Webinar Wrap-Up: Research Roundup

“’Research’” is our middle name!”

If you’ve tuned into a research presentation with Maria Brown, MRG’s Head of Research, you’ve probably heard this (lightly corny) little one-liner. But the truth is, we mean it – while it’s literally our middle name, it’s also the foundation of what we do.

Rigorous research is what our assessments were founded on, and it’s how we continue to improve and refine them. It informs our work as coaches and consultants ourselves, and we share it so that it can inform yours too.

The studies Maria ran in the last calendar year covered everything from team work, authenticity, growth mindset, and psychological safety, to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). She shared those findings in our recent webinar, Research Roundup: New Findings on Timely Topics in Leadership, Coaching, and Development.

You can read on for highlights or catch up on the complete webinar on demand here (or if you’re an MRG partner, find it in the Knowledge Base along with hundreds of other resources). And read to the end of the post for a Q&A with Maria – our attendees were an inquisitive lot, and you’ll find answers to queries on plenty of timely topics.

If you have ideas about research topics you’d like to see explored in the coming year, let us know! Email us at research@mrg.com.

Building Strong Teams

In a time when many workers have been isolated, a leader’s ability to create strong teams – often from a distance – is critically important. Facilitating healthy teams is vital not only to the bottom line, but also ensuring a satisfied and engaged workforce.

When we look at the research, what behavioral shifts should leaders consider in order to be more effective at building strong teams?

Empathy is far and away the greatest predictor of effectiveness at building strong teams, and that’s hardly a surprise – leaders who clearly care about their colleagues are naturally more likely to facilitate  healthy team relationships. What other behaviors factor into building strong teams?

  • Bring others into the decision-making process
  • Be clear and maintain flow of information
  • Help others achieve their objectives
  • Show higher levels of energy
  • Consider the broad implications of decisions

Looking at it by level…

While the findings above apply across the board, when we look at the data by management level, there are some variations in the behavior profile.

  • First line managers should get comfortable trying new things; not be overly dependent on senior leaders for direction.
  • Middle managers should work on taking advantage of opportunities to be in charge and take care that they are not too forceful in their approach to achieving results.
  • Senior leaders should be sure to check in on team progress and be sure to flex their own expertise when it’s needed.

Creating Psychological Safety

Psychological safety in the workplace has been an increasingly hot topic in learning and development. It’s particularly important as many organizations are reeling from the impact of the great resignation, and finding that workers who can be selective may be prioritizing a psychologically safe working environment over – or at least alongside – traditional rewards like title, prestige, or financial security.

To learn more about the leadership behaviors that support psychological safety, we recently added a research question to the LEA Leadership Impact questionnaire. When we look at the research, what behavioral shifts should leaders consider to become more effective at creating psychological safety?

Key findings: exhibiting empathy and seeking consent and cooperation play a big role, and a lower level of acting autonomously is critical. Overall, what leadership behaviors appear to support psychological safety?

  • Consider the broad implications of decisions
  • Seek and use the opinions of others
  • Help others achieve their objectives
  • Consider what they convey in their feedback and reactions
  • Motivate team to achieve results without being too forceful

Looking at it by level…

While the findings above apply across the board, when we look at the data by management level, there are some variations in the behavior profile.

  • First line managers should be clear and keep everyone in the loop, get comfortable taking risks, and leave some room for others to lead
  • Middle managers may want to be a bit less guarded, since controlling emotions is less important
  • Senior leaders may want to loosen up and be less formal in daily interactions; they may also want to delegate some of the objectives and allow others to have autonomy

Authenticity and Growth: Findings from Self-Reflection Questions

Since 2018, we have asked leaders taking the LEA™ to score themselves on several self-reflection questions. These questions do not reflect a competency, but the leader’s own point of view or outlook. During the webinar, Maria presented findings from two of these questions: growth mindset and authenticity.

Do leaders feel authentic in their roles?

