There is a lot of literature on leadership – what it is, what it should be, whether it is some innate capability or something that comes with years of work and experience. Historically, great leaders were those who managed to inspire action, to convince great numbers of people to drive some sort of change even when the odds seemed overwhelmingly against it.
Today’s organizational leaders do not have the daunting task of altering the course of history but anybody who has ever been a part of the corporate world knows that those end of year targets can be quite a good reason to lose sleep and overdose on caffeine.
The main problem modern leaders face is that they have to reach very high goals while at the same time maintaining their teams engaged, determined and happy.
A look at the numbers
Recent research from Joseph Falkman and Jack Zegner revealed that most leaders who manage to be at the same time results-driven and people-oriented are mostly in the younger demographic.
The analyses was carried out on no less than 60.000 leaders and out of these as little as 13% proved to score high on both aspects. This, of course, raised the question of what these people did and the overwhelming majority failed to achieve. Clearly it had something to do with the flexibility employees tend to have at the beginning of their careers but since leadership itself is very complex the researchers looked for specific behaviours that can be cultivated so that more of today’s managers excel at what they set out to do with their teams.
6 Behavioral bridges for effective leaders to build
As it turns out, there are at least six ‘behavioural bridges’ as the researchers called them that can be built on in order to marry orientation towards getting results with a genuine care for the human component. So here’s what an effective leader should be able to do:
Communicates clear strategy and direction
In order for a team to stand any chance of achieving its goals, they need to be very transparent and specific. If they are not clearly communicated, there is a good chance they will become subject to interpretation and end up being bent so they only appear to have been achieved.
Once the objectives are made very clear, leaders need to break them up so that each team member knows their part. It’s great to encourage autonomy and self-direction yet not telling people what you want from them and then expecting a certain drive or behaviour is unfair and will only generate frustration and poor results.
Inspires and motivates
The aspect of motivation is highly important in the workplace. No great results ever come without effort and since this is not something people naturally like to put themselves through, incentives are constantly necessary.
Leaders need not only be aware of what the team needs to get to the finish line but also be able to generate high degrees of loyalty and engagement. If employees can be enthusiastic about their projects it will create a very positive environment that will be beneficial both for achieving company goals and for the personal growth of each individual.
Establishes stretch goals
Since the ultimate purpose of a good leader is to get others to work hard and raise the bar, it’s best to encourage team members to set stretch goals. Having this done in a joint meeting, with all employees getting a chance to weigh in and provide ideas and feedback for each issue on the agenda will make them feel valuable and competent.
Ultimately they will internalise the goals as their own and it will be a lot easier to reach them than by informing them of what the board members decided should be done.
High integrity and trust
Team members that do not trust their leaders will struggle greatly with meeting the stretch goals. Of course building trust is no easy task. It takes a lot of effort from the leader and a lot of time.
It’s important for them to walk the talk, to take responsibility for the team and what is happening there and to constantly communicate with the team members so they always know what the status is on their projects and if that status suffers alterations what they were brought about by and what should be done in order to adapt.
In today’s corporate world, with Millennials being the main demographic of the workforce the importance of offering good self-development opportunities has become paramount.
Successful leaders are aware that if they take the time to develop their employees the teams will not only get more qualitative results but also work and feel better together. Turnover rates are also known to drop when people feel the organization allows and encourages them to become better.
A learning culture is fun, engaging and has tremendous benefits on both short and long term.
Closely connected to the previous behavioural bridge, coachability is the last but by no means least important of the behavioural bridges. Apart from taking the time to invest in the teaching or others, great leaders are aware that they constantly have something to learn themselves.
They stay open to feedback, welcome opinions from peers and team members and act as an example to everyone else. It does not denote vulnerability but a genuine preoccupation for attaining the best results. It’s a means of gaining respect and trust while also maintaining a much desired flexibility.
All in all
These six ingredients are the key to successful leadership. Even though the percentage of those who got a check mark on all of them is rather small at the moment, the dynamic corporate environment will surely determine more and more to build on them.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.