What type of leadership do you want?

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I believe that getting leadership right at your company is not only a sine qua non for business success, it’s going to be vital for society at large, especially going forward in the post-pandemic period. In leadership, we talk a lot of the right qualities and skills, but survey after survey shows that employees are disengaged at work and that one of the key reasons is the lack of a good boss. A lasting sense of engagement comes down to three things:

  • a sense of meaningfulness (that I matter and a sentiment that I belong)
  • a sense of purpose (that what we do matters)
  • the strength of your relationships

In all three areas, leadership plays a vital role.

The personal meshes with the professional

We often hear about the need for authenticity, but at the very same time, we see eyes rolling and people speaking out of the sides of their mouths. In my podcast, I’ve been interviewing leaders (nearly 400 episodes to-date) in different domains and with people from around the world. I’ve always marvelled how some people feel the need to “prepare” while others are happy to free-roam and “wing it”. The former are the kinds of people who want to have the questions sent upfront. They want to know if I can edit a posteriori what they say. The latter are far more natural and happy to take the risk. They are generally more genuine in my eyes, aided in part by a good gift of the gab. The leaders that are able to tap into their personal side, where the values and behaviours are not by committee but with instinct, are the ones that inspire far greater trust and enthusiasm in their teams. Granted some people have issues of self-confidence or might be too easily tempted to say things that should be kept off the record. But, for the most part, requests to see the questions in advance smack of a need to control the message and to sound intelligent rather than be smart. Great leadership with long-lasting results comes when the personal meshes evermore seamlessly with the professional.

The founder leader versus the corporate ladder-climber

A recent article entitled CEO Secrets ‘What I learned from leaders’ behaviour off-camera’, written by Douglas Shaw (@dougalshawbbc), spoke very much to this point. As Shaw points out, the off-camera personality of the founder CEO reveals an ease with spontaneous (and recorded) conversation (versus the ladder-climbing CEO). The second observation Shaw made was that the female CEO was more likely to provide a personal, more emotional story. Both of these qualities need not be the sole domain of founder or female CEOs, but the reality is that the way enterprise functions, we seem to run risk-taking, swashbuckling personality and personal emotions out of the typical (ladder-climbing) executive. I’m convinced of the power of the founder CEO personality as described by Shaw. In my new book, You Lead, that comes out in January 2021, I write about the opportunity for all leaders to lean in on their true personalities and allow for that more authentic imperfect self to flourish. And I specifically zero in on the qualities of a founder leader as a pillar for being a truly great captain.

The complexities of leadership

The leadership survey, that I ran from March-May 2020 and published on Slideshare, reveals some key points as to what people look for in a leader. It also shows how far off the mark existing leaders can be. For example, I firmly believe it’s important to do work on yourself (to know your own North Star setting) and to have self-awareness to develop into an excellent leader. In the survey, just 23% of respondents picked authentic as a quality that describes themselves, while 62% said that it was important to be authentic all the time. As far as being self-aware is concerned, 80% of the respondents declared themselves to have above-average empathy (of which 32% declared themselves to be well above average). On having purpose, 47% said that it was extremely important for their company to have a purpose, yet just 8% described themselves as purpose-first. Suffice to say, many discrepancies and gaps to fill.

Being a leader in business is a phenomenal responsibility. It entails bringing in results AND can have life-changing meaningfulness for the employees when done well. In a world where so many people are struggling to make sense to what’s going on, businesses have a vital role to play in helping to fill that vacuum and, along the way, drive greater value for their customers, shareholders and society at large.

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