Being a leader who inspires leadership.
Boss, pioneer, and counselor are some of the adjectives associated with the term ‘leader’. If researched, Google would verify that a leader is someone who leads the vision, and rallies his team to work towards a shared goal. That sounds quite simple and also accurate. In any given workplace, the hierarchy trickles down from a leader to the team members, and down to the support staff. It all begins with the leader.
Jacinda Ardern – 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand – has taken the world, and each of us, by surprise for the leadership qualities she’s exhibited. There is no criticism of her leadership abilities and she’s become quite a role model, especially for females in a leadership position.
So I ask, not who but how must a leader be? What is it that sets them apart and makes them unique in their capacity and ability? Since being elected, Jacinda Ardern – 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand – has taken the world, and each of us, by surprise for the leadership qualities she’s exhibited. There is no criticism of her leadership abilities and she’s become quite a role model, especially for females in a leadership position. We’ve all witnessed her bring about prominent, and very much celebrated, federal changes in New Zealand. But what’s even more respectful and aspiring about her are her listening, communicating, and supportive tendencies.
At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg – Founder and CEO of Facebook – is honored for his visionary mindset and for transforming the digital age that’s taken us all by a storm. However, his leadership tendencies have been questioned. However, they have each impacted the world and made a commendable difference in their capacities and we look up to them.
Something about their approach of leadership speaks to their beneficiaries and is different from what has been historically known and practiced. To understand this, we have looked through the unique traits of high-performing and reputed leaders and gathered some observations.
Let’s proceed to learn what the new-age leadership must exhibit to inspire change and sustainability:
According to Gordon Tredgold – CEO & Managing Consultant at Leadership Principles LLC – “great leadership is about creating great relationships”.
1. Human Before a Leader
The 21st-century world is more connected, is accessible and digitally enabled, and is more efficient too. In the previous years, leadership curriculums and training programs enjoyed the exclusivity of training great minds into becoming greater influencers. We are now living in a present that is global and anything is only a touch away. This understanding makes us echo the necessary question posed by Rosalinde Torres: “What makes a great leader in the 21st century?”
According to Gordon Tredgold – CEO & Managing Consultant at Leadership Principles LLC – “great leadership is about creating great relationships”. When we hear the word relationship, our mind goes “networking”. But no, that’s not what Tredgold means here. In his leadership development experience, he’s placed great emphasis on developing supportive relationships with your team members, and inspiring them “to go above and beyond”.
He suggests for leaders to own up to their human element – the potential to make mistakes – and set the same example for their team to experience and follow. The idea of ‘we are in this together’ goes beyond the realms of sharing an organization, a shared vision, and having set objects. Today, leadership is about connectivity, relatability, and creating a working alliance that’s comfortable and unlimited to tasks and responsibilities.
Within the human element, another aspect of an impactful leader is their ability to collaborate. Cracking big ideas is a leadership quality of yesterday; today, the real value is in the open-ended discussion, and the ability to collaborate. As a leader, you come after your team, their input, and their experiences. A good idea for leading into leadership is to keep your sources of ideas (your team) welcome and encouraged.
2. Embracing Diversity & Equality
It is about developing connections with people who are different than you and those differences can be biological, physical, functional, political, cultural, and socio-economic, and despite these differences, they connect with you and cooperate with you in achieving the shared goal - Rosalinde Torres
Whilst we’re on the topic of working with your team, and not through them, let us touch upon another significant quality of a leader. A lesser talked about the quality of a leader, who does the job better, is their professional capacity to embrace their employees as their equal. In his viral Ted Talk, Derek Siver points out the courage it takes for a leader to be ridiculed but at the same time, he places special emphasis on the first follower. In his words, ‘the first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader’. It entails that equally important with the leadership, is their follower.
Dreaming big dreams, and objectifying mission and vision values are tasks associated with leadership. But it is really the team that makes the run for it and achieves the objectives. Without a follower, there would be no leader. So place any less emphasis on the significance of having a team. Thus, a leader must regard his team the same way he’d like to be regarded.
Rosalinde Torres, after having spent 25 years understanding multiple facets of leadership, is confident in stating that ‘connection’ is a leader’s real power. Networking is an understood expectation from a leader but it is different from the connection. She says, and we quote, “it is about developing connections with people who are different than you and those differences can be biological, physical, functional, political, cultural, and socio-economic, and despite these differences, they connect with you and cooperate with you in achieving the shared goal”.
Another aspect of equality in the workplace is creative freedom. Bosses who are uptight, demanding, and who like to dictate to the t get the perfect outcome. And why wouldn’t they; they have it all mapped out for their employees to follow. So getting your subordinates to do their job is not why a leader is leading meaningfully. It is when the leadership transpires and encourages freedom and liberty to bring new ideas to the table and also to materialize those ideas.
