Totally immersed, absolutely engaged and insanely driven. That is flow.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi proposed the idea of flow: a state of mind where one is fully absorbed. If you, as a leader, can create a workplace where your followers can work in a state of flow, you would have unlocked one of the greatest sources of motivation existent. While in flow, workers work at their peak ability and without need for external motivation. Transferring that psychological idea to the workplace, however, is far more difficult than it sounds.
Characteristics of Flow
Csíkszentmihályi identified six factors that describe flow. To summarize the most important factors, a person in a state of flow would have absolute concentration at the task at hand. This isn’t necessarily to the detriment of creativity or critical thinking. Self-preservation is put aside to engage with the task at hand. Consciousness of time is distorted and the task becomes a reward in itself.
How to Encourage Flow as a Leader: 3 Steps
Don’t have too high an expectation. It is rare for a leader to create flow. This is because entering a state of flow is something to be done on an individual basis and it cannot be forced. It just happens when it happens. At most, you can attempt to encourage and facilitate flow by creating engaging work.
The first thing you can is to create clear goals. Many companies have things such as company ‘visions’ or ‘missions’. While these things are fine, they often leave workers at loss over where their individual contributions truly fit in. Set out clear objectives, but never dictate the path to those objectives. Purpose is the beginning to flow.
Secondly, provide feedback. Feedback creates reassurance that the work being done is appreciated. Lack of it creates uncertainty which detracts from motivation. Through the use of feedback, both you and your workers can negotiate a workload which is suitable; bringing us to the final step: balancing out the level of difficulty and skill.
Flow is best attained when an individual is working at par with the task at hand. Specifically, if a task is highly challenging, a highly skilled worker is more likely to find more satisfaction from it and thus enter a state of flow. If a task is beyond the ability of a worker, it spurs anxiety and worry. If it is too easy, it creates boredom and apathy. The final step to encourage flow is to allocate work that meets the skill of a worker. This is can be done through the use of 2-way feedback between you and your worker.
The Bottom Line
Don’t force it, don’t expect it and don’t look out for it. It happens naturally and can rarely be identified. As a leader, merely strive to set clear goals, give feedback and assurance as well as delegate an appropriate workload.