A Wellbeing Leadership Paradigm
Glancing through Amazon recently, I noticed that there were 57,136 books with the word “leadership” in the title, but only 337 books with “wellbeing leadership”. That is not to say that the latter is by definition a separate and distinct discipline. Wellbeing in one form or another has always been integral to leadership practices. Moreover, as the practice of leadership has evolved, so has the understanding of it. We now apply modern concepts of neuroscience, evolutionary biology and behavioural economics to the study of leadership.
This is never more relevant then in today’s climate where leaders are being driven towards a still largely untapped gold mine – organisational wellbeing. Indeed, extensive global research by Gallup has shown a more rigorous focus on organisational and employee wellbeing that gains emotional, financial and competitive advantage.
This is evident from the recent inaugural Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) awards scheme where the majority of entries showed really impressive business results with their wellbeing initiatives. What proved to be a clear differentiator between the very good and exceptional entries is where leadership is firmly in the driving seat. The most striking examples are where leaders have shown that they are no less immune to the vicissitudes of life. Invariably, they display humility and self-awareness to champion a wellbeing cause, following personal and often life-changing experiences.
Distributive Wellbeing Leadership – Alive and Kicking
There are many different types of leadership, from CEOs, to senior management and then line managers, to an individual’s ability to lead on a particular project. It even applies to volunteer wellbeing “ambassadors”. All these types of leaders have different responsibilities when it comes to wellbeing. Therefore, leadership needs to be distributive in order to develop a culture that fosters wellbeing.
Ultimately, Boards need to buy in to the activity if it is to be co-ordinated and supported enough to achieve the best outcomes. They have the power to make far reaching changes, and to allocate the resources to make them happen. As mentioned above, the individual behaviour of senior management will also have a significant impact on the culture of the organisation. All leaders should demonstrate the behaviours they are advocating. You can’t expect employees to take part in initiatives and change behaviours if the people above them aren’t doing so.
Arguably the most significant leader relationship is between employee and line manager. The line manager role includes creating the optimum environment for the performance of their team members. But line managers are generally regarded as the “squeezed middle”, where they are most vulnerable to personal wellbeing issues. So they require support, resources and training to cultivate a positive work environment. This was one of the most impressive features of the REBA wellbeing entries.
Joining the Dots
In sum, leadership and employee wellbeing should be interwoven, in order to feed through to individual and organisational outcomes. For that reason it has to be a key strand of leadership development programmes to inculcate ‘hard-wired’ behaviours. This will not be for the faint-hearted, but it is attainable for any organisation with the vision and mind-set.