3. Creating a Growth Culture
The theoretical literature on the meaning and definition of culture is vast. However, it’s agreed upon that culture is a shared phenomenon that outlines group dynamics that exist outside of an individual. Culture defines what is accepted and unaccepted in a group. Similarly, culture shapes the social order of an organization and has the power to bring together the organizational mission and vision of the leadership with the knowledge and experience of their employees.
In an attempt to simplify its understanding, culture is more elusive and expressed not through the shared vision, but its administration from top-down. It is a reflection of a high-performing and empathetic leadership and reflects in employee’s satisfaction and motivation to work with the respective leaders at a given organization.
According to William Craig – Founder and President of WebFX – “leaders have a responsibility to demonstrate the beliefs of the company and reinforce behaviors that reflect those values. Your behaviors at work, your communication style, and how you handle wins and setbacks all affect company culture. You can't delegate creating the culture your employees’ experience. If you want to reflect particular values, demonstrate those values in your actions”.
Hence, it would be safe to say that culture and leadership are linked and together they form the foundational lever for facultative organizational values, alongside strategy. As someone once said and Harvard Business Review quotes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. However, a strategy often gets higher regard and the cultural aspect of organizational vision, mission, and growth is often compartmentalized as part of HR’s job.
Unlike strategy – which is more objective, goal-oriented, and provides the collective action plan – culture is more anchored in spoken and unspoken words, behavior, and social patterns that form norms of the organization.
For a leader who is visionary, realistic, and also cares for his organization and its employees, it is crucial to understand many cultural layers that correspond around and through them. Whilst brainstorming and gathering views on culture, I discussed with Sana who is the Founder and CEO of Minerva – an organization based in Pakistan and renowned for curating thought-leaders and high-performing professionals.
According to Sana, culture is reflected in and is also a reflection of a thoughtful leader. It starts from how a leader presents themselves, in their attire, approach, approachability, and expands to their way of working individually and within a team. Small practices and behavior cues such as attentive listening, responding with respect, and working with empathy are humanistic tools that go a long way especially in propagating growth.
Hence, a successful leader can not only translate progressive cultural values through his behavior and actions but is also able to sense when change is demanded and can influence the process.
4- Strategy is not Enough
1- Strategy is just as important for effective leadership as is setting the right culture. Strategy comes through the organizational vision and mission values, it involves the Board of Directors, the CEOs, and the founders who create and strategize the vision. Bold and ambitious vision and mission statements are not new to us. Organizational philosophy brings the right employees to its doorsteps to become part of the collective goal. Hence, it is understood that leadership is synonyms with thinking big and the indispensable quality of a leader is their cognitive abilities.
But is strategizing the only big expectation from the role of the leader? Cooking innovative ideas is not a piece of cake and great ideas don’t come by every day. Hence a leader has their work cut out for them but what about when the idea is cooked? Is the job the leadership achieved?
"Great leaders aren't born, they're made" - Vince Lombardi
If the answer in your mind is ‘the team’, you are not entirely wrong. The truth is, leadership qualities are not limited to a role. It isn’t a leader who’s in the managing position. Leadership is a shared trait, and anyone and everyone can wear the hat. It is an iterative process where you initiate, try, and even make mistakes. As Vince Lombardi said, “great leaders aren't born, they're made”.
Leadership is a trait and there’s no right way to do it. However, we know what leadership with impact must not do – strategize and sit back. Leadership is as much a part of realizing the goals, as is an employee with KPIs to achieve at the end of every month for a minimal raise.
As I think more and more about the versatility of a leader who can inspire leadership, I can associate more with Bill Gates when he said, and we quote, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others".
Leadership skills are one of the most sought-after soft skills. “Ability to lead and work as a team player” is a common statement on resumes too, be it of someone who’s been in the field for many years, or a young graduate whose career has just started. Even the notion of these soft skills has evolved over the years, and with the thought shift necessitated by the outbreak of COVID-19, these skills have become even more relevant, and critical. Employees are demotivated, and employers are at a loss too. Now is the time for us to think and rethink the “how” of effective, driven, and inspiring leadership.
We know ‘what’ a leader does, and the expectations associated with any leadership role are common and known too, but today’s leadership is much more about cracking the ‘how’. How must a leader be? How must a leader lead? How is it that a leader can bring change but also be a part of the change? These are some queries running through every individual’s mind – be it someone currently in a leadership position, or unsatisfied employees discussing amongst themselves.