadership that actually helps people commit to that cause. There are times where people can be part of a business, but they don’t feel connected to the cause, and they might just turn up and do things. But it’s not actually helping the team or the organization move in the direction it needs to. So, it’s difficult. The way I think about it is where do you need to really get people’s commitment and buy in?
And one of the ultimate places is where you’re asking them to make sacrifices, in particular, even potentially sacrifice their lives. Military leaders are actually asking their followers, the military staff, to put themselves in dangerous situations. Now, a manager is not going to manage someone into battle.
You know, you can put as many structures, roles and rules together about how the soldiers need to work together. But it’s really only when soldiers are inspired and committed to the cause that they’re willing to put their lives on the line. And we can see examples throughout history, and even today, where people are doing that; following leaders who’ve inspired them. So, the inspiration part comes from leadership, not from management. And in order to inspire people, leaders need to connect with them.
And it’s not just in what I would say is a cognitive way, just connecting with the thoughts. You have to connect with the emotions, and ultimately the heart of followers. If they feel connected to the leader, they’re going to be willing to trust the leader more. And also go that extra mile to do things followers do. I guess in a modern setting, in a work setting or our current world, followers can be staff in an organization that can be a community.
I think going through the COVID pandemic, we’ve seen where government leaders were really trying to get agreements and alignment between communities and populations to respond to that. It could be students in a class. Essentially, the teacher is exercising leadership. It could be those people who are considered social media leaders or influencers.
Now, we might not agree what they’re influencing people about, but ultimately, they’ve got followers. They’ve got people who keep turning up to their social media sites, connecting and engaging with them. And when leaders actually do connect with their followers, they inspire people to listen and move towards something, or to take action on something. And that’s really leadership. That’s why leaders need that connection. Because without that, followers aren’t really going to pay much attention or feel committed to where the leaders are wanting or hoping they’re going to move.
MS: So, you could have a situation on a team, for example, where someone is by title the manager, but where someone else on the team may be considered the leader, right?
MB: Absolutely. In fact, just to give a quick example, in the years of working with teams at all different levels of organizations, I’ve seen some situations where I’ve been asked to help the team work together, or to perform better as a team. And in organizations, there’s an appointed leader who’s the manager and the team leader.
Now, that appointment is by the organization. But, for the members of the team, this doesn’t guarantee that they see that appointed manager as the leader. And I have seen in some teams they actually trust, or are more connected to, another member of the team who isn’t the manager. And they are essentially the psychological leader of the group. So, the team has to either be aware of that, or the manager of a team has to be aware of that.
And there has to be some kind of way of understanding who is actually influencing this group. At its worst, you might have an appointed manager who doesn’t have the trust or commitment of the team, and the team of following another person in that group. And if that person is trying to undermine or do something different than what the manager wants, you can actually find that the team will work against the manager.
There’s no one way of solving that, other than the members of the group have to feel like they are willing to follow someone in that team. So, in some occasions, the managers had to work closely with the psychological leader of the group. Or, the psychological leader, at other times I’ve seen, has had to say, “Hey, this is the leader here and this is the manager. I’m here. I’m part of the team. But I’m not going to try and take over the team about this.”
What I find is that often, playing out in different teams, is either people being somewhat aware of it or not aware of it. But I can see teams and managers pulling their hair out with frustration, saying, “Why don’t we connect and want to get along? Why do we keep trying to pull in different directions?” And they haven’t probably stepped back to what’s going on with the leadership and followership in this team.
MS: Yeah, that’s interesting. It feels like with a lot of these things, when the examples come up, a lot of us immediately go back to our own experiences and think, “OK, where have I seen this?” As an example, I know for me what immediately what pops into my mind, is the last company I worked at, which was an automation company. There was someone who was by title the director of engineering. But there were also two application engineers who had been at the company for 20 plus years, and they knew all the ins and outs. It wasn’t just that they had been there longer than everyone else on the engineering and production team. It was like those people were the leaders, and even if the director had said something, it was kind of like they listened to the director, and then everyone looked at the other two application engineers to see if they are nodding their heads, are in agreement, or are going to bring something up. And it was almost like it had to come to a consensus between those three people for the whole group to move forward.
