Getting “Behaviourally Fit”

Lee Newman

Professor Lee Newman is professor of behavioural science and leadership.

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In a world full of smart business professionals, says Lee Newman, the quality of behaviour is what distinguishes the most successful.

Take two equally intelligent, well-educated professionals with similar years of experience and put them in similar organisations with the same budgets and staff.

One consistently moves ideas forward and shepherds projects to success while the other becomes mired in obstacles, battles, and set-backs. Why? The answer is behaviour.

Being good at the job-specific aspects of one’s work is important, yes, but merely the entry ticket to a sustainably successful career. We all know those people at work who are unremarkable at what they do but succeed because of how they do it. And we also know people who are excellent at what they do yet have stalled careers because, again, of how they do it.

Talk to line managers, recruiters and HR staff and they will tell you that what ultimately sets apart two smart employees is not the details of their marketing plans or the specifics of their operational improvement proposals.

Rather, it is how well they listen to colleagues and customers, how open minded they are in considering others’ ideas, whether they can learn to trust and not micro-manage, how effectively they can influence and persuade, and their ability to forge positive alliances to marshal resources and gain the buy-in necessary to make things happen. And the list goes on.

Those professionals who are the most “behaviourally fit” are the ones who are more likely to succeed – and this comes down to how they behave, in every meeting, conversation, problem solving session, negotiation and interview. The behaviourally fit have three qualities that others lack: a broader repertoire of behaviours, greater flexibility in calling upon them and more practised execution in the moments that count.

So, how behaviourally fit are most business professionals? Not very – and they admit it (behind closed doors). When I ask a classroom of MBA students “who joins me in being a member of The Bad Listeners Club?” nearly everyone raises a hand and smiles.

I get the same response in corporate workshops, working with recent hires up to the C-suite. And it is not just about underdeveloped listening skills. What I have found in my teaching and training is that most people, much of the time, find themselves challenged by a wide variety of the behaviours that drive their daily performance at work. These include micromanaging instead of trusting and delegating, losing control over emotions, getting impatient in team meetings, not giving real consideration to others’ ideas, difficulty coping with distraction and procrastination, and placing too much emphasis on results to the detriment of people and process.

It’s a shame, then, that business schools and corporate universities focus so little on helping professionals develop the in-the-moment behaviours that can boost interpersonal effectiveness, productivity and engagement.

It is not for lack of trying. There are myriad training programmes on offer and every business school curriculum includes a share of soft-skills classes – it’s just that the current methods do not work well. Last year, companies spent $130 billion on training, 35% of which went on leadership skills. Yet, despite this, the overwhelming majority of employees across countries and industries are not highly engaged.

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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