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Your roadmap to deal with leadership challenges

Alex and Andrew Geesbreght, founders of PRAX Leadership share their extensive experience and valuable insights on navigating today’s leadership challenges.

Alexandros Pantelakis
Alexandros Pantelakis

HR content specialist at Workable, delivering in-depth, data-driven articles to offer insights into industry and tech trends.

leadership challenges

Today more than ever, leaders face a multitude of challenges, from resolving conflicts and nurturing emotional intelligence to fostering a culture of accountability and investing in employee development. 

To gain a deeper understanding of these critical issues, we turned to Alex and Andrew Geesbreght, founders of PRAX Leadership.

What’s their take on a series of contemporary leadership challenges, and what can you do to save the day? Let’s delve into it.

1. Conflict resolution: finding the root cause

One of the most significant obstacles organizations face when dealing with difficult conversations and conflict resolution is identifying and addressing the root cause of the issue. 

Alex Geesbreght emphasizes this point, stating, “The most productive way to resolve a conflict is for all parties to first find and agree upon the root cause of the conflict, itself. Likewise, the most effective way to prevent these conflicts from happening in the first place is to understand what causes them.”

He further elaborates on the importance of seeing conflicts as symptoms of underlying issues.

“Unfortunately, conflict is often seen and described as the issue itself. 

“These truths, which are often hidden and uncomfortable for organizations to search for, are the most common obstacles that organizations face when dealing with difficult conversations and conflict resolution.”

Alex illustrates this concept with an example of a conflict between a lazy supervisor and a hard-working subordinate. He describes how the tension and lack of effective communication manifest as symptoms, such as the employee feeling like she “can’t talk to her boss” and the supervisor feeling like the employee doesn’t “respect his authority.”

However, he points out that these are merely distractions from the real issue: the employee’s competence threatening the insecure supervisor.

“The reality is that the employee’s go-get-’em attitude and competence is a threat and mirror into the insecure supervisor. Until these hard truths are examined and corrected (the right people in the right places), symptomatic, unresolvable problems will persist.” 

He emphasizes that until the actual root of an issue is discovered and resolved, conflict will continue to arise.

2. Emotional intelligence: the key to effective leadership

Emotional intelligence is a crucial factor in effective leadership and employee performance. Alex Geesbreght underscores its significance. 

“Not to be glib, but emotional intelligence is kind of everything – at least everything that isn’t self-evident. At a CPA firm, someone can either add or not. Technical skills are rarely the basis of contention, miscommunication, and conflict. 

“Whether internal or external to a business, all interactions involve some degree of a relationship between or among people. It is often not what we say or do that others take issue with, but rather how and the motivations behind the same.”

Alex highlights the impact of emotional intelligence on employee retention and promotion, citing, “89% of promotable leaders who leave their jobs do so because of either their loss of faith in the direction of the company (culture) or the soft-skill deficits of those ‘above’ them. In both cases, the problem is a human one – one that would improve with a higher level of emotional intelligence.”

To foster the development of emotional intelligence within an organization, Alex suggests starting at the top, with leaders setting a clear expectation of honest, candid, and kind communication. 

He introduces the concept of “professional love,” explaining, “Kind does not mean soft. I refer to it as the practice of professional love, and it can, over time, be infectious within an organization, much as personal love is within a family structure. 

I refer to it as the practice of professional love, and it can, over time, be infectious within an organization.”

Alex Geesbreght

“With those you personally love, you care for them enough to risk offending them in the short term. However, because of the relationship, they know that you are motivated out of what is truly best for them – not out of some need you have to make them feel badly.”

Alex believes that when a workforce operates in an environment that promotes constructive, firm, and well-motivated communication, the health of the organization improves drastically. 

3. Establishing a culture of accountability

Holding employees accountable for their performance and actions is a common leadership challenge that organizations face. 

However, Andrew Geesbreght argues that the issue often lies with leadership, specifically in terms of organizational design and performance measurement. 

“Leaders don’t control employees, but since this is often the ‘goal’ leaders become frustrated and blame employees for accountability.”

“Leaders don’t control employees, but since this is often the ‘goal’ leaders become frustrated and blame employees for accountability.”

Andrew Geesbreght

Andrew highlights common mistakes in organizational design, such as having too many direct reports and poor role definition. 

He explains, “A few common mistakes in organizational design are too many direct reports and poor role definition. Addressing just these two areas fixes a large percentage of the problems companies experience in performance. 