MB: That’s a great example. What you described there is the behavior that you can observe, or become aware of, when the team or group work together and if there’s divergent leadership in that group. And, you know, the simple thing is maybe when appointed leaders say something, and everyone looks at someone else in the group, that tells you where the leadership is in the group.
I guess one of the things I do get managers to think about is who appoints you the manager. And essentially, it’s the organization; someone senior to them. But where do you get your authority to lead the team? It actually comes from the team and teams. If they don’t see the manager as their leader, they will potentially authorize the leader.
And by that, I mean they won’t follow what the manager is expecting or wanting them to do. They’ll potentially even undermine [the manager]. And although it doesn’t happen often, sometimes teams will, in the worst case, have like insubordination or mutiny. And just say, “We’re not working with this manager.” I mean, history is littered with where, you know, its leaders suddenly found themselves no longer the leader because the group went somewhere else.
But in in terms of work settings, it’s more subtle than that. It’s usually just people saying, “Oh, no, that won’t work” or “The system’s not working for us” or “I didn’t get your email.” And that can be sometimes signals of, “We don’t want to be led by this particular person.” So, managers have to be really aware that if they’re going to lead their team, it’s not just getting the title.
It’s really spending time saying, “Okay, how do I best engage and work with the people who are going to work with me and that I’m going to work with.” And spending time connecting with the people that they’re going to manage work with. Because if you don’t, you’ll probably find that you won’t get much done with that group people.
MS: I know you work with companies all around the globe, of all different sizes, in different sectors. As far as examples, I know we talked a little bit about dysfunctionality and when teams are not functioning correctly. But when it comes to a positive example, is there an example that you have of maybe where a team has a leader that they do trust and that they do have a good connection with? An example of where maybe it started out not so great and there was some sort of training or transformation where there was a better connection?
MB: Sure. I have lots of examples. I’ll probably think of the one that’s top of mind for me because it’s one of the most recent. It really starts from early 2021. We all know where we were in 2021. COVID was still impacting how everyone worked together. At an Australian [subsidiary], part of a multinational business, I was asked to work with their executive team here. During the end of 2020 they actually had half of their management team change over.
So, there’s eight managers in the executive team. Four new people had joined at the end of 2020, and four were existing members. The general manager of that team recognized that, first of all, they had only really met each other virtually; the new members because of lockdowns and people not being able to go into the workspace until early in 2021.
[The general manager] said, “Look, I want to really build this team so that we work closely and cohesively with each other.” Also, I think she had probably an awareness that there was going to be a high demand for them as leaders and a management team; “How do we work through the pandemic? What’s it going to look like in the years following?”
And she said the only way to navigate that is really to bring this team together. So, we’re here in Melbourne, Australia, where I was working with them between lockdowns. Because we did have times when we came out, and so forth.
She said, “Look, I really want to invest time connecting with each other.” So they engage me to work with them, running an offsite. We did get in the room together and were in person and spent time not just talking about the business. Much of the two days that I was with them was about, “How are we going to work with each other?” Because the business part was pretty clear to them. They had a strategic plan that had a whole lot of key metrics that they all understood and agreed to. It was more about where, for a new team of leaders and managers, “How do we connect with each other?”
I worked with them through multiple methods. It was almost really taking them on a shared discovery with each other. Everything starting from helping them learn about who they are as people. What are some of their personal histories that have brought them to that point in their career?
We used an understanding of their different personality types, measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. That enabled them to understand what their underlying preferences were with respect to things like their communication and their interaction style. But it wasn’t just using those in isolation. We had to say, “Now what does that mean for you working together?” So we went through a series of decisions I had to work on, and also issues that they were dealing currently with as challenging issues, as a management team.
