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The 2 Critical Leadership Skills for the Digital Workplace

April 29, 2021 Leadership
clare price
By Clare Price

Leaders have faced enormous challenges over the last year. While productivity and performance remained important, for thoughtful leaders the big focus was on safety, security and employee well-being.

As we look beyond pandemic restrictions and stop-gap measures, leaders must consider how to balance the continuing need for safety, wellness and security with the expectation of productivity and performance. Doing so requires a new perspective on two critical leadership skills for the digital workplace: teamwork and connected communications.

Getting to the Heart of Team Dynamics

With teamwork, the ideal might be a team working productively, harmoniously and with little management oversight or intervention. That ideal has been made more difficult lately with remote work transitions, disrupted workflows and constant reconfiguring of the workplace. Difficult but not impossible.

A critical, often overlooked, success factor for effective teamwork is understanding team dynamics. Understanding team dynamics means understanding the personalities that make up the team. 

Leaders make the mistake of believing their team shares their personality or worldview, said Matt Schlegel, author of "Teamwork 9.0." “Leaders shouldn't just assume that their style works for everybody.” To avoid that common trap, team leaders need to understand the innate qualities of team members. An appropriate tool can help them build that understanding, and boost productivity, deepen relationships, build trust and increase the sense of safety and security of each person on the team as a result.   

“I think every leader should have a tool that allows them to appreciate their own working style and the working styles of teammates, and to use that knowledge to help team members and work teams create an environment that is conducive to each style,” said Schlegel.

Most of us know the big three personality profiling tools: Myers-Briggs, DISC and StrengthsFinder. As an engineering manager, Schlegel tried and found all of those  tools lacking. "I came across these tools as a manager, and I would always try to get the most I could out of them. But I inevitably found limitations," he said.

Schlegel then found the Enneagram Model, which he believes is the best of the category. The Enneagram models nine interconnected personality types to not only explain personality dynamics, but how these dynamics change over time — something the other tools do not.

Understanding how personality dynamics shift when exposed to different situations, problems and challenges gives leaders a major advantage in achieving the best in productivity and harmony for their teams. 

Related Article: What 2020 Taught Us About Being an Effective Leader

A Quick Introduction to the Enneagram System

While the origins of the Enneagram are murky referencing Greek, Sufi and Christian teachings, the modern Enneagram System is traced to Oscar Ichazo, the Bolivian-born founder of the Arica School established in 1968. 

The Nine Types

The Enneagram Institute introduces the nine personality types this way: 

  1. Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionistic.
  2. Type Two is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing and possessive.
  3. Type Three is adaptable, excelling, driven and image-conscious.
  4. Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed and temperamental.
  5. Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive and isolated.
  6. Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious.
  7. Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive and scattered.
  8. Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational.
  9. Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, complacent and resigned.

Related Article: Belonging Is Essential to the Future of Work

Team Personalities Are Not Static

The nine types are both distinct and relational as the diagram below shows.

connected teamwork
Figure 1: The Enneagram Diagram

Schlegel believes the real power of the Enneagram is the relational aspect. “You can see the diagram has these lines in it. So, for instance, I'm a six and I have a line connected to type nine and a line connected to type three. Those lines are called the paths of integration and disintegration or security and insecurity."

“So when I'm feeling secure, then I start to move towards the dynamic of a type nine. Now, remember, I'm a type six, that's my starting point. But the issue for the thinking types is anxiety. As my anxiety goes down, I start to look like this nine, which is the peacemaker, the harmonizer. On the other hand, when my anxiety starts to go up, then I moved toward the highly productive three,” explained Schlegel. 

Beyond Personality to Problem-Solving

“We’ve talked about the Enneagram as this personality system. But if you look at the diagram, there's a circle around it. That is another aspect of the Enneagram.

“The motion around the circle essentially tells us the order in which humans solve problems. Each one of those numbers represents a dynamic. That dynamic is exactly the right dynamic for that step of problem solving. The cycle steps you through the steps from recognizing the problem to finding success in solving the problem and debriefing the solution,” said Schlegel. Problem solving with the Enneagram is the main focus of his "Teamwork 9.0" book.

Figure 2:  Problem solving with the Enneagram
Figure 2: Problem solving with the Enneagram

Related Article: Build Organizational Purpose Into Your Talent Systems

Building Connected Communications

Understanding personality types is only half of the equation for leaders today. The other critical factor is connected communications, a need which the remote work revolution has amplified, explained Kimberly Layne, author of "Connections Change Everything."

“Leadership before was really tactical on the project, on the sales goal, on the revenue goal. It’s still about that, but the way for leaders to really succeed is to have a pulse on your people: how they're doing emotionally, being empathetic to their situation, understanding some of the challenges that they're facing,” she said.

Sadly, leadership communications are often disconnected and fragmented. And the digital world we all live in is partially to blame. “It's only getting worse with our virtual work environment and the increased use of social media and digital technology to get stuff done. We have to be selective as leaders, educating ourselves and our teams as to when it's appropriate to use digital technology and when it's better off to use a human connection like picking up the phone and speaking directly to the person,” said Layne.

Connected communication starts with the affirmation and collaboration that comes from practicing good listening skills. As Layne put it, “mastering the soft stuff that makes the hard stuff work. Meaning if you don't have empathy and an emotional relationship and connection with your people, you're not going to get the hard stuff. They're not going to fight for you if you're not invested in them."

“Your role as a leader is to recreate emotion in your relationships because people are motivated by emotion. People buy on emotion. People are willing to work harder based on emotion. Your job is to build your emotional connections with your people to get business results,” said Layne.

Our workplaces are continuing to evolve at a rate that shows no sign of slowing down. Understanding the team personality dynamics behind the teamwork and building connected communications will help strengthen your digital leadership skills for whatever comes next.

About the Author

Clare Price is CEO of Octain, a global strategic planning consultancy that helps small and mid-market companies grow to dominate their markets by fueling the speed of business. She is the author of the eBook, Make Remote Work, a practical guide for helping companies navigate the new remote work world.

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