“People require attention from their boss and if a leader has 17 direct reports there just isn’t enough time to give quality resources to the people doing the work.”

He also emphasizes the importance of giving individuals an “ownership” lens rather than just a set of activities, 

“This means an individual understands what they are responsible for instead of just a set of activities. This type of design promotes engagement and mastery and far better performance. It’s the difference between doing the dishes and keeping a clean kitchen. The first is something I do and the other is the outcome I am wanting.”

Andrew believes that effective performance initiatives must begin with organizational design; otherwise, practices will ultimately suffer. He believes it is the responsibility of leadership to assess this before addressing an employee’s accountability.

4. Critical leadership skills for navigating change

As the business landscape continues to evolve, leaders need to develop critical skills to navigate change and drive organizational success to avoid leadership challenges. 

Andrew Geesbreght states that technical abilities rarely drive leadership performance.

“Rarely have I seen a person’s technical abilities drive leadership performance. For instance, If you run a large healthcare organization, your abilities as a physician aren’t likely to be the reason the organization thrives. 

“Sports has experienced this phenomenon over and over, as the best players rarely make the best coaches or even general managers.”

“The best players rarely make the best coaches or even general managers.

Andrew Geesbreght

Instead, Andrew puts the emphasis on the importance of soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, creative thinking, and transformational leadership. 

“Research has confirmed this notion as well, noting that a person’s soft skill deficits are the primary reason an individual fails to advance in an organization.”

Andrew stresses the significance of self-leadership, stating, “PRAX believes these skills must begin at the self leadership level, meaning in order for a person to be effective leading others, they must be able to lead themselves. 

“Although this concept is largely accepted in principle, I see this reality dismissed in practice because truly working on yourself requires humility, effort, and an ability to take responsibility for performance before blaming others – all of which are not natural.”

He asserts that as business evolves and becomes increasingly reliant on technology, leading people through high-level self-leadership principles will become a key differentiator between average and top performers.

5. Supporting employee development and growth

Supporting employee development is crucial for fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth within an organization. 

Andrew Geesbreght stresses the crucial nature of giving attention to employees.

 “This may seem quite obvious, but you might be surprised how often this is news to leaders. Here is how you know you are paying attention to them. First, you are spending money to help them develop them. 

While it is normal to feel constrained by budget limitations when it comes to employee development, one should not claim that employee growth is highly important if the spending does not reflect this priority. 

He suggests that corporate spending, much like personal spending, reflects what is truly valued: “We spend our corporate dollars (just like our personal dollars) on things we value, period.”

Additionally, he underscores the importance of both formal and informal interactions with staff, explaining that this means “time together on a project and time together when performance isn’t the focus.” 

According to Andrew, fostering a sense of connection involves engaging in activities together both “when it matters and when it doesn’t.”

Moreover, he stresses the necessity of regularly evaluating the effectiveness of employee development programs.

He notes that when organizations demand quantifiable results for these programs, he often responds by suggesting the use of the same methods they use to evaluate their internal programs, which typically leads to “silence.”

Andrew acknowledges that employee development is not a core competence of most organizations, and it’s easy to neglect updating efforts in this area. 

He explains, “Over time, organizations get new leaders, new decisions are made, and a mix of legacy programs converge into a patchworked employee development system that doesn’t track budgets or effectiveness. 

“The new HR leader doesn’t like what the last guy implemented, but the organization committed to a 5 year deal so they just have to live with it. Or ‘we used to do staff meetings and regular rounding, but it got too cumbersome’. 

“These scenarios are very common because employee development is NOT a core competence of most organizations. Which is absolutely normal.”

“Employee development is NOT a core competence of most organizations. Which is absolutely normal.”

Andrew Geesbreght

He concludes that large organizations typically maintain a combination of internal programs aimed at supporting growth, along with external vendors who supplement these efforts. 

Andrew stresses the importance of continually updating these initiatives, noting that while it may be easy to neglect, it is necessary. He believes that remaining vigilant with employee development systems is crucial to preventing waste in an area that significantly impacts culture and engagement.

The valuable insights and strategies shared by Alex and Andrew Geesbreght provide a roadmap for navigating the complex challenges faced by leaders in today’s dynamic business landscape. 

As leaders, it’s crucial to reflect on our own practices and take proactive steps to implement these strategies within our organizations. 

By fostering a culture of continuous learning, growth, and accountability, we can effectively navigate the challenges ahead and achieve sustainable success.

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