In our recent book Work Wellbeing: Leading thriving teams in rapidly changing times, we have an entire chapter dedicated to leadership. We know from our research that leadership is key to people thriving at work. Leaders either create or inhibit a culture of wellbeing. We’ve found that enlarging leadership is the most effective leadership style for workplaces today and into the future. So what exactly is it?
Enlarging leadership defined
Enlarging leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on growing and enhancing other leaders. Such leadership is more than being a great leader; it is about developing great leaders. We know that workers, in their employment, are looking for opportunities to advance their careers, engage in professional development and work with purpose. Enlarging leaders know this, and so actively look for opportunities to upskill and develop those around them. Collaborative styles of leadership create a culture of leadership development by delegating both tasks and responsibility. These leaders see qualities in their staff they may not see in themselves; they back team members who don’t even back themselves.
When a long-term leader departs and their organisation subsequently wanes, that is not a measure of their success but an indicator of their failure. Great leaders don’t just have a succession plan, they have a succession queue – a depth of leaders they have trained. Leadership is defined by the culture created and the people developed.
Enlarging leaders focus on the next generation of leaders
From 2020 Generation Y and Generation Z, born since 1980, comprised the majority of the workforce, outnumbering Generation X and Baby Boomers for the first time. This demographic tipping point is transforming the world of work and leadership. Our research indicates that these generations respond most positively to a leadership style that creates a culture of enlarging the competence, character and people acuity of those being led.
The link between enlarging leadership and wellbeing
Having wellbeing at work doesn’t imply comfort, security, safety or ease, because if people are not being challenged or growing they will stagnate. While organisations should prioritise the health and safety of their workers, in order to lead thriving teams people also need to be challenged and given opportunities for growth. By our definition of growing, enlarging and stretching team members, wellbeing can’t just be about protecting people from entering into stressful situations. We want people to experience testing in order for them to grow. People’s natural sense is to avoid stress and hardships at all times – but this creates dependency, which is the opposite of resilience. Enlarging leadership and prioritising the wellbeing of people is about growing them and their capacity.
In our worker survey we asked the question: ‘When given a responsibility or a task outside of your comfort zone that stretches your capacity, which of the following best describes how you feel towards it?’ The majority of workers said that while they don’t enjoy the process they know it grows them (53%), followed by 41% who said they enjoy the process and know it grows them, while 6% said they don’t enjoy the process and don’t find it helpful. The role of a leader is to ensure that people are being stretched in their capability even if they don’t enjoy the process.
When leaders create environments for people to grow and contribute, not only do people flourish but the organisation benefits as well. As in a garden, healthy environments produce flourishing and thriving, and things grow.