Today, where remote work is the norm and the pandemic continues to take a toll physically and mentally, good leadership is arguably more important than ever to help maintain normalcy for employees and the organization.
What Makes a Good Leader?
Good leaders are an invaluable asset to any company. They create a safe space for employees to be their authentic selves, maintain transparency, and are committed to upskilling their people. Leaders who incorporate these practices report higher levels of employee satisfaction, employee retention, and increased productivity.
Are the attributes of a good leader born or raised?
Were innovators like Bill Gates or Walt Disney born to be transformative leaders or, did they figure it out along the way? Past research suggests that 70% of leadership comes from life experience, leaving only 30% to genetics. While some employees have more natural leadership skills than others, this is good news for those who have the potential but don’t see their possibilities. Ensuring these individuals have access to training and opportunities to grow their skills will create strong leadership pipelines within your company.
Knowing that developing employees is critical to the health of an organization, leaders must commit to removing bias when deciding who gets the opportunities. For example, men have historically been evaluated as better leaders than women, and people with similar interests or affiliations as the decision-makers are more likely to be selected. Why does this happen? The Harvard Business Review suggests it’s because assessments are made based on the reviewer’s perceived level of leadership effectiveness of the applicant, rather than their actual leadership acumen. Revising these evaluations to assess real-life examples of the individual’s leadership abilities and stripping out objective observations such as “this person is kind” can help shed affinity and unconscious bias in promotions and ensure that diversity is at all leadership levels in the organization.
What does good leadership look like today?
Gone are the days where CEOs and executives could lead from their desks and be detached from day-to-day operations. The impact of social media and technology requires companies to know what’s going on throughout the company and hold themselves accountable for being good corporate citizens. Stakeholders, consumers, and employees expect companies to pay attention to societal issues, such as social inequality, and work to direct change.
Employees are also looking for leadership to be consistent and empathetic to their challenges and allow for accommodating policies, such as flex work schedules or hybrid work. With a rise in employees leaving firms in a phenomenon dubbed the “Great Resignation”, leaders must ensure that all employees feel engaged and connected to the company and each other. Giving employees more direct involvement in their career path and assigning them projects outside their usual role, creating Employee Resource Groups, and investing in initiatives that support employee well-being, such as unlimited PTO or childcare stipends, can play a huge role in retaining and recruiting top talent.
And while the landscape of the corporate world has drastically changed over the years, employees still want some traditional qualities in their leaders – effective communication, self-awareness, and trustworthiness are examples that stand the test of time.
What are the essential attributes of good leaders?
Although all skills exist on a continuum, here are 7 essential attributes of good leaders:1. Integrity
Integrity is vital for leaders and organizations to preserve employee confidence. Executive leaders make decisions that have strategic implications for employees and the company. As such, these decisions must be made in alignment with the company’s values. People leaders must maintain honesty and integrity as they advocate and make decisions that have immediate impacts on the team’s day-to-day activities. Employees that feel good about their organization’s moral compass are more inclined to stay, perform better and recommend the company as an employer of choice.2. Responsiveness
These days, with companies implementing hybrid or remote work as well as continued technological advances, people are almost always accessible. Although maintaining boundaries is important for preserving work/life balance, good leaders know that they should be available when their team needs them. This could mean hosting reoccurring drop-in office hours or a standard response time depending on urgency. This also means sharing when you are out of the office and ensuring someone can be reached on your behalf. Employees want to feel like their leaders are reliable, so holding yourself accountable will establish consistency and trust with your team.3. Courage
Whether it’s presenting a new idea to the C-suite, giving tough news to your team, or having to report an inappropriate incident, speaking your mind at work isn’t always easy. Courage is necessary for leaders because it forces us to get out of our comfort zones and move the needle on change. Leaders must also create an environment of psychological safety, where all employees can voice concerns or ask questions without fear of judgment or retaliation.4. Empathy
People want to feel seen at work, and good leaders understand the impact empathy has on performance and employee morale. With remote work, leaders are adapting to being empathic in ways we haven’t seen before. For example, working from home has allowed us to interact in more personal ways, such as meeting pets when they crash video calls. As we figure out our new normal, empathetic leaders play a critical role in bridging the gap between work and home and helping employees feel like you’re in this together.5. Focus on Inclusion and Belonging
Good leaders know that fostering an inclusive work environment is necessary to maintain a diverse and innovative workforce. Inclusive teams give everyone a sense of belonging and pride in the unique perspective and experiences they bring to the table. To develop this culture, the work beings with the leader. Most leaders recognize that they need to do more, but many are unsure of where to start or how they can spark change. Dr. Salwa Rahim-Dillard developed a tool to help leaders discover where their gaps are and become more inclusive. The table works by asking leaders to evaluate their abilities with various behaviors (builds diverse teams, encourages Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) managers to lead with autonomy, stands up for BIPOC employees that are excluded, etc.”) to help them develop an action plan. The most inclusive leaders are those who critically examine themselves and understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion practices are lifelong endeavors and there is always more to do.6. Continuous Learner
As more research is done on leadership, new information and strategies surrounding how to upskill and grow as a leader are developed. Good leaders must be lifelong learners and always add new skills to their toolbox. They also know that learning doesn’t have to take place in seminars or online classes. Learning can come from a mentor or by soliciting feedback from their teams. Being transparent about the areas they can improve helps humanize leaders and relate better with their teams.7. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is our ability to identify and manage our emotions. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, emotional intelligence has four components – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence have stronger connections to their teams and make their employees feel valued. Taking the time to learn more about your employees’ personal lives and interests, asking questions to gain deeper insight into what motivates them, and putting yourself in their shoes are all great ways to build up your emotional intelligence.
Developing the attributes of good leaders during disruption
There is no better modern example of managing teams during disruption than navigating this pandemic. Leaders are tasked with keeping organizations moving forward while facing local shutdowns, maintaining productivity remotely, and balancing working and childcare from home. They must also take care of their own physical and mental health and check in on their employees. This has forced organizations to reevaluate how they build and grow their leaders. Leaders now need support in how to reimagine company culture and belonging from afar.
As the workplace evolves, training current and emerging leaders must also adapt. Traditional in-person workshops are no longer a primary option and don’t necessarily translate well in the digital/remote world. These days, modern methods such as microlearning allow leaders to access learning that is relevant, easy to retain, and fits well into their schedules. For example, Blue Ocean Brain’s award-winning content helps emerging talent develop the key attributes of a good leader through approachable, accessible bites.
Leaders today have a lot on their plates. Good leaders understand the role they play in providing stability and support in these challenging times. They know how to advocate for people and place them in positions to upskill their capabilities. They work to remove their own bias and blindspots from decision-making and encourage others to do the same. Becoming a good leader is a marathon, not a sprint. Being a life-long learner and having a willingness to adapt ensures that leaders are well-positioned to take on whatever comes their way.