All the while, each time they approached each decision, we’d spend time saying, “Okay, what did you notice about what each person was contributing? What was going on when someone wasn’t saying something?” It became a lot more conscious about their individual styles and how that helped or hindered what they were trying to achieve as a team.
I caught up with them again as a group only about two months ago, so nearly more than a year after I started the work with them. They ran a company conference where they again were bringing everyone back, to try and connect with the business, as people are moving more into returning to the workplace and hybrid ways of working. And they invited me just to do a session on teams for them, for the whole company.
At the start of that, one of the executives who was the longest standing executive in that business, he’d been there 20 plus years, said, “How do they not spend the time investing, getting to know each other as a team, and working with that leader?” They probably wouldn’t have survived the pandemic, wouldn’t have been as effective in dealing with all the challenges and problems they face. So kudos to that leader who she recognized. You can’t deal with the business decisions unless they, as a team and as leaders and followers, were closely aligned. But also, the team saw the value in it. I think that leader is a really good example, under pretty tough conditions, of making a call to take time out, to invest in building connections between leaders and teams, that’s now had a positive effect on the wider organization.
MS: Yeah. And as you were describing, that it’s a leader who had new managers. So it was more like an executive team.
MB: Yes, it was the executive team of the Australian subsidiary of this multinational company. And I’ll add that one of the things that they were pleased about is when they would report back into their global head office. They were starting to be recognized as one of the teams that seemed to present in a very unified, cohesive front to the global business.
They were kind of proud about that because I think they had spent that time aligning, even to the point where the head office was saying, “So what are the things you’ve been doing to build that?” So yeah, it started landing with the wider organization as well.
MS: So my next question I had originally phrased, “How can leaders better connect with their followers?” But now that you’ve given me the definition, and the difference between the leaders involved, or between leaders and managers, I want to change my question a little bit and ask: If people are not yet in a leadership position, or if they are maybe a new manager, how can managers connect better with the people that they are managing and hoping to lead?
MB: This would be, for example, someone who’s wanting to move into a management and leadership role and they’re not there yet?
MS: Yes. Or someone who maybe doesn’t have that leadership authority yet, but maybe they’ve just been promoted to a manager position. Or they want to become a leader and kind of connect better with the people that are on their team who are reporting to them.
MB: I guess this would be for the people who maybe haven’t had lots of leadership experience. I’ll come back to that in a moment because I think sometimes we discount the actual experiences we have through life where we don’t realize we’re being leaders, but we are. The starting point for a new manager who’s wanting to work out what’s the best way of leading is that you really have to start with yourself.
If a manager is not aware of what they naturally focus on in decisions or communication, if they’re not aware of their underlying beliefs about management, all that is going to get in the road when they try to lead or manage other people. and when I say, “getting in the road”, it’s a bit like being unaware your underlying motivators or influences to your leadership behaviour. If you’re unaware of them, the challenge is, people start being controlled by their underlying personality, preferences and beliefs without knowing it’s controlling them so often.
A preface about the importance of self-awareness for management at any level, but certainly new managers, is, if you don’t understand yourself, your natural biases and preferences are going to control what you do and you won’t have conscious control of it.
Now, many people who aspire to management want to be in control. So it’s a good way of them saying, “Okay, I better pay attention to who am I.” The starting point there is everything from helping them understand more about things like their personality preferences, as measured by tools like the BCI.
The other part is about leadership. It’s interpersonal. It’s an interpersonal activity. You can’t be a leader without engaging with other people. Helping them build awareness of their interpersonal style. Or what we look at as their interpersonal needs through another well-regarded framework of interpersonal needs and behaviours measured by the FIRO Assessment that looks at a person’s underlying need for the need for inclusion, control and affection.
When you bring that together with the understanding of their personality, as a leader, you’re a lot more conscious and aware of what they naturally do. But also, you have an understanding that other people might have different preferences or different needs themselves and had to adapt or flex to that.
