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5 simple tips to a more Integral approach to leadership

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Hey, Jay here from The Coaching Room. Below are 5 simple tips drawn from my experience in coaching CEOs and their executive teams to help you quickly build team engagement and enhance your leadership effectiveness. 

Tip # 1: Become objective to (and know) the culture that has you and your people

Culture is the unspoken collective attitude, beliefs, values, rules and identity,  shaped by the past, that facilitates the current actions, behaviours, systems, processes, and functioning of the collective (team or organisation).

If you are not objective to your culture, you are subject to it – and it has you, it governs you and it leads YOU.

If you want to know what the current culture is, you must first separate yourself from it and become objective to it.

This enables you to move from subjectivity (the dance floor) to objectivity (the balcony).

The interesting thing about culture is that you can’t go at it directly. You can only change it indirectly…

The first step in human evolution is always awareness…

Tip #2: Lead and engage the culture through meaning (1st person perspective)

Once you can become objective to your culture, you can lead it through meaning – individual meaning.

One of the best leadership questions I have ever been asked is “why do you work here Jay?” The leader that asked me this question was enquiring into my meaning (my why?) for choosing to do what I do. The next question she asked me was the icing on that cake: “Are we/are you getting your best here, do you think?”

When I realised that I was holding back, I realised the frames I was holding in mind, about the work I was doing…

I felt estranged. I didn’t connect with the team or organisation’s meaning. I was lost, and my performance was suffering.

These and other similar questions enabled me to see that it was “me” that needed to change, not the organisation.

Tip #3: Lead and engage the culture through embodied action (3rd person perspective)

This is also known as lead by example. This points to self-integrity (do as you say) and more importantly the line of “intra-personal intelligence” (relationship with self).

Scientists from the field of neuroscience discovered Mirror Neurons in the early 90s.

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal/human acts and when the animal/human observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the attitude and behaviour of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.

As a leader, your people are always consciously and unconsciously modelling your actions and behaviours. Don’t just take my word for it – try a quick experiment and experience mirror neurons in action. The next time you are in a group of people and it’s not critical, have a good “yawn” and see who follows.

What then, is the culture are you leading (intentionally or unintentionally) through your actions and behaviours?

Tip #4: Lead and engage the culture through social and functional systems (4th person perspective)

Systems shape us, as we shape them. Social and environmental systems can be seen, monitored, and manipulated, but they must be known to the leader.

We know that our environment has a direct impact upon us as a human being. It impacts us physiologically and psychologically.

In my experience, the physical impacts of their people’s environment are known by most leaders. These include time, workplace orientation, proximity, location, number of people, organisational structure, systems, processes, policies, etc.

Psychological impacts are less known or understood by leaders. For example, many organisations that we work with, operate within hierarchical frames, but champion collaboration. This conflict creates polarities within individuals and groups.

Let’s say that this was true for you. What are the frames set by such a social system? Are they intentional on your part as a leader (or unintentional)?

Here’s one example of what it might say: You work for me, I work for her, she works for him – all the way up! But you working for me isn’t collaborative. We can collaborate on individual issues/challenges (for example on a project), but the moment that stops, we go back to hierarchy.

Let’s say that were true and the CEO then said, “One of our key values is collaboration”. Then you have a problem, because the social system doesn’t support the leadership intent, creating cultural polarities.

These unspoken frames held by leaders, absolutely shape the culture and guide the values held by the people within.

Tip #5: Give up your old day job and do less, and be more…

A provocative statement, and from our perspective, necessarily so.

In my experience in working with and coaching thousands of leaders, leaders are doing way too much!

In fact, I’ll go further than that and say, in my experience, most leaders in today’s businesses are yesterday’s managers – and it is the habit of management that has a stranglehold on their current approach to leadership.

The answer? Give up your old day job.

To engage your followers, you need to become a thought leader, a visionary.

You need to be more and do less. That means letting go of what you know, of what got you here – like having the answers, of being an expert.

If that sounds difficult for you to do, it’s probably because you aren’t used to leading, and are falling back into the habit of managing (which is what got you here).

This is a paradox, in that it is counterintuitive for most managers. As well as giving up your old day job, leaders need to be able to prioritise.

This is also known as time management but is actually priority management, which really boils down to having access to a nice strong “NO”.

To say yes is to focus on one thing – to say no to everything else. We intrinsically know this when we say yes to getting married.

To engage is to lead. To lead is to hold a vision (an intention, a purpose, a mission). To hold a vision, a leader needs to be able to say NO to everything that sits outside that vision, to ensure that the team and the organisation remain focused.

To say no to everything else is to say yes to the vision.

How strong is your no? How effective is your priority management?


Your successful (past) approach, your accumulated industry knowledge, your expertise, and what got you here is probably getting in the way of your ability to empower, engage and follow and lead others.

What this means is the success that got you here, won’t get you there.

The main difference in the role of manager and leader is the difference between being and doing. So to be a more effective leader, be more and do less.


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