Reflection: Leadership Rituals

Leadership Rituals

It would be very easy to begin this reflection by advocating leaders have 5 or 7 particular rituals that set them apart from others.  In Robin Sharma’s book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, 8 key rituals are identified. This article could espouse identifying rituals such as setting a compelling vision, role model great behaviour or empowering others.These are all important of course and are the right things to do. But, what of the deeper behaviours?  What leadership rituals truly inspire an individual to follow or move to action?

This reflection looks beyond grandiose statements to the day to day behaviours and habits that leaders perform as a norm.
Professionals delivering or performing research will appreciate that behaviours are a set of patterns driven from our internal motivation.  It may be a desire to achieve or to aid others in an altruistic way.  Our behaviours can be identified by the way we express ourselves and the way we perform our actions.  When we identify these, we can begin to understand the individual deeply, to see their true intentions.  Reflection on the individual can lead us to second guess their actions which, in turn, leads us to appreciate their motivations.  If these actions are identified as rituals that are driven with authenticity, we can identify leadership behaviour.  Understanding this becomes incredibly useful, like a chapter of a book that we are already familiar with. This reflection considers the positives and negatives of leadership rituals. Those patterns of behaviour and actions that people who lead us have.

Purposeful Rituals

As we consider these behaviours it’s helpful to measure them by our own moral compass and ask ‘are these purposeful rituals’? This allows us to pre-empt questions the leader will pose and enable us to look from their point of view.  Where purposeful rituals are identified and aligned with, we can see the outputs at a team, department and organisational level.  This is, however, more than ‘setting a clear vision’ or a well-produced purpose.  It contains three strategic drivers.  Very simply, these are, ‘Purpose’, ‘Process’ and ‘People’.  Do we know where we are going? Do we have a plan? And have we got the right people? Purposeful rituals can then really begin to emerge and drive all three.  A caveat here is doing things the same way cannot deliver new results, it’s much deeper than a habit.

Top view of a rowing team in a rowboat in the middle of the sea

Expressing deep rooted leadership rituals

Our purpose is critical to leaders as it is driven by core motivation and is the central point of our actions.  The reason there is a high focus on leaders and leadership styles is academics and such are desperate to pin it down.  It’s the everyday intentional action we perform that drives the success.  As stated, more than a habit, this is a focussed, purposeful approach and behaviour that looks to achieve a great outcome.  This is difficult to capture and usually ends us in literature as a high-level deed.
A purposeful ritual is much more than this; it is as situational as it is intentional.  The ability to flow and change with circumstances while remaining true to the purpose will remain a key motivation for the leader.  If achieved, your teams will be able to second guess your actions before you say or act them out.  This outcome shows that your rituals are indeed understood by the wider group.

Surrender to Change

Performing the same action day in day out will produce something but maybe not what we actually require.  Surrendering to change is a heading from the previously mentioned Robin Sharma book. Sharma explains that to change the results you are achieving requires a change in the way you go about getting those results.  This is essentially the notion of change management; people may simplify this further by stating change the process.  It is much more than this. If we are not moving towards the goal we need to appreciate why and challenge ourselves.  Do we have the right skill set among our team?  Have we communicated the overall purpose effectively?  Are the current paths we are moving along working, or do we need to create a whole new process?  Surrendering to change means more than flexibility of approach. It requires a whole new outlook.
Can we actually be that transparent in our approach?  Let us reflect for a moment, identify a team member you work closely with.  When they walk into the office, what do they do?  Is there a set pattern of behaviour or do they do something different each day?  This is a fairly light way of beginning to understand individual rituals.  There are certain actions that we would expect to see, such as switch on their computer and so on.  Ask yourself, do you notice any specific actions they take or have you never noticed?  These tiny bits of information can lead to a wider picture of the individual and the approach.  Let us further consider the team member who has everyday rituals.  How effective are they with them, are they helping or hindering?


Leadership Rituals through Behaviour

It is the role of a leader to understand the team they lead and serve, even down to the smallest behaviour.  Some members of teams get to work early.  It may be that they can, that they have no commitments such as dropping the kids off.  It may be that this is when they feel the most productive and can clear the decks before everyone else’s day begins.  What if we used this to maximum effect?  The leader arrives early a day a week to check-in or plan or has a 1-2-1 uninterrupted.  Witnessing the leader’s rituals reveals they have their own, more often, they work around others for maximum benefit.  Another team member comes in a 09:30 each day and has those specific habits.  By this, it is meant nearly the exact same pattern every day. What if you broke that with a reward or recognition, what then?