There’s a well understood model of leadership that’s been around for decades called situational leadership, which is where leaders are not using one style or one approach. They think about what style works best for the situation. That being aware of what they would naturally use as a style. And when is it appropriate and when is it not? That level of understanding helps leaders, or a new manager, think about, “Okay, what do I bring to my management and leadership role? What might overdo or not do enough of?”
There are other things that I think are important, and that is the history that people have with leadership. I often ask people to reflect on who are the people that they had experience with, in work or outside of work, that had a positive effect on them, as followers. They were positive leaders. Because a lot of our leadership is learned by observing and watching role models. Also, be aware of who is maybe someone that they were led by who wasn’t positive. And what did they learn from those experiences?
Those kind of leadership experiences can start with everything from our leadership by parents, to teachers, to sporting coaches, right through to people that we work with. And that does help people start reflecting on what have they learned from that leadership history and how that shaped their own leadership style.
Also, I think things that often don’t get picked up early in the manager’s career is what are their underlying beliefs that they bring to leadership. A common one I see in younger leaders or managers is, “If I’m the manager, I really should know the all the answers.” And it’s like a belief. “If I don’t know the answers, then I’m either doing it wrong, or I’m not up for leadership.”
No one person can have all the answers. And in fact, good managers, good leaders, tap into their followers to help them get clear about what are the best answers and best choices to make. So, some of those beliefs that can help or hinder you later aside, spend time with those new managers saying, “So what are the beliefs you bring and how do they shape what you’re doing?” Also, “What do you value? What’s important in your life? What’s important in your career, and how does that shape you?” There are many aspects to helping those new managers get clear about how they will best lead.
MS: What are some other examples of beliefs that leaders may have, whether they’re helpful or not?
MB: A common one, and I have to say, maybe now I’m starting to feel like I’ve been around too long. But I think in the first part of my work career, working with managers, there was this belief that, if you’re the manager, you cannot really show any vulnerability. And by that, I mean looking concerned about something, looking puzzled without an answer. Or if a manager confronts a really challenging situation, like might have had to restructure or make staff redundant. Or something in their personal life, you know, like loss or relationship breakup, aloneness. I found managers would often feel they have to wear a shield that didn’t show that they were suffering or feeling vulnerable. Because if they showed that to their followers, they would think this person’s not up for it. In actual fact, it’s the opposite. Many followers will connect with the leader if the leader is human.
When I say early in my career, I’m actually saying is that with the newer group of young leaders coming through, particularly in some of the executive MBA programs that I’ve done in recent years, there’s an awareness of vulnerability. And that it’s okay to be vulnerable and human. It’s probably now more accepted, I think, than what it used to be. But not for everyone. That belief of “I must be invulnerable” is one that often hangs around.
Another one is, to be a good leader, you must be charismatic. Almost like a stereotype version of a Hollywood kind of picture of the leader who stands out front and rallies the troops. I remind people that there are many successful leaders throughout history and business who were more behind-the-scenes.
And they actually did great things and had very loyal and trusting followers. Not because they were this out front, charismatic person. I think some people almost discount themselves out of stepping into a management leadership role because they assume you’ve got to be this very outgoing, flamboyant, entertaining leader. That’s not the case in every situation. In some situations that can work against a leader. So, I guess those are some of the common ones that jump up that I think from time to time can either hold people back, or sometimes take them in a direction in their leadership that might be helpful for them.
MS: The thing about some leaders, or potential leaders, believing that they have to be charismatic – it makes me think of the episode we did on leadership, introversion and extroversion. And how we talked about the difference between introverted and extroverted leaders. And how that’s, I mean, I know I’ve seen some of the same that leaders have to be loud, they have to be vocal, they have to be very outgoing. They have to want to always go to all of the social events, because that’s where you make connections. But, that more authenticity is helpful, because not all of the people who you’re managing are going to necessarily feel that way themselves.
