For the not so nautically minded, a light hand on the helm is a sailing term. It means you steer the boat with gentle movements of the steering wheel so as to produce less drag and more speed.
So how does this relate to the workplace?
Let’s start with a controversial premise: I have never met a person who didn’t want to do a good job. Seriously I haven’t. Yes, I have met de-motivated people but their absence of motivation is because the work environment stifles that desire to contribute, extinguishes their ideas and sucks their energy. But how can we possibly change a workplace to one that is more conducive to high performance and simply, a good place to be?
The answer is – we don’t! What we change is our attitude.
Before you abandon the conversation here … think for a moment the last time you complained about your job. Now reflect on what that complaint was. In most cases it will be someone else causing the problem; most probably someone in leadership who is the cause of your angst.
If conditions are right people will want to come to work. The key to enjoying what we do is not the work environment rather is wrapped up in our attitude towards what goes on around us.
I recall a time when the environment in which I worked was, sad to say, rather toxic. And, reluctant to say, I contributed to that toxicity. The boss, for a starter was a complete klunker. But it wasn’t that he was incompetent, he just didn’t see the world the way he should … you know, the way I saw it.
But what did I do about it? Perhaps I was too young to really understand that, regardless of the motivations of my boss, I could influence the organisation positively and expand my circle of influence. I know that by working collaboratively with others, trying to change the mood of meetings and supporting a more positive outlook I could have achieved so much more. I did none of this.
Perhaps I was too young to understand that rather than sabotaging the boss’ agenda, I could lead from below and build a light but not superficial workplace.
Turn the clock forward a number of years and the same situation arose only this time nearly the whole leadership team were short on ability. What did I do this time? Will I be a leader who inspires or a saboteur? Well call it maturity or good sense but this time I sought to support the leadership to help them to be successful. I helped build my own part of the organisation into a highly motivated, open, enjoyable and happy workplace. I tried, along with my colleagues to exert a positive influence beyond the four walls of our team. And it succeeded for the time I was in that environment. Then when I reached the end of my tenure I left knowing that the interactions I had had with my colleagues were, in the main, respectful, open, creative with that light hand on the helm. During that time, six people from beyond my team asked me to mentor them which is, on reflection, a great honour.
The research is quite clear: it is the workplaces where people enjoy themselves and even have some fun that are more creative and productive. Importantly, taking responsibility for my actions as a leader regardless of the circumstances confronting me is why I am passionate about making light leadership a reality.
Light leadership will be common discussion on this thread. So how do you steer with a light hand on the helm?
So much more to come … with many easy to implement ways of making your workplace one of enjoyment and productivity.
’till next time
Dan is the author of ‘The Leader Who Inspires’ and founder of the LWI Leadership Program (more at www.LeaderWhoInspires.com). He encourages you to like the ‘Leader Who Inspires’ page on Facebook and become part of the discussion.