Leadership Beyond the MBA Curriculum

Engaging your people in high-performance teams

Self-awareness is not part of the standard curriculum in most management education programs but if we want to create high-performing teams where people thrive, innovate and deliver great results; then it should be.

The majority of MBA degrees focus on strategy and economics. While these are certainly necessary skills for any business to be successful, they are missing one essential thing: Leadership is ultimately about people. And people today are not motivated by numbers on a spreadsheet but by fulfilling jobs with a sense of purpose and meaning. This is what leaders need to be able to facilitate and it requires a completely different set of skills. Mainly it requires a new mindset.

Leading by the book is not enough

Following a series of disappointing results California-based New Resource Bank hired Vincent Siciliano as CEO to turn things around and restore the bank’s founding mission, which is to “serve value-driven businesses and nonprofits that are building a more sustainable world.”

Within a few years, Vince had the bank back on track, but engagement surveys unveiled dissatisfaction brewing beneath the surface. Engagement and morale were low, and people were unhappy with the leadership team – especially their new CEO.

Vince was crushed. “Don’t they understand how far we’ve come under my leadership?” He could have stayed in this negative mindset but instead, he took action and confronted an uncomfortable truth: He was not the great leader he thought he was.

He was leading by the book and trampling over the concerns of others who were not ready to move so fast or did not understand the reasons for the changes he had implemented.

Engagement: The decisive factor between good and truly great

Low engagement is not uncommon as only 13% of people worldwide are engaged in their work according to recent findings by Gallup. People become disengaged because they do not find meaning, fulfilment or joy in their jobs. This might also sound like a lot to expect, but the reality is that people spend most of their waking hours at work – and they want this time to be meaningful.

Why is engagement so important? Engagement unlocks intrinsic motivation i.e. people being highly motivated in their jobs because they feel valued as individuals and they find their jobs meaningful.

Leaders who can engage their people will be able to achieve extraordinary results because they utilize the full potential of their people. Moreover, they will create workplaces where people are happy and fulfilled in their jobs.

The real starting point of leadership

Bill George, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, and former CEO of Medtronic, says that self-awareness is the starting point of leadership. Self-awareness is the skill of being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and values from moment to moment. Through self-awareness, we can lead ourselves with authenticity and integrity — and in turn better lead others and our organizations.

We conducted a survey with more than 1,000 leaders in more than 800 companies in over 100 countries and found that leaders at the highest levels tend to have better self-awareness than leaders lower in the hierarchy.

This could be because stronger self-awareness accelerates the promotion process, or because, like Vince, we are nudged toward enhancing our self-awareness as our leadership responsibility increases.

”My ego had run amok. I was leading from my head and not from my heart.” – Vincent Siciliano, New Resource Bank’s CEO

People-centered leaders engage their people for high performance

High-performing teams are characterized by showing high levels of collaboration and innovation, and consistently delivering extraordinary results.

Leaders of high-performing teams focus on both relationships and results. They create a sense of shared purpose and are committed to reaching common goals with their people.

In our conversation with Vince, he said: “My ego had run amok. I was leading from my head and not from my heart.”
He realized that, despite all the skills he had developed through his years of management education and professional development, he had never been directed to take a deeper look in the mirror and ask questions about who he was, what he valued, and what it really meant to be a leader.

Since then, the bank’s teamwork and employee opinion scores have dramatically increased and is now a high-performing team that focuses on both relationships and results.

People-centered leadership starts with self-awareness

Vince’s experience is not unique. Self-awareness is not part of the standard curriculum in most management education programs. The majority of MBA degrees focus on strategy and spreadsheets — the things Vincent excelled at. But this focus blinded him to what was happening in his organization.

Self-awareness is both a prerequisite and part of the process of developing people-centered leadership. It is a key ingredient in extraordinary leaders who engage their people and make them feel valued for their individual contribution. Fortunately for us all, self-awareness can be enhanced. Simple steps can be taken to complement one’s traditional leadership skills to develop people-centered leadership that engage and motivate people in the long-run.


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