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How leaders can dismantle the ‘status barrier’ at work – and why it’s key to building a high-performing team

By Neil Jurd OBE, author of The Leadership Book and he is an executive coach and trainer for senior leaders and teams.

In this article leadership expert Neil Jurd discusses how leaders can dismantle the status barrier at work – and why it is key to building high-performing teams. He reveals how organisations can free themselves from the entanglement of bureaucracy and status to encourage new leaders to use initiative.

There is a traditional view of leadership – one where leaders are associated with their position, grade and status. Decisions cascade downhill, and nothing happens unless the sign off is giving from the appropriate levels. This type of leadership is stifling Further Education, making decision-making move too slowly and preventing the growth of leadership skills outside of those with the appropriate grade or position. This traditional leadership style takes precedence over purpose, and organisations become entangled in bureaucracy and status, which discourages initiative and leadership.

Breaking Down the Status Barrier

In high-performing teams, the status barrier is broken down so that everyone is focussed on achieving the same clear and compelling purpose. Creativity is encouraged and people throughout the organisation are given freedom to work towards the purpose. It is important that leaders in high-performing teams allow and encourage this freedom and creativity throughout the organisation. Giving freedom to your team to solve issues develops leadership skills, and is motivating by allowing them more ownership to problem-solve and find solutions.

Leaders who overly control others, by telling them what to do and by making sure that they, the leader, control all decision making and activity, significantly reduce the available brainpower and creativity available to the organisation.

Instead, reframe your leadership position to be one of a coach, switching on the talent in the team, releasing senior leaders to think and focus on having a leadership effect. As a leader, there is almost always no need to know the answer, your role is to enable your team to help find solutions themselves. Inexperienced and underconfident leaders often feel under pressure to demonstrate their value by offering answers, or they feel the need to exert authority by giving direction. Try to resist these temptations; the more senior and influential a leader becomes, the less practical it is for them to know all the answers, or to be involved in the detail of every decision.

Building Connections

Connecting with your people is essential for dismantling this type of status barrier at work. Effective leaders need to be good at connecting with people. Why is it so important? Leaders achieve things far beyond what they could do alone, by engaging others intellectually and emotionally in pursuit of a clear and compelling purpose. Engaging others is a core leadership activity, an effective use of your time, which can also be interesting and enjoyable. By engaging with people, I mean really connect. The aim is to get to know people: to break down the hierarchy, bureaucracy and status consciousness around you in order to form really meaningful connections. Connect with the people in your team and the people who interact with your team.

A good way to build connections is to visit your team where they work and spend some time with them. This way you are meeting on their territory, where they feel most comfortable. This takes a lot of the friction and interference out of the process and allows a more relaxed and honest level of connection. Walking around is always good as you meet people and see things that are not obvious from your desk. If you work in a dispersed team, the same principle applies: meet with people often and in a way that removes status from the engagement. Connecting through video conferencing or on the phone is a little bit harder, so to compensate for that, you must try a little bit harder. Be a little more animated and work hard to invite people’s opinions and to encourage them to speak.

A ’New’ Leadership Style

This type of leadership is called mission command style – it was popularised by Napoleon but is still used today in everywhere from businesses to the military. Instead of relying the chain of command for approval, it is focused on finding a compelling aim for the team and then forming a relationship of trust throughout the team to allow people to work toward achieving this common goal.

In traditional leadership styles, this trust often gets lost – but by rebuilding trust and reasserting team’s goals we can dismantle the status barrier to build leadership skills and help teams to achieve more.

By Neil Jurd OBE, author of The Leadership Book and he is an executive coach and trainer for senior leaders and teams.

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