Leaders are asked to rate their agreement with the following item on a scale of 1-7:

I am authentic in my role (i.e., the degree to which I feel I can be myself in my role)

Overall, leaders showed a lot of agreement toward the top of the scale: with a median score of 6, we can see that the majority of leaders are feeling authentically in their roles. As we dig into the data, we learned:

  • When comparing leaders who rate themselves highly (7) to those who rate themselves lower (5 or less), we see that feeling authentic in one’s role is associated with important measures of effective leadership
  • Life stage factors may have a positive influence on authenticity, with Baby Boomers rating themselves higher than younger generations in the workplace
  • Since the average score on this item is rather high, when working with leaders, you may want to start asking questions about this item if you see a score lower than 5

Do leaders believe in growth?

Leaders are asked to rate their agreement with the following item on a scale of 1-7:

I believe that almost anyone can acquire and develop skills

On this item, again, leaders’ scores clustered at the top of the scale – even more than with authenticity. What can we surmise from the findings?

  • Most leaders report strong agreement with the idea that everyone can develop skills if they put forth effort; this may mean that people are over-reporting their agreement with the concept, or that there is genuinely broad agreement and this is no longer a significant differentiator between leaders.
  • Gen Z leaders report the greatest level of agreement with growth mindset.
  • When coaching leaders, start asking questions when LEA Growth Mindset scores are 6 or lower.

Preliminary findings from the new DEI Questionnaire

Prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has taken on a well-justified urgency for many organizations in recent years. To move beyond buzzwords, making lasting, meaningful change in this area requires ongoing, active self-awareness and behavioral change. To support organizations in this critical work and to develop a body of research to shed light on a path forward, we recently developed a DEI questionnaire that can be added to the LEA. (This questionnaire addition is free for a limited time while we build our initial data sample. Please contact clientservices@mrg.com for more information.) The nine anchored-rating questions ask observers to rate leaders on specific, observable aspects of their behavior as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion (with 3 questions for each area).

Maria presented preliminary findings from the data collected thus far. We found that leaders who score high on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion convey effectiveness in a variety of relational competencies – showing advantages in as many as 20 of 31 competencies measured. Not only that – each area is associated with its own set of business and cognitive competencies.

The bottom line from the initial findings: DEI effectiveness has the potential to increase effectiveness across a variety of leadership competencies, but development in all areas of DEI will have the greatest impact.

Reviewing the observer data, Maria came across another interesting finding: noteworthy gaps between observer ratings and self-ratings (i.e., blind spots) on at least 5 of the 9 questions. The largest gaps were found in the questions relating to diversity, with leaders rating themselves higher on average – by as much as 1.8 points (of 7) on some questions.

Our conclusions so far:

  • Although this is a small sample, there is evidence that leaders may not be accurate at assessing their effectiveness in the DEI space.
  • Some areas, especially those in diversity, are more prone to inaccurate self-perceptions.
  • When possible, look at both self and observer ratings to find the best developmental opportunities.

As you might be able to tell from the summary above, Maria presented a lot of new research in a 1-hour webinar and, undoubtedly, attendees had a few questions. Here are the answers to those questions.

Q&A with Maria

Q: Have you noticed any changes to scores on the LEA behavior Self [acting autonomously] since people started working remotely?

A: Leadership practices overall have not shifted too much during the COVID pandemic. The median score for Self globally has remained consistent since 2018 (55th percentile when compared to the US norm group).

While a lot of us thought that leaders might become more autonomous when working remotely, leaders seem to be finding other ways to connect with people in their teams. Many people have relied on video conferencing and messaging applications to stay connected (remember when everyone was talking about Zoom fatigue?). On the other hand, shifts in engrained leadership practices can take time. It feels like the pandemic has been going on forever, but it has only been two years. We will continue to monitor leadership trends to explore the long-term effects of the pandemic on leadership practices.

Q: Do scores for psychological safety vary with the observer group, or is it across the board?

A: The behaviors that convey psychological safety can differ slightly depending on the dynamics of the relationship. To answer your question, I separated the data by observer group. To be seen by their direct reports as someone who creates psychological safety, leaders should consider the following:

  • Placing more emphasis on Empathy, Cooperation, Consensual, Strategic and Restraint
  • Placing less emphasis on Self and Dominant

To be seen by their managers as someone who creates psychological safety, leaders should do all of the above plus:

  • Place more emphasis on Communication
  • Place less emphasis Feedback

In this case, the expectations from managers are more extensive than those from direct reports.