MB: Absolutely. And I think with people trying to understand what would work best in leadership, it’s not just what will should this person do. It’s about what’s the situation, the environment they’re in. I’ve done a lot of work with leading faculty of universities. If you’re too extroverted in that kind of environment, a lot of other followers, which are academics and faculty members, might be suspicious of the leader. They’re too outgoing.
MB: Maniac. They make environments very introverted. And almost highly regard that introverted way of working and leading. I have seen some highly outgoing, extroverted faculty leaders struggle to engage their introverted faculty members.
And then to flip it the other way, I worked with a marketing organization where the leader was exceptional in problem solving, decision-making strategy, understood where the business was heading and what it needed to do. But the rest of the organization was highly extroverted, and they almost felt like the leader was disconnected from them, even though they accepted or agreed with a lot of the ideas the leader had. So that leader was almost short-changing their capacity because they weren’t willing to flex out into being a bit more extroverted. So, it really comes back to, “Who am I ?” And then, “What’s the environment the people that I’m leading in?” And, “What does this situation call for?”
I’ve had some leaders say, “Well, that’s a lot of effort, particularly if the environment expects me to do something different from who I am.” Then I’d say, “Well, that’s the price of leadership. You know, not everyone’s up for leadership. So are you up for it? And if you are, there’s great value and benefit for you and others. But if you’re not, then don’t force yourself into a situation where you feel like you’re going to be constantly stretched. Leadership does come with effort, stretch, discomfort. That’s what it means to be a leader in many situations.”
MS: And what are some of the tools that you’ve used in your consulting with organizations to help train leaders and help people better connect with each other, and help managers maybe better connect with the people that they’re managing?
MB: I’ll start by first by saying there are many different assessments, tools and methods. And what I’m reminded of, is to work out what’s the best assessment and method for the leader and the situation they’re in, rather than just saying, let’s use all of these.
If I think about how I work with leaders, and what I’ve seen is most effective, the starting point, as I said before, is to help leaders first understand themselves. Before they open themselves up for, “How do people see me as a leader?”, start with how to understand themselves, whether they’re an experienced or new to leadership. Often, I say I start with a model of understanding myself and other people that is non confronting; that’s positive. One that that initial experience of learning about myself with leaders is positive. Tools that don’t profile people as being better or worse are a good place to start.
Again, a tool like the Myers-Briggs type indicator is helping the leader to just understand, “What are my preferences? They’re not good or bad, they’re mine. But how might they be different than other people?” And I find that’s a positive place to start because there’s no good or bad personality type, there’s no right or wrong, and there’s no better or worse type for leadership.
That, I find, is a really good starting point for leaders. Then, as they move further into that self-awareness and understanding of who they are as a leader, it can help to build in other assessments or tools that open the gate, add another layer, but open the leader up to deeper learning about themselves. But that comes with a bit more discomfort, potentially, in that they might get insights or information about themselves that is a bit more challenging to absorb.
So the next level, I think, of going there, would be tools that help leaders understand their interpersonal skills. I mentioned the FIRO assessment earlier. The sort of outcomes you can get from the FIRO include everything from, “Are you more or less inclusive than most other people?” to being more or less likely to exercise control at it.
In the end, it’s helping the leader understand what would naturally come through, and where they might need to adjust that approach for the people they’re leading. I’ve often found that in leaders they do need to understand the impact of their own emotions and how emotions affect others. So, a good measure, and reliable measure, of emotional intelligence is a good next level to consider.
And I use the EQ-i 2.0TM developed by Reuven Bar-On because it’s got good research and a good basis for looking at what results on the EQ translate to in terms of the leadership roles. Now again, that comes with another level of confrontation potentially, because there is such a thing as being well-developed or underdeveloped in certain parts of EQ. But by that point of the leadership learning, leaders are usually more open to hearing that because they’ve started from a positive point. The last level of awareness would be the [Psychometrics] 360-Degree Feedback Assessment, and it is the most confronting self-awareness method. Most human beings do not walk around and ask other people, “What do you think of me?”
