Highlights – Leadership and Organizational Psychology

Being real, vulnerable, and humble as you lead by example can be freeing for a leader and help build loyal and motivated teams. The guest experts discussed the responsibility of leaders in the development of people and teams in organizations that contributes to a positive culture.

Kamal Dimachkie, Co-founder, Partner & COO, Tough Love Advisors

Szilvia Olah, Founder & Owner, The Strengths Company

Moderator: Jawdat Akid, Managing Client Partner, FranklinCovey Middle East

Key Takeaways

  • Organizations identify with their products, values, and internal culture. But often these can conflict with each other.
  • Leaders struggle with understanding their employees, and in practice many theories of human behaviour do not match the reality experience.
  • Often leaders’ preference for certain team members is not based on performance but on different personalities and parameters on how the relationship has formed.
  • How organizations represent themselves to customers is not necessarily the experience of the employees on the ground. Organizational culture is not one uniform thing, and each team and department exhibits its own culture.
  • Elon Musk’s recent shocking statement ordering his employees to return to office for 40 hours a week was considered by many as antiquated and a paradoxical position of someone who claims to be innovative, disruptive, and creative. No explanations. No conversations. No rationale. Bad communication.
  • Leaders should always convey their decision-making rationale to employees. Be clear; relate how it serves the greater vision; recognize that you do not have all the answers but still need to take steps to go in a particular direction. And open the floor to conversations. Everyone may not be on board, and as a leader you need to allow space for this.
  • There is a new pattern developing due to the remote working culture. Managers feel that they are becoming irrelevant if people are performing well at home. However, it is no longer a manager’s purview to feel needed, control and check on employees’ daily performance. Instead, they should be strategizing on how to empower employees and build trust.
  • Leaders need to ‘walk the talk’ to be credible, build integrity, respect, and trust. The notion of alignment is that people are what they do before what they say. You do not need to be perfect, but people do want to see you put the effort.
  • There is no recipe to build trust. You need to ask yourself what you want employees to trust the leaders with?
  • A leader is not a celebrity but a servant who enables, empowers, trains, and brings a collaborative culture in his workforce.

Jawdat Akid: Every organization has an identity that comes from their products, services, and the value they provide to their customers, including their internal culture, and how they serve their stakeholders. However, sometimes they are conflicted. What is organizational psychology?

Szilvia Olah: It is a fascinating field that looks at human behaviour and how it impacts an organization. Leaders, often struggle with their people, and as an organizational psychologist, I help bring better understanding and implement strategies around behaviour rather than ‘fixing people.’ I find that many things that we have been taught in organizations do not really match up with the science.

Kamal Dimachkie: People are fascinating and often defy what you would learn in books. Different relationships between different members of a leadership team affects culture and strategy and often individual preferences are not based on performance or merit, but on other dynamics that matter to these leaders.

Jawdat Akid: Is there a contradiction in how organizations represent themselves to their customers and their people? It was quite a show that Elon Musk, recently asked all his employees to return to office to work!

Szilvia Olah: It could trigger a new pattern with other CEOs pushing this agenda. Managers are feeling irrelevant in the remote work culture since there is   no longer a need for managing performance daily anymore. In fact, if you are performing very well at home, we really do not need these managers. There are economic reasons. There are managerial reasons. This is a great setback, especially coming from someone like Elon Musk who is supposed to be creative and innovative, progressive. There is a conflict between what he represents and what he is saying.

How are organizations perceived and what do employees experience on the ground? There is an idea touted about ‘organizational culture,’ as if it is one uniform thing. I guarantee you that each team that you talk to will have a quite different culture experience. In fact, it is extremely hard to define company culture. What represents us? Any organization can point to one or two key things, but it is different within each team and the department leaders set the culture within each department and outlet.

Kamal Dimachkie: Elon Musk is known for going against the grain. In fairness to him, he has proved to see something that others miss. Yet, as an innovator, we expected him to move away from a work environment that is akin to being in a factory. But the way he communicated his decision was a bigger shocker. There was no explanation and draconian. No conversation. When in the absence of a better argument, you pull rank, it is not good. People are what they do, before what they say.

Jawdat Akid: What could be some of the things that leaders should communicate when making tough decisions?

Kamal Dimachkie: In my leadership role, I often had to stand in front of several hundred people and tell them that we were going in a particular direction. You must be clear and explain how the decision serves the overall objective and agenda of the organization. Recognize that you do not have all the answers, options have evaluated; people and organizational layers been involved in the decision. Open the floor for a conversation and allow space for everyone not to be on board.

Szilvia Olah:  Leaders fail to acknowledge that it is fine for everyone not to agree with them. It is more important to build trust than consensus. If your team trusts you, then disagreements are part of the respect value that you build, and people will work towards your goal. This is a great lesson for leaders. When your team says, “I do not know where you are going, but I follow you because I trust that you are going to drive us or take us out of this tricky situation. I trust that you will make the best decision.

Kamal Dimachkie: We are in the phase of what is known as “VUCA” – vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Leaders today have a massive challenge as they navigate through these times for which there is no roadmap, no rulebook, no playbook of any sort. Humility to retrace steps when needed, consistency between word and deed, transparency, and vulnerability as a human being, are some of the qualities that people want to follow today.

Szilvia Olah: Leaders do struggle in developing trust, and I have had CEOs ask me for the trust recipe. There is none. The question is what should people trust you with? Empowering your team is an important core value of trust, where mutual respect is created regardless of the hierarchy.

Jawdat Akid: A good leader’s job should be to create more leaders. But this can be counterintuitive to less confident people. How would you encourage leaders to empower others, and have more accountability?

Kamal Dimachkie: There is a problem with how we regard leaders and how leaders regard themselves. The concept of the leader as a celebrity is wrong. A leader needs to be more like a servant. You are there to ensure that everybody else is enabled, empowered, sufficiently trained, appropriately positioned in an organization, and are functioning collaboratively. Model the way, even if sometimes it looks like you are muddling through your own humanity and humility. This is important.