Leadership – When ‘rolling up your sleeves’ can send the wrong message

Oil pump at sunset

The business of oil and gas is, arguably, one of the most complex environments to operate in. The challenging global economic and market situation, together with having to maintain safety, drive cost efficient operations, and focus on innovation puts more demands on leaders than ever before. With all of these internal and external factors happening faster than ever, it can be difficult for the modern leader to not act reactively to what is going on.

To meet these complex challenges head on, the majority of leaders look to build their capability by amassing more ‘tools’ and ‘skills.’ Ironically there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the evolution of leadership lies on focusing ‘internally’ rather than on externally. To go within and explore the realm of ‘mindset.’

The theory goes that leaders need to understand more fully their own internal ‘operating system’ and how this system shapes the view of the world they live and work in. To use an analogy, it has been likened to equating the complexity of the industry to the full functionality of the latest Microsoft program being run with the skill-set of the leader running a DOS based operating system. You just cannot run today’s applications on old operating systems.

So to ‘upgrade’ the leadership operating system, one has to take a deep dive, and upgrade what lies within. Most importantly, that deep dive needs to focus on a leader’s awareness of themselves, their behaviours and the language that they use and bring into work every day.

Aware leaders know that it is the ‘small things’ they do which creates the climate and culture of an organisation. They also know that it is what is NOT done or said that gets noticed.

Self-aware leaders know that the standard they ‘walk by’ becomes the new standard. For example, we know that safety is a core value and focus within the industry. Let’s say that the safety rule on-site is to work with ‘sleeves rolled down and buttoned’ and the leader (unconsciously) appears on site – even for a moment – with sleeves rolled up. It can send the wrong message that it is ‘ok’ to be relaxed on that rule.

The need for this level of awareness requires a conscious and mindful commitment by the leader to act, talk, and behave in the same way that he or she expects everyone around them to.

Armed with a deeper understanding of self, the leader is able to use his or her energy to create a climate for staff to excel and to be connected to the vision and outcomes of the business. And that builds a culture of engagement, success and innovation.

The links between a leader’s mindset, culture and overall employee engagement (engagement being defined by the Corporate Leadership Council as ‘the extent to which employees commit both rationally and emotionally to something or someone in their organisation’ – i.e. discretionary effort), is the focus of a five year longitudinal research project in Australia and New Zealand. The “Thank God it’s Monday” Project measures the links between “employee engagement scores” and the capabilities of the management and leadership within organisations. The research seeks to find the answer to two questions: “What organisational capability reinforces a highly engaged workforce?” and “What role does the leadership team play in determining engagement?”

Given that recent Gallup research in the USA found that only 30% of workers and 35% of managers considered themselves engaged (all this despite the fact that the annual spend on traditional employee engagement initiatives tops $1 Billion in the USA alone), the research set out to identify what was missing.

Year – on – year the research results show conclusively that leader behaviours and the belief in the leadership team makes a huge difference in employee engagement.

Leadership mindset matters. Where leaders were perceived to be ‘reactive,’ less than 10% of employees were highly engaged. Conversely where leaders were perceived as being ‘connected to purpose,’ effective, and more fully aware of their impact, 72% of employees were highly engaged.

And the Number ONE capability that highly engaged organisations focus on to gain and maintain high engagement? – ‘Culture and Values.’ Importantly the research also reveals that this only occurs where engagement, culture and ‘living the values’ strategies are owned by the leadership team and not outsourced to HR to ‘fix.’

In the trying times that face the oil and gas industry, the challenge for leaders is to broaden their understanding of ‘self’ and how their personal awareness can profoundly impact commercial outcomes. Today, ‘mindset’ needs to be added to the mix in order to augment the ‘tool-set’ and ‘skill-set’ that any great leader brings to the industry.

The aware leader consciously and mindfully knows when to roll their sleeves up and when to keep them firmly buttoned down.

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