Using Leadership to Boost Wellbeing

People are motivated in the workplace by numerous factors. One of these is opportunity. People who have the opportunity to grow, and are encouraged to do so, feel valued and this in itself is highly motivational.

Leadership in an organisation is all about building capacity and empowering others. Wellbeing is one of the most important factors in the success of an organisation. Can a conversation about leadership happen without considering wellbeing, and vice versa

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The word ‘wellbeing’ is bandied around so much these days that it seems to have somehow lost its real meaning to people. We perceive the word to mean far more superficially how we feel than it really ought to be considered. Wellbeing initiatives commonly include phrases like, ‘caketime Wednesday’ or ‘Pay a Compliment Week’ and whilst these are important and very ‘nice’ initiatives, and indeed do play a part in organisational wellbeing, they don’t actually address the real issues that lie at the base of staff wellbeing. The reason for this is that these all are in essence extrinsic motivational factors. Those of us who have been teachers, will know that extrinsic motivation works for a time but ultimately the incentives that are being used, become expectations, then they become normalised. It’s a bit like a drug, the more you use incentives, the more you need, and the more often you will need to incentivise. 

The wellbeing of a team requires, first and foremost, an intrinsic approach to motivation, and this requires high quality leadership. Good leaders will understand that simply providing cake at team time on a Wednesday will not get people to strive towards a vision harder than they were beforehand. It will not make them desire to self-improve, and it will not make your team respect or like you any more than they already do! It will make them feel ‘nice’ for the five minutes they are eating the cake! 

The understanding of leadership as a learnable skill, however, provides people with something different. You don’t need a title to be a leader, and therefore you don’t need to hold a particular position on the organogram to learn leadership skills. Leadership is all about inspiring, motivating and empowering those around you so that they become better within themselves, and build an innate desire to improve for improvement’s sake. All these outcomes have an enormous impact on wellbeing, both on a team and individual basis.

The learning of leadership skills also creates a sense of community, another important wellbeing consideration. People who feel ‘out of the loop’ or somehow disconnected from their team, are likely to have low wellbeing scores, and no amount of cake on Wednesday will bring them out of this. People who feel part of a community, through a shared understanding of leadership principles feel involved and integrally part of something more than just their specific roles. This has a massive positive impact on wellbeing.

Leadership skills that are widely developed and understood within a team, encourage greater involvement in understanding of vision and direction, leadership decisions, and ultimately decision making that impacts on them. Good leaders create high functioning teams by being transparent with decisions, by relentlessly building trust within their teams and by building capacity through professional development that counts. These all create a deep, sustainable sense of well-being in the team, and all this is possible through the development of leadership skills within a team.