MS: They might not want to hear the answer to that question.
MB: And that’s exactly it, Melissa. This is the thing that, if you open yourself up for it, you’ve almost got to be psychologically ready to hear what’s coming back. I’ve had some clients come to me and say, “We’d like to run the 360 Feedback with this group of leaders. And the first question I’ll ask is, “Before we go there, what have you done with them around learning about themselves and leadership?”
Some organizations say, “Well, we want to start with the 360.” I say, “Well, there’s a risk there if you open people up to 360 Feedback, which is where they’re asking their boss, their peers, the direct reports and others, “How do you see me as a leader?” If they’re psychologically not ready for it, you could either crush them. As in, they suddenly get feedback that deflates and demotivate them as a leader. Or they can become extremely defensive. They just reject the feedback. And then it’s really a lost opportunity. So, whether it’s new leaders or very experienced leaders, I’m often using a self-assessment model first, like HCL’s [Human Capital League’s], and then as a next step, including the 360 Feedback.
What the 360 Feedback adds is a better understanding of how their underlying personality, interpersonal needs and emotional intelligence comes through in their leadership behaviour with the people who are actually experiencing them. So that is important information.
Now, all of that is very assessment focused. I think the other important part to add to that is, once a leader has learned those things about themselves, how do you support them to use that information? That’s where more group learning, coaching, or applying that learning to their leadership role, and using that as a learning experience, becomes just as crucial as the assessment part. And I regularly ask clients, you know, if you’re going to ask your leaders to do this level of self-awareness and assessment, what’s in place to support them? Or what are we going to make sure is there to help them use that information?
If the support is not there, it can sometimes be a meaningless exercise. The people just get the assessment results and say, “Well, that was interesting. Now forget about that. I’ll keep doing what I’ve always been doing.” Or they might just feel so vulnerable and exposed and then not know how to move forward. Fortunately, most clients that I work with do understand the importance of that support part.
MS: I mean, even working for The Myers-Briggs Company, I’ve heard the criticism of, “Well, we don’t want to use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment because it’s all positive.” It glosses over everything. And so, it’s not helpful because it, you know, doesn’t point out these deficiencies that you have. But I don’t think I’ve heard it explained in a way of, if you start with that, that it’s kind of a base-level understanding, and then you build on there, and kind of get a little more vulnerable with each level that you develop leaders.
MB: Absolutely, because I think they can be a temptation, particularly in our current era of organizations, where lots of development models, lots of assessments are used. They can be an assumption that everyone’s ready for the same level of self-awareness at the same time. There is no doubt I’ve met leaders even early in their career who are very self-aware and because they’ve just paid attention to it, and they may get only sort of an additional benefit of learning about themselves through a model like an EQ-i model.
But then, there are leaders who are very experienced who’ve really not paused and had a chance to reflect on who they are. And even if it’s later in their career, the awareness that they get from tools like the FIRO or other tools, is illuminating. And I guess a reminder that just because a tool might represent an outcome as positive doesn’t always mean that positive outcome will be helpful in every leadership situation.
And probably, going back to our extroverted and introverted example, there are times where a person who prefers extroversion in a leadership role is highly effective when they’re exercising their extroversion. There are times when exercising that level of extroversion is a hindrance or a derail. So, the most important thing for leaders is to, “Understand who I am. It’s okay to be myself, but understand that when my natural way of doing things may help or hinder the situation I’m in.” And that’s, I think, the value of tools like the MBTI. It’s a starting point; it certainly won’t explain everything about a person’s leadership. But it’s a useful starting point.
MS: And what, when you use these sort of tools, or do this sort of leadership development, and help people connect better with the people who are managing them or the people who are leading them, what sort of business outcomes do you see?
MB: It’s a great question. The ROI.
MS: Right. So yeah, that was going to be my focus, and can you measure it?
