Leaders need to be more unpredictable

It's hard to follow a boss who goes unnoticed.

by Richard Bridge
Last Updated: 22 Aug 2017

There's a lot about the workplace that’s predictable, especially when it comes to leaders. The monthly CEO brief, the quarterly management briefing, the end of year thank you message to all staff. It's no wonder employees have tuned out.

There's a lot of leaders who are invisible (this isn't good) but there's also a lot who have become wallpaper - in other words, predictable. It’s boring and uninspiring for the people that work for them. It’s also inappropriate for the rapidly evolving, ever changing, uncertain environment within which most of today’s businesses are operating.

Strong, stable leadership is important. The sturdy captain at the helm of the ship. However, equally important in today’s world is dynamic, vibrant leadership. Effective, modern leaders need to work on creating frequent, exciting interventions in the workplace through their actions, words and approaches. Delivering the unexpected, being memorable through creativity, surprising people with something different.

So what does this look like and how can it be done?

Get out of your ivory tower. You can’t cause much of a stir from up on high. Get out the office, get amongst your people and breathe the same air. Ask to join employees for lunch in the canteen, gather a group off the shop floor for an impromptu ideas session, approach people for specific expertise. 

Take people by surprise. People love it when their leaders do the unexpected. Arrange a surprise event to celebrate success, communicate an important message by leaving a surprise item on the desk of every employee or take a loudspeaker onto the shop floor on a Friday afternoon to say some 'thank yous'. 

Don’t keep calm and carry on. When your business environment shifts and the existing approach stops working, call a business critical town hall, get onto the shop floor to galvanise views, get your middle managers on the phone - in other words intervene and rally the troops. Often ideas come from the most unexpected places.

Go guerilla. Sometimes an email alert just doesn’t cut it. We’ve created everything from onsite flash mobs to large scale office take overs and desk drops to help our clients to land their leadership message. Create some lunchtime mayhem. It rarely gets forgotten.

Be emotional. True engagement comes when you touch people via their head and their heart. It’s simple - people remember the things that make them smile (or cry, or gasp etc.). Being emotional (on both ends of the scale), as a leader, is not a weakness.

Creative that’s clever. High impact leadership interventions are clever as well as creative, playing devil’s advocate, making people think, connecting on a deeper level. To really surprise an audience, leaders need to get creative, go deep and think smart.

Make it personal. If we feel something, we’re more likely to act on it. Tell personal stories, share your own memories, reflect on your own life experiences. Bring your thinking to life through creative, disruptive communications that get remembered.

Forget perfection. Employees no longer want a filtered, polished version of their leaders - they want real, human interventions delivering information in an authentic way. Get out from behind the camera, forget the polished corp comms script and just get out there and talk to your people.

Richard Bridge is a founding partner and managing director of Top Banana, specialists in leadership driven events and communications. 

Image source: Fimb/Flickr


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