It’s time to view wellbeing as an essential leadership capability. We need to incorporate this capability as a core component at all levels of our leadership development programs.
Just as we expect leaders to have well-developed skills in team management, people leadership, emotional intelligence, stakeholder relationships, strategic thinking and innovation, we should also expect them to be capable of developing wellbeing, self-care and other-care for those they lead. They should be champions of wellbeing change across their organisations.
Why? Because leaders with a highly developed wellbeing capability cast a stronger, bigger and better shadow when it comes to improving employees’ perceptions, emotions, attitudes and motivation.
The underlying premise of all leadership development programs is that experienced skills and behaviours will be enacted in improved “on-the-job” practice, leading to positive business outcomes.
Reviews to date have established that good interpersonal relationships between leaders and their followers are associated with higher wellbeing and lower stress, and that leadership development programs can be used as a primary intervention for improving employee wellbeing.
The potential for leadership development programs to improve employee wellbeing is only just being recognised. At last there seems to be a growing head of steam and excitement.
Here are my top 10 tips for designing your leadership development program to improve employee wellbeing across your whole organisation:
1. Start with the end in mind. Specify quantifiably improved employee wellbeing and sustainable high performance as your goals.
2. Link a theory of change to your program design logic. Be clear about how your leadership development program can expect to increase employee wellbeing and, consequently, sustain performance.
3. Remember wellbeing is a subjective, dynamic and multi-dimensional state of being. It’s impacted by both in-work and at-home experiences. This needs to be emphasised on any leadership program, as does an understanding that “one size won’t fit all”.
4. Argue strongly for conducting individual wellbeing needs diagnoses at the start of any wellbeing program. Seventy-five per cent of wellbeing programs don’t deliver because they fail to diagnose those factors that impact heavily on wellbeing and so neglect to implement a targeted, meaningful intervention (Global Wellness Institute, 2016).
5. Wellbeing leadership starts with one’s own wellbeing. Recognise that being a wellbeing leader first requires individuals to understand and work on their own wellbeing. We recommend undertaking an in-depth wellbeing assessment, such as GLWS (see the box below), that engages leaders in their own wellbeing and targets wellbeing actions and strategies tailored to their own needs and roles.
6. Offer “leadership wellbeing capability” training to all leaders at all levels within the organisation.
7. Develop leaders’ capabilities in wellbeing to have a direct effect on work practices and resources.
8. Integrate newly learned wellbeing capabilities into daily business practices, team climate and organisational culture. This will create stronger emotional resonance by developing a supportive and enabling context for wellbeing improvements to occur.
9. Link performance reviews and reward systems to achievements in wellbeing practices, contextualise learning outcomes to the organisational context and ways in which wellbeing knowledge is transferred and is implemented
10. Stand firm. Communicate that the days of rolling out a wellbeing package based on yoga, mindfulness training, gym memberships and fruit bowls are gone!
The world is changing. Leaders are under more pressure to perform and respond to rapid organisational, social and technological change than ever before.
To be successful in the future, leaders will need to demonstrate wellbeing as a core capability in addition to being well versed in strategy, planning, culture, people and project management. The best of the best will understand, model and uphold positive wellbeing practices in the workplace.
To have the impact warranted by the size of the opportunity, only strong leadership, cultural and structural change driven by wellbeing data will deliver.
My three key messages are:
1. Consider updating your organisation’s leadership capability framework to include a clear and explicit expectation of leadership wellbeing capability.
2. Redesign or augment your leadership development initiatives to increase wellbeing – for leaders and for the benefit of their teams and the broader employee workforce.
3. Leaders who go on to role-model and prioritise newly taught wellbeing skills and behaviours are an organisation’s most powerful enablers of improved employee wellbeing.
Audrey McGibbon is a Registered Psychologist in Australia, as well as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS), an Associate Fellow of the BPS and a member of the Division of Occupational Psychology and Psychotherapy Sections of the BPS. She is the co-author of GLWS and co-founder of EEK & SENSE.