What does your leadership create?

This is the most powerful and important question you can ask yourself.

Steffan Surdek
April 17, 2023
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There is one thing I notice a lot when I am coaching clients. Many leaders talk about their teams and their group dynamics, but they fail to consider or are unaware of one key aspect.

This key aspect is how their actions and their behaviours as leaders are impacting their teams. Their leadership is creating something around them and the truth is that some leaders have blinders on when it comes to this.

In this article, I will dig deeper into some examples of the effect your leadership can have and why it is critical that you know your impact.

Noticing what your leadership creates

I have talked a lot recently about what your leadership game is and why it is important to notice it. In short, your leadership game is how you show up as a leader. What are your behaviours and thought processes? How do you speak with your teams, how do you act?

It is important to be aware of your leadership game, because it affects others around you in a huge way. It is similar to the law of cause and effect, like a pebble thrown into a pond. You may not be noticing what your leadership creates, but it definitely causes a ripple effect.

As a leader, this ripple can be big or small, and it can have two main effects on your team: compliance or engagement. There can be many results in between, but for today let's focus on these two concepts and what they mean.

Leadership that creates compliance

In the olden days of business, leaders used to act in certain ways. They used to give orders and workers were expected to execute what was asked. The rules were clear: it was their way or the highway. Without being so blunt, do you have similar expectations of your people?

If so, you may be one of those leaders who do not notice what their behaviours are creating. Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate my point.

Let's say you are in a meeting with your team to brainstorm new ideas to solve a recurring problem. Different team members pitch in with ideas. Then, you have an idea and you express it to the group. The energy shifts in the room. You break the silence that follows to insist on your idea. No one brings new ideas, so the team decides to go with your idea. What happened in this scenario? Most likely your team was afraid to say no to your idea.

Let's go with another example: your team asks which new projects to prioritize for the coming year, and they express the team's bandwidth is limited. But as a leader, you want all the projects to be done this year, because in your mind they are all important. You do not want to have to choose, so your team runs around trying to get everything done. What is happening here is that you are putting your needs before your team's needs.

A final example would be when you delegate running a meeting to someone on your team. In this case, you are not happy with how the discussion is moving so you decide to take over. What does this create for your team member who is running the meeting? They will probably feel disempowered because you are hijacking their role.

The common element in all these situations is that in a way, you are "conditioning" your team to act in certain ways based on what you say and how you act with them. This usually happens because you are either unaware or not receptive to their input and their reactions.

Leadership that creates engagement

As opposed to this more classic style of directive leadership, the modern business environment has a different approach. It is more about encouraging your people to take ownership of their work.

Keep in mind that the balance of power is not the same as it used to be. It is shifting slowly towards employees, even more so because of the new generation coming up in the workforce.

The core of co-creative leadership is actively creating engagement within your team. If you are a leader who wants to create engagement, the first thing you need to do is to become aware of your impact.

How to change what your leadership creates

The first way you can become aware is to start noticing what happens in group meetings. Notice what the dynamics in the group are and how they react to you. Are you creating space in your language and your actions for others to join in and contribute to the best of their abilities, or are you shutting people out when their opinions do not match yours?

One part of this is to learn to recognize when your team is agreeing to something out of compliance. Often times, this happens because of their fear of consequences if they disagree. You can instead invite them to challenge your ideas.

Then, take responsibility for your actions and for their effects. Does your team come to you asking for your blessing for every move they make? You may or may not have asked them to do this, but by continuing you are "conditioning" them to seek your approval and validation.

To change what your leadership creates, think about what new behaviours you could be encouraging instead. Let me tell you a personal anecdote. On the Surdek Team, team members know when to ask for my approval and when to ask for my opinion. There are times when they ask for neither and this is fine. Keep in mind that this was not an immediate result, it took us 3 to 6 months to get to that point.

When they would come to me to ask for approval, I would tell them in a kind manner that I would not approve anything, but that I was happy to give them feedback because I believed in their autonomy. We developed this over time and it is now something we joke about on the team.

Another key thing you can start doing that will have a more immediate effect is using silence to bolster your team's engagement. The next time you are in a meeting, before you give an idea, ask a question and leave a moment of silence. If you reach a point where you give an idea, just say your idea, ask for the team's opinion and stop talking. Leave a good seven seconds of silence and see what happens.

Let's go back to our earlier example about hijacking a meeting. What if instead you gave the team member running the meeting permission to lead that space? This means that you fall back in certain situations and let others on your team lead. That implies that you must learn to follow others and support them. When you do this, you are giving them space to grow into their own leadership. In turn this will help create other leaders around you who will be committed.


As with many of the concepts I talk about, the key here is that everything starts with becoming more aware of yourself as a leader. How do you show up with others? How are your actions and words perceived?

Start noticing when your team members shut down or seem to stay silent. What are your behaviours that encourage them to act that way? Also notice which of your behaviours are "conditioning" your team to be committed and engaged.

Becoming aware is also the first step to become a more authentic and conscious leader. These soft skills will prove useful to you in your journey to develop your own co-creative leadership.

What does your leadership create around you? What would you like to create instead?