Leading from Behind: A Meditation on Always Having Your Team’s Back

2 minute read

By Sylvain Souligny, a graduate of the ELP, Cohort 4.

We all constantly hear that “change is the new constant,” but this phrase ignores, or is used to ignore, several factors that play a major role in people’s wellness. As leaders, while we can’t solve all the problems that individuals on our teams may be facing, which more tumultuous periods of change can certainly trigger, I believe that we have a duty to do our best to support those in our orbit. At the same time, as leaders, we must also recognize the need to look after our own wellness.

As someone who has been directly leading several major transformation initiatives for quite some time, I witness every day that there is a burning platform for change in so many different areas – in government as well as the broader world of work, and of course even in how concepts of work are changing in the modern day. My previous experiences in HR, in particular, led me to spend quite some time assessing the impact leaders and their styles have in creating an organizational climate that supports high levels of productivity and engagement. I have also had the benefit of being exposed to powerful leadership.

These experiences have helped me understand the correlation between a leader’s style and how employees perceive the culture of their organization and experience their day-to-day work. Factored over a longer period, though, it is fair to say that there is a sustainability factor associated with different styles of leadership. Sometimes certain leadership styles are adopted given the type of work being led; however, there can be a tendency for leaders (likely inadvertently) to try to force-fit what has worked in the past to a new situation that likely calls for a different approach.

In order to promote the environment I feel is needed for my team and others around us to flourish, I always strive to be upbeat and engaging about the possibilities being offered by our work and through the talented people around. At the same time, it is important to balance an upbeat nature with the ability to be honest and upfront about challenges we are facing, and to encourage others to do the same.

Part of encouraging others to be open includes the need to be ready to pick up on signals that something may be going unsaid for various valid reasons. In these cases, it is about being proactive and reaching out to surface these issues before they turn into something bigger. When it comes to issues affecting someone’s wellbeing, we need to be open as leaders to all the tools available in the modern workforce and workplace toolkit — the tools that sometimes still get advertised far more than they are adopted (although this is changing) like flexible/virtual work arrangements, revised schedules, additional accommodations, as well as plain old-fashioned encouragement.

We all go through priorities changing, seeing certain work getting shelved, and the list of unintended end results goes on. But, regardless of what happens with the work you do and really more than anything else you do as a leader, when you think about the ways in which you can contribute in a positive and even life-changing way to the lives of the people around you, this should give all of us great pause and make us constantly reflect on how we choose to lead.


About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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