Q: Have you noticed cultural differences regarding building psychological safety? It could vary a lot; what does research show?

A: We expect that culture will influence which behaviors create psychological safety. Cultures are based on a shared history and shared experiences, and what people have experienced in the past will affect what makes them feel safe. How people show respect and expectations about speaking up, among other things, can also differ by culture.

Our initial research into this topic found that in Europe, the ability to create psychological safety was positively correlated with being friendly, sociable and informal (Outgoing). However, those same behaviors are not related to psychological safety in North America. We expect that other regional differences will emerge as we study new samples of leaders.

We will continue to explore this topic further and will try to sort out the nuances of psychological safety not just in terms of culture but by considering a variety of factors in the leadership context.

Q: With regards to authenticity, what measure addresses authentically toxic behavior?

A: That’s an interesting question. We haven’t explored toxic behaviors with respect to authenticity, but it is certainly worth looking into.

The way we would address this with research is similar to how one could address it in coaching. The LEA Leadership Impact questionnaire includes items that could signal toxic behavior. These include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Ethical leadership
  • Overall effectiveness as a leader/manager
  • Self-confidence

Further exploration may be warranted when working with a leader who is rated low on several of these competency items but scores themselves high on authenticity. This combination could indicate that the leader needs to rethink who they want to be in their role.

Q: Do we see a difference in belief in growth [self scores on the Growth Mindset item] depending on level of leadership?

A: We did not find any differences in growth mindset based on level. We took an exploratory approach to this research to see if there were any differences in belief in growth based on demographic factors like industry, management level and gender. The only factor that was significant was generation.

As I mentioned in the webinar, there was very little variability in the responses to the growth item. That can hinder our ability to detect group differences even when they are present. We are going to revisit this item to recalibrate how we measure belief in growth so that we can more accurately identify different levels of agreement with growth.

Q: Do you have a breakdown of race for the observers responding to the DEI questions?

A: Thanks for asking about the racial breakdown of the leaders in that sample. I should have specified this during the webinar. In the past, only participants working in the United States have been asked about their race and ethnicity. This has limited our ability to report on these demographics when conducting global research. To address this, we added an optional ethnicity question for all participant, regardless of where they are working. That question has only been available for a few weeks. We hope that it will help us better understand the ethnic breakdown of leaders completing our assessments.

The DEI study included 9 leaders working in the United States. Of those, 3 identified as White, 1 as Black and 5 did not report their race or ethnicity.

Q: Will it be possible in the future to use the DEI questionnaire separately from the LEA questionnaire?

A: Our goal has always been to increase self-awareness in a way that fosters development. Because of this, our assessments do not measure subjective perceptions of effectiveness alone. We combine those competency measures with neutral behavioral perceptions. We believe that by combining these two types of measures we can provide participants with both a realistic view of how effective they are in their role AND, with the help of a practitioner, an evidence-based development plan involving specific shifts in behaviors. For this reason, the DEI questionnaire will always be something that accompanies the behavioral measures of the LEA, whether that be using the LEA360 or LEA Culture.

Q: What cultural elements facilitate team building?

A: At this point, we have only looked at the elements that build strong teams in terms of individual leaders. That research shows that building relationships, encouraging participation, and providing support are important for building strong teams. While we haven’t specifically looked at the cultural elements that support team building, the current results suggest that cultures that facilitate and even encourage interaction and participation will create a better environment for building strong teams. This would increase the amount of contact leaders have with their teams, and the level of cooperation and communication between individual team members.

Q: Do you have any plans to see if there are differences between high-contact in person leaders vs. those who maybe have never met direct reports in person? (e.g., virtual teams)

A: We added a remote work question to our demographics questionnaire at the beginning of 2020. This item asks participants to indicate whether they work remotely and, if so, how often they work remotely. This will allow us to group leaders based on amount of contact with their direct reports from low (fully remote) to mid (some days remote) to high (fully in person).

We know there is a lot of interest in this research and are prioritizing it. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, visit the MRG Research Library (or, if you’re an MRG Client, log into the Knowledge Base for hundreds of searchable tools and resources).

About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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