Recognise and Reward Routinely

People often say they don’t like surprises or having their routine broken.  What if a reward or celebration comes after the completion of a set piece of work?  Rather than the routine of the ‘normal’ day, what if we rewarded on the basis of their motivation? Rewarded for work that they were a part of or had some significant impact.  Breaking their routine through reward and recognition is a positive way to do so.  It shows a deeper thought, an element of surprise if you like, and yet, is purposeful and impactful.  Again, the point is made those leadership rituals are not the how and the way we act. It is the purpose of the ritual, such as recognise and reward routinely that marks out a great leader. There are levels and standards that must be reached or that ‘extra mile’ achieved, that said, outward appreciation is powerful.

A Platform of Predictability

Knowing what is coming can provide a strong narrative for change and preparation. Ask any project manager and they will state that a project well prepared for is a positive starting point. You can’t plan for the curveballs, that’s why figuring in flexibility for slight movement aids agility.  What teams and individuals require in leaders are platforms of predictability with a caveat that not everything can be foreseen.  This sense of direction, a clear vision of the change, aids everyone to focus on that outcome.  More than this, while no one can be everything to everyone, there is an expectation that the leader has general knowledge.  Expectations are, that the leader is prepared and informed, as much as possible, with a strong sense of the direction.

Man holding on camera lenses showing a picturesque background

This sense of direction, a clear vision of the change, aids everyone to focus on that outcome

Imagine the scene if you don’t do this?  How can your people deploy their technical ability without understanding the final picture?  At best you can expect a damn good guess at it, then who has the leadership?  Setting a platform of predictability means everyone knowing and appreciating what is expected of them throughout the path to change.  Furthermore, it allows people to discuss their concerns both as a team and as an individual.   Once these concerns are out, clarity appears.  The leader’s role is then to move the barriers allowing the person to work towards their goal and that of the team.  The ritual of predictability provides an element of assurance.  Having this assurance means it is one less thing to think and worry about allowing us to move ahead.

Intentional Leadership Rituals

There is a difference between intentional rituals and unconscious habit.  One is driven by situation and agility to the surroundings.  The other is an act that is without thought.  Both have their place; we all have habits that we perform as a daily norm.  A leader who is self-aware and practices rituals through purposeful intentions will reap the rewards.  Leaders and their teams can enjoy the predictability of the process knowing that the intention is value-driven.  When a new situation arises, leaders can fall back on their intentions to review and act appropriately.  There are a growing number of books on the market that celebrate new habits.  Books like Microleadership by Haydn Bratt and the Resilience Club by Angela Armstrong offer suggestions enriching lives and mental health.  I would posit that when you are considering a positive change in yourself these are not habits but intentional rituals.

Girl meditating a wooden platform in front of a beautiful scenery

There is a difference between intentional rituals and unconscious habit.

Developing Your Rituals

A leader doesn’t just come to being; neither do the rituals that they utilise.  These are developed and honed over a period of time and, more importantly, reflection.  Reflection forms a critical component as time will allow the leader to adapt and understand the response from the action.  There is vulnerability during this time as well as it being a development period. Every leader gets things wrong; they are after all, human.  Where this is forgivable is where there is a genuine intention based on authenticity and values.  Leaders who practice authenticity will naturally gain backing from team members.  People will be supportive if you can show that vulnerability through openness.  This then allows a platform for others to follow without fear of humiliation.  Once these vulnerabilities are shared, they can be planned for and is a strong basis for trust.

Final Thoughts

Leadership rituals can aid the development of individuals, teams and the leaders themselves.  When a predictable set of behaviours, habits and ethical standards are perpetuated, people can set their own expectations.  When rituals are intentional, anyone or anything falling short of the expectation can understand when these setbacks are revisited.  If this setback affects an ethical outcome, then the appropriate response is to question to understand and review.
When rituals are explicit, it sets standards for others to read, like a chapter of a book.  Rituals then become ingrained, a sense of understanding occurs – leading to a deeper professional relationship that transcends trust.
People follow leaders who practise in ethics and have values.

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