What kind of leader/leadership do we need to see today and for our future?
- Organisational purpose can aid productivity and boost profits but needs commitment from the top
- How being purposeful can kickstart innovation within teams
- Relationships and dialogue can help communication professionals become catalysts for change.
These times are unlike any other, but they will set the scene for the future. This level of challenge and change is unprecedented and it has impacted everything. Organisations are having to rethink how and if they can operate in this current climate.
Highlights include the crisis of COVID-19; the wakeup call, for equity, stoked by the Black Lives Matter movement; the impact on the economy; and Brexit. Added to that is climate change and the requirement to stay relevant to customers as they too experience change.
It is all a lot to take in and the responsibility to address this is directed at leadership – with an expectation that they will step up, be in the moment and come up with answers.
To survive, organisations will need a radical approach – leaders who are clear, equipped and effective for a future of uncertainty and speed. A report released by McKinsey (2020) said: “In addition to moving decisively on strategic changes, leaders need to help rattled workforces believe in the future.” The report includes words like ‘reset’, ‘reimagine’ and ‘rewire’ as it talks about the priorities for now and in the future.
As the challenges stack up, it points back to the question we started with – what kind of leader/leadership do we need to see today and for our future?
The re-starting point will always be about the ‘why’ – that is purpose or being purposeful.
I say ‘re-start’ because most leaders will say that the purpose has already been set. This was probably when they originally worked on the strategy and set the values. The posters will no doubt reflect the snappy strapline and the website and internal channels will have the words and maybe icons plastered about in bright colours. While it all glazes over the employees who are unsure as to what it means for them.
In this time, when trust is an issue and meaning is increasingly important to the entire workforce (not just millennials and Gen Z), demonstrating purpose is critical.
For the leader this means an urgency to tap into purpose and a high level of commitment from the top. It requires the recognition that having social purpose is not wasteful and does not come at the expense of profits, but that it can enhance productivity and ultimately profits in the long term.
There is something about the leader who is clear on purpose, care and empathy that positions them to take the whole organisation forward.
Take now – throughout this challenging time, it has been the leader who has been able to connect people with a common purpose, setting a culture where everyone lives the values, with a clear advantage.
An example of this is how being purposeful leads to innovation, as employees begin to want to create and develop products that respond to societal issues, the kind that customers are crying out for. Employees develop a boldness in their commitment as they treat the company as if it is their own and through this sense of belonging they not only add value, they become advocates.
According to Forbes magazine ‘Self-awareness is empowering because it arms you with knowledge and enables you to make better choices – to change or grow’. It enables the individual to have empathy and leads to real connection.
Dr Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 writes: “Self-awareness is defined as one of the core components of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to recognise and understand emotions in yourself and others, and to use this to manage behaviour and relationships.”
As a result, it is one of the main qualities that enables the individual to truly connect and engage with others. Leaders who are self-aware are mindful to communicate on a deeper level. They are also genuine, and this attribute causes people to believe what you say and engage with your leadership.
I once worked for a managing director of a large service organisation, who was revered by his employees. During my time there he was speaking at one of the events I organised and I got to see how he operated. He was charismatic and dynamic. People held on to every word he said – he was believable. I was curious as to what he did differently and found that he took every opportunity to meet the staff on the ground. Not only to be seen, but he would actually speak to them. He was genuinely interested about who they were, what they did and how they were finding the work – he was clear on what mattered.
He created a connection with his people. Employees were engaged, loyal and championed the organisation and that attitude carried on long after he left. He developed a commitment in people that lasted from simply being aware of himself, his surroundings and his people.
A better way
There is an assumption by many that everyone can communicate, simply because it is done on a daily basis. The reality is that everyone communicates, but not everyone does it well.
By being clear on purpose and having self-awareness, leaders can become better equipped to be effective. Communication professionals continually encourage their leaders to be more engaging, but perhaps there is a need to be more explicit and show them the way. The reliance on tools and, at times gimmicks, to get them to come across well doesn’t always equal engagement, especially if they are not being consistent.
The idea is to build a clear set of qualities in leadership. A recognition that they have to take responsibility and connect so that communicating comes from who they are and what drives them. Great leaders are engaging, dynamic, genuine and effective and these attributes are central to communication. It is a known fact that the greatest leaders of our time were also great communicators.
Why is this important? Employees are relying on leaders to set the direction and articulate what’s important both in society and on what the business stands for.
The Edelman Trust Barometer (2019) states that “Employees have viewed corporate leaders as the most trusted source of information.”
If leaders don’t wake up to the importance of how they communicate, they will lose people and it will impact their reputation negatively. People want more from their leaders and they will express their displeasure by being disengaged or by moving on to an organisation that stands for something and has leaders they can follow.
Communication is the edge leaders need – attributes like being engaging, dynamic, genuine and effective. This can enhance their leadership style and approach while ensuring that they remain relevant and have impact. But they can’t always achieve this on their own and sometimes need support to find the way forward.
Communication professionals are trusted advisers, but they can also become a catalyst for change if they step into that space and assert themselves through relationship and dialogue.
From what I’ve seen, many leaders are waiting for honesty and challenge as they grapple with how to get the most out of their people and achieve engagement. In these times, this is even more critical. This is where communicators can demonstrate these same attributes and re-engage leaders on a strategic level so they get it right.
Published in FuturePRoof edition 4 | September 2020