Certain roles within a company immediately evoke the concept of leadership – CEO, Director, Manager – all suggest that the title holder should understand how to lead and to set an example for their team. But leadership is not an attribute that need only apply to the boss – the qualities of a good leader can make you shine in in any position, at any company.
In fact, good leadership and role modelling are valuable attributes to possess at all stages in your career and skills that businesses increasingly focus on. In 2020, an estimated US$357.7 billion was spent on leadership training investments worldwide, with US$165.3 billion of that in North America.
“Showcasing leadership potential is important at every stage of your career, because you never know who is watching,” Dr. De’Andrea Matthews, director of Diversity and Inclusion for Wayne State University, explains. “There may be other opportunities at that institution or through contacts that you currently serve that could be your next interview or career.”
According to research by consulting firm DDI, developing the next generation of leaders is now the number one challenge for CEOs and yet “fewer than half of leaders feel they are effective in leadership skills that will be most critical for future success.”
To further complicate matters, DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021 predicts that there are ‘substantial changes’ happening in leadership, with the next generation of leaders more likely to be from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds and to face new challenges as new flexible working practices, a lack of face-to-face interaction, and limited training may hinder development.
Tacy Byham, CEO of DDI, explains; “The leaders who are succeeding in this time are those who have been able to rapidly learn new skills and change. They’ve learned to lead their teams virtually. They’ve gotten comfortable with uncomfortable discussions around race and inclusion. Most of all, they’ve learned to act with empathy and compassion, recognizing that we don’t leave our humanity at the door when we clock in to work.
Fostering strong connections
While the idea of a ‘good leader’ may seem simple to most people, the task of learning or instilling leadership qualities is often far from straightforward. Following in depth research on the topic, professional services firm Deloitte reports that despite “substantial efforts by HR and learning professionals, a multi-billion dollar leadership development industry, and more than 70 years of leadership research, organizations’ overall success at growing leaders remains dismal.”
One of the key reasons that leadership is such a hard skill to pass on may be that it depends so closely on the environment and challenges of the time – what is a sign of good leadership in one situation may lead to disaster in another. Leadership gurus James Kouzes and Barry Posner have studied the impact of good management for decades and say “It’s about creating an environment in which people can work together to turn perplexing problems and challenging opportunities into remarkable success.”
Co-authors of the best-selling book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner describe the process of becoming a good leader as “transforming values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, division into unity, and risks into rewards.”
To understand the dimensions that define leadership growth, Deloitte has identified 17 important practices that shape all good leaders. Within these, the firm has further identified five critical drivers: Communicating the Leadership Model, HR and Business Collaboration, Risk-Taking, Knowledge-Sharing, and Exposure as Learning Method.
“The five critical drivers of leadership maturity have one thing in common —they enable leaders to learn and grow by connecting with and learning from others,” Deloitte notes.
Theo Epstein, ex-president at baseball team the Chicago Cubs is a firm believer in the power of relationships for good leadership, noting “When people do things they weren’t even sure they were capable of, I think it comes back to connection. Connection with teammates. Connection with organisation. Feeling like they belong in the environment. I think it’s a human need – the need to feel connected.”
Alongside the ability to connect with team members and peers, the second common skill of all good leaders is the ability to share a clear vision.
“In order to take the organization to the highest possible level, leaders must engage their people with a compelling and tangible vision,” Warren Bennis, professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, comments.
A first step to developing this sort of tangible foresight is to focus on visualising your own path and the challenges ahead for your organisation or team. Josh Suskewicz, partner at global strategy and innovation firm Innosight estimates that leaders should spend as much as 10 to 20 percent of their time on a weekly basis envisioning the future to explore their ‘longer-term vision’.
“You may feel that you simply can’t afford to carve out the time that it takes to set a vision and build a strategic path to it. But the leaders who manage the day-to-day and lead with vision will emerge from the crisis with companies that are stronger and more resilient than they were before,” Suskewicz states.