A Meaning Centred Approach to Leadership.



In my leadership mentoring and executive coaching practice I almost always default to the GROW model when working with clients. This has served them all well as it builds a self reflective attitude to understanding their (the coachee’s) issues and problems and helps them set achievable goals and objectives in order to change a problem they are encountering.

Great we might say….I completely get this….the self reflective leader has the insight to look at them selves and their attitudes and performance and how they impact upon others in order to get the best out of themselves and others in solving work problems and building relationships.

However I have learned of a relatively new approach to leadership that is based on the work of Dr Paul Wong, a widely published and august clinical psychologist based in Canada. Dr Wong has taken the notion that good work can be achieved across three “meaning centred” levels. ( Good Work: A meaning- centred approach. Wong P.T.P 2016). The first level is the Individual. The individual should be encouraged to work in an environment that intrinsically motivates them to make great use of their strengths. These strengths when used positively can lead to great job satisfaction and productivity. The second level is the Organisation. The meaning centre here is that an organisational leadership culture that encourages leaders to demonstrate virtuous qualities such as humility, vision, trust and altruism can empower employees to realise their full potential and create a positive culture for achievement. This is based in the work of Patterson (2003) and Greenleaf (2005)who explore these ideas as the basis for servant leadership and the psychology of the leader/follower relationship. The third level is the Society. As quoted from Wong (2016)  ” At the societal level, good organisations assume their social responsibilities to contribute to the greater good beyond the bottom line. Thus a good organisation is not only a good place to work, but also an agent of positive social change.”

Now I am not a psychologist and don’t usually use psychology based theories in my coaching practice – I prefer to utilise my traditional leadership experiences to formulate and structure a conversation and questions that cause coachees  to think and reflect on what they do and how they do it.

However I have been thinking a lot about the meaning centred approach as outlined above and I can only conclude that as a model for rethinking one’s leadership style to focus on positivity and softer traits and values, then it is worthy of exploring through coaching sessions.

The virtuous leader should try and develop those “servant qualities” – As a virtuous leader, you’re a “servant first” – you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people’s perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders. It may also lead to increased innovation.

Imagine the impact where a leadership culture is developed that moves away from strong hierarchical autocratic top down leadership to a more transformational flatter structure where everyone is empowered to demonstrate and work to their strengths, where the managers take the needs of the staff into consideration when making decisions, and there is a strong commitment to contributing in some way to the greater good.

There must be an organisation like that out there somewhere!


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