MB: I know it’s a good question and it’s something that everyone who’s recommending offering this kind of development should be willing to answer. The starting point is what are the outcomes you want to achieve if you’re going to invest in developing your leaders? Usually, the opening conversations I have with clients is, “What’s led you to want to do leadership development?”
Now, most organizations can clearly pinpoint why. It could be everything from, “We have a senior group of leaders who at some point will move on or out and we don’t have people ready to lead or to step into the role.” It’s like a succession planning thing. So, the ROI, in that case, would be the leaders who engage in leadership development. Do they develop themselves so they are ready?
That’s one way of looking at it. The other is, “We have a group of leaders, but we’re not getting buy-in from their teams or their followers.” Without that, the organization’s kind of just stalling, or the business is stalling. In that regard, it’s, “How do I build more trust and confidence with the people that are being led/followers by exercising and learning more effective ways of leading?”
If someone says, “Well, was there a business upturn?” For example, was there more sales or greater revenue or more profit? It’s very hard to pinpoint that back to just leadership because that leadership is only one of the elements that affects that. It’s a bit like saying, based on share prices, the share price increased because of a leadership program. Well, think about all the things that affect the share price. Everything from the market, to supply of goods and what have you. There’s no one thing that’s going to affect the share price. But, if you don’t invest in leadership, what are you going to lose as a as a benefit to your organization? So that’s the other way to look at it.
I’ve also had organizations evaluated on things like staff engagement, or climate and culture surveys, where they’ve identified from staff feedback that there are gaps in how leaders are operating. And then 12 months later, that’s re-evaluated, and they see changes in staff feedback. As I was saying, that is an ROI. And it’s considered valuable because, as we all know, if you don’t engage your staff or aren’t good at doing that, whole organizations are held back.
Another way of evaluating it is to actually do some re-evaluation of the leadership behaviours over time, usually from the start of the leadership program. If it’s a cohort of leaders in that group, we’re going to throw it together. What we say is, okay, what are some group level areas that US leaders need to work on and let’s work over that 9 to 12 months after that to see if that can be shifted or changed.
It could be something like leaders being more participative in their style or leaders better at engaging people in change. And if we say, “Here’s what you guys are working on now and here’s where you need to try and shift it to,” you can actually build surveys and measurements that you ask the followers 12 months down the track, “How are you leaders going?”
So that’s other ways that ROI has been measured. I’d have to say most organizations I work with when I put that forward say, “we’re happy to evaluate it with you.” They really do, saying, “We want to see our latest justice perform better in our own eyes.” They’re not often looking for a number. But that’s often the most common ways ROI is measured.
And I think the other important thing is, when putting a leadership development process together, it’s not just putting leadership program, slotting in into, an organization. We always step back and say, “Where is the organization heading? What does it need to achieve? What are its strategic objectives?” And if the leadership learning is not lined up against that, it can actually work in the opposite way for the organization.
So, it’s not like a package you just take off a shelf and plug in. You really have to think about what the organizational needs are, and then what leaders need to be doing.
MS: A lot of what we’ve talked about so far has been kind of, I guess, top down. Talking about what managers can do, what leaders can do. What about the other way around, from kind of the bottom up? Is there a way that, for example, if I’m not a leader, but I’m a member of a team, is there a way that I can actively try and have a better connection with my manager? I know we said at the beginning of the episode, one of the biggest reasons people leave is because they don’t leave companies, they leave managers. So, is there anything that individuals can do to kind of try and help that relationship?
MB: Absolutely. And again, it probably is good reminding us that leadership and followership is a two-way thing. It’s a dynamic that’s happening between the person who’s leading, and the person who’s been led. Over the years I’ve worked with lots of teams, and it might be start as a team development program.
But what comes out of it is that members of the team are struggling, working with that leader. And if they’re up for it, or they’ve requested it, they’ll say, “Look, I need some help working with my leaders. It frustrates me. I don’t understand what they want. They seem to change their mind, whatever the issue is. And there’s often an expectation the leaders have to change themselves and I can just keep doing what I’m doing.”
