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Bazaarvoice: How can organisations use these changing times to make their people leaders?

  • Written by Seamus Cushley, VP and Belfast Site Lead, Bazaarvoice

    One of the fundamental questions of leadership is “how to bring the best out in the people you’re responsible for and really unlock their potential”?

    This question is especially relevant today, as leaders of teams, organisations and businesses face more unpreceded changes and challenges than they’ve ever faced before.

    While technology has undoubtedly helped keep teams working together during the global Covid-19 crisis, leadership in the current environment is still a people challenge, rather than a technology or process challenge.

    Whether or not it has become apparent during the lockdown, it’s highly likely that some of your people have potential they haven’t realised yet. Covid-19 has changed everything and with that change comes an opportunity to cultivate new leaders. You can help your people to realise their untapped potential. To do this you may need to start thinking differently yourself and put those people first.

    So, where to start? I think the first step is to look at yourself and ask, ‘do I understand what my style of leadership is?’ Based on my own experience of being part of and leading teams over 20 years in start-ups, corporates and consultancy, there are three key things I believe leaders should focus on. 

    • Constant Learning - Having an open mindset
    • Curiosity - Active listening 
    • Humility - Acknowledging and understanding when you’re wrong 

    Seamus Cushley speaking at the virtual BelTech 2020

    If, as a leader, you don’t have an open mindset then you’re not learning. If you’re not learning you can’t change. The book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman looks at how the best leaders can empower their people. The central idea of this book is “how effective are we at giving away responsibility and ownership of tasks to help others become leaders”. The ultimate goal is to reach a point where we’re “no longer required”. While it might feel like you’re doing the right thing by trying to personally solve all the problems in your organisation, you will not scale yourself and you’re stopping others growing. 

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    Undoubtedly, to empower people in a world of change is tough. It takes humility to listen to everyone and actively understand them, to be curious and dig beyond an initial comment to find out what someone really thinks and why. But if you really want to unlock their potential you have to meet people where they are. If you seek first to understand them you are then likely to be able to access far greater diversity of thought and experience and in turn, have them understand what you want. If you are really listening then it also becomes far easier to hear good ideas and admit when they are better than your own.

    All this sounds easy, right? But in reality leadership is not straightforward. It is messy, primarily because it is human. Once you understand your own style, you need to know how to apply it.

    I follow 3 simple steps:

    • Intent
    • Alignment
    • Autonomy

    When I joined Bazaarvoice, as the new site lead, I did 55 one-to-one conversations asking each person; Why did they join? Why did they stay? What did they want to do next? Workshops followed, where everyone participated and Bazaarvoice Belfast employees designed and developed their own ‘True North’ statement of intent. We wanted to ingrain the ‘True North’ mission statement into our thinking as something to aim for. To get everyone on board, we asked each colleague to complete a survey and to rate on a scale of 1-5 how achievable it was to personally commit to our ‘True North’ statement. If anyone didn’t think it was possible, that created an opportunity to have a conversation to learn more.

    Bazaarvoice CEO Keith Nealon with Seamus

    To get everyone aligned behind what you are doing you then have to give yourself a bigger purpose beyond the day job that your team can collectively buy into. It could be to give back to the community or education, but it needs to be something that’s not based on the business objectives. If you get it right this shared purpose can create community and bind people together, particularly at times of change. It takes the fear out of speaking up because people trust one another. The leader needs to make sure the community is curated but it becomes the responsibility of the team to create the environment out of which culture grows. 

    RELATED: Bazaarvoice: Why the tech sector must be more human-centred when designing products

    If you have intent and alignment you naturally get autonomy – people taking responsibility. Autonomy isn’t the answer on its own. It can be highly frustrating if you don’t nail the other two aspects and people don’t understand how their contribution aligns back to the organisation. But aligned autonomy with intent-based leadership works. The example I always use is the Team Sky cycling team, the most successful cycling team of recent years. It can’t rely on command and control leadership, it relies on everyone knowing their role and being aligned in their goal. They have the ability to respond to change in a changing environment with ease. 

    Putting all this into action isn’t easy of course. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be thousands of books on leadership out there. 

    But rather than obsessing on where to start, the key is just to start. Identify people with a genuine interest in something and let them start. The biggest challenge most people have is ‘time’, so give them time and an environment to think and talk. That’s where ideas come from. Then give them time to test those ideas individually and in small teams. It may not always work, but it will start to affect how people think of themselves and their roles as leaders within your organisation.

    People often can’t see the bigger picture until they know they are part of that bigger picture. With so many people now working remotely, understanding that bigger picture is more important than ever.

    RELATED: Bazaarvoice's Keith Nealon talks about investing in Belfast as a global innovation hub

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