When I explored that with the followers, I would say, “So if you don’t make any change, but the leaders are doing all the work, what do you think that means? How do you think you leader is going to see you?” And they’ll say, “Well, they’re the leader.” And I say, “Sure, then they’re the ones that probably have the most influence to be able to change. But if you don’t change anything, what’s your leader going to think of you?”
What we know is, people’s careers move forward sideways or backwards very much based on the perception their leader has of them. So, I guess the starting point is, if your leader doesn’t think positively of you, what do you think might happen to your career in that team, in that organization?
Now everyone’s got choice. I can go somewhere else usually, but if someone’s wanting to stay there, I’d say, “Okay, if you really want to work here and be successful with this leader, you’ve got to understand your leader psychologically. You’ve got to observe them, study them, see how they like information presented to them, what are their preferences when they’re making decisions? What are you noticing that they pay attention to when you want to interact or meet with them? How do they prefer that? Do they want to do it spontaneously. or do they want to have a meeting booked? And if you are willing to move in the direction of working with your leader’s psychological needs, and they’re doing the same for you, you actually have a very harmonious and cohesive way of leader and follow up working with each other.”
And the other thing I think, is that if a person’s not getting along with their leader, sometimes it’s because they’re just a very different personality styles than their leader. And while that can be assumed to be just a foregone failure, that they’ll never understand each other, in fact, if you’ve got leader and follower who are very different from each other on a personality front, they have an opportunity to tap into each other’s strengths, which means they cover each other’s blind spots.
So, a leader who has a team member who’s very different from them, they can tap into that follower and say, “Okay, am I missing anything here?” Or a follower who’s different from the leader say, “Okay, this is what I’m thinking. But what are you saying that I might have missed?” That’s where I think followers have a responsibility to meet. They meet halfway. If you expect the leader to do all the flexing, while that might be nice for the follower, it may not mean that the leader really has connected with the follower. And again, power dynamic in that relationship is that the leader has more influence as to what will happen with the follower’s career. That can be tough news to hear for some followers, but the way the world of work often works, it still plays out.
MS: That definitely brings back to me what you were saying about leadership and followership kind of being a two-way street. That it’s not just all one person’s responsibility to make that connection work.
MB: Absolutely. And look, we work in a world now where you can’t afford to have leaders and followers disconnected, because if there was ever a time where people need to work together, be they leader or follower, it’s now, where we’re solving a whole lot of problems that we’ve never had to deal with. And there’s a lot of rapid change and ambiguity. That’s when leaders and followers who are working together are going to be the most successful.
MS: Perfect. I think a great note to end the episode on is working together to be more successful. So, thank you. Excellent. Thanks so much, Dr. Boult, for your time. We greatly appreciate it. And I know I personally can’t wait to go back and listen to this episode. I feel like I should have been typing the entire time. There are so many good things in there.
MB: Well, thank you, Melissa. And I’m hoping there’s some things that help other people to work out how to be great leaders and great followers as well.
MS: And if people want to learn more from you, where can people go to find you?
MB: I guess in the business world; a starting point is LinkedIn. You’ll find me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/martin-boult/ If people want an example of the kind of ways we work with organizations and leaders, we have a series of free recorded web webinars on topics, everything from leadership and working in a hybrid world leadership and psychological safety, leadership and personality. So that’s another place where you can pick up some other insights as to how I work with leaders, and how we, as a business, support organizations in that work. They’re probably the best places to start.
MS: Perfect. And where can people find those webinars?
MB: On The Myers-Briggs Company website we’ve got websites that are regionally specific. In my part of the world, it’s The Myers-Briggs Company. There’s a few in Australia, and my colleagues in the US and the UK have access those websites too. So probably the best thing is to go to The Myers-Briggs Company website that’s in your location and look for the resources and webinars section of the website and you’ll find them there.
MS: Perfect. All right. Thank you so much.
MB: Great. Thanks, Melissa.
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