Continuing where we left off last week, we will review the next 3 of the 9 traits most experts commonly considered to be the DNA of great leadership in difficult (and not so difficult) times, as shown below:
1. Empathy & Compassion
2. Candor & Transparent Communication
3. Adaptability and Agility
6. Learning Orientation
7. Embracing Diversity & Inclusion
8. Servant Leadership
9. Ruthless Prioritization
4. Adaptability & Agility
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”
We all know by now that we live in a world, and consequently a business environment, that is ever-changing and highly disruptive. Most companies struggle to adapt, and nothing proves this more than the terrifying truth that more than 50% of the companies that were on the Fortune500 list in 2000 no longer exist today. The survival of companies is based on the ability of their leaders to be agile and to adapt. The markets display that companies who can adapt to change are at an advantage. Although many companies are trying to transform into agile organizations, it will be impossible for them to do so if traditional leadership mindset and development programs are not amended as well. Programs developed to create cultures of rapid innovation encourage leaders to pivot quickly in response to rapid change. To do this, an agile leader needs the capability to assess risk, make clear decisions and respond fast. The ultimate goal is to take effective action in a changing environment.
Key drivers of agile leadership can be seen through how it is carried out in practice:
Agile leaders are great at providing direction for the organization and have a keen understanding of how the company’s resources can be utilized to achieve the goals. These leaders understand that to get where they want to go, all the different teams need to be keenly aware of their direction. The managers in the company need to focus on empowering teams and removing obstacles for the teams. They also encourage a free flow of information across all levels of the organization to avoid ambiguity.
Agile leaders are also very serious about innovation and always encourage new ideas and promote a learning culture within the company.
These leaders also bring a level of urgency and focus to the organization. Goals are already transparent and well communicated; they are very serious about building the systems required to ensure a steady drum-beat of progress.
The overarching principle that binds these drivers is the most important principle of all – the integrity and values of the company. Agile leaders are passionate about what they stand for and have an entrenched identity based on clear principles. This passionate sense of purpose and value attracts people to agile leaders and creates trust between them that is hard to emulate.
These drivers and characteristics present an elevated ideal that might seem impossible to reach. There are, however, straightforward ways to develop these traits:
To remain relevant in an ever-changing world, leaders need to develop the ability to leverage the collective understanding and expertise within the company to solve complex problems. A critical skill that anyone can start mastering early on is to learn to ask quality questions and process the information quickly. A good leader will always take the time to ask the right questions before providing their own perspective or opinion.
The 70-20-10 model of learning teaches us that 70% of our learning comes from practical experience. It is thus the willingness of leaders to take action that can help develop their agility. One of the best ways to start is to create a regular habit of reflection. Taking the time for reflection is crucial and even more beneficial when the reflection focuses on both the results of specific actions and the impact on their relationships.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly”
Robert F. Kennedy
As we discussed in the previous section, the world provides many challenges for businesses today, and our ability to adapt is key to our survival. The primary assumption that may be overlooked in this scenario is our ability to persevere while we learn and fail. The underlying (and crucial) assumption is that leaders need to be highly resilient to continue without losing sight of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, resilience is only required in tough times. How a leader displays courage and professionalism in difficult times is a test of their true resilience. The journey of becoming a resilient leader has proven for many to be filled with key lessons and rewards:
A leader is burdened with the responsibility to lead, whether the climate is good or bad. It is the triumph of leadership during difficult times, however, that provides the biggest reward. It is thus essential to embrace the hard times as a unique opportunity for growth that will never present itself in the same way again.
This leads to the obvious, but often missed, truth that great opportunity comes along with every struggle. Suppose you develop the mindset of a resilient leader. In that case, you will never waste a good crisis again, but rather embrace it as an opportunity to develop and to identify new opportunities.
Nothing builds trust and faith in a leader faster than when employees see a leader navigate tough times in a composed manner. Modelling assertive leadership behaviour in difficult times provides employees with a clear image of what is expected of them.
Adverse times provide the best learning opportunities. If you take the time to evaluate mistakes and obstacles and learn how to overcome them best, then you will be a much more resilient leader as a result.
Ways to develop this trait:
It takes courage to take the kind of risks that could result in potential failure. It is thus crucial to learn to be more courageous by being willing to take risks to pursue your goals.
Keep your goals visible and close at all times. The motivation of seeing your goals and being clear about why you take the risks you do cannot be underestimated.
Remarkable change can only come from doing what is new and unfamiliar. This can be a scary habit to develop, but you need to build a tolerance for taking decisive action. Make it your habit to get out of your own way and take some calculated risks.
6. Learning Orientation
“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn”
The level of change in the work environment means that millions of jobs that exist today will no longer be required in the future. Even without this burning platform, the value of learning-focused leadership exists. Research published in a Harvard Business Review article, “Good Leaders Are Good Learners,” found that leaders who were in “learning mode” developed better leadership skills than their peers not in learning mode. They found that various benefits became apparent when leaders were in learning mode, in that they:
Adopted a growth mindset
Experimented with alternative strategies
Tested different approached to problems
Used more agile methods to learn from their experiments
Companies with learning cultures are naturally more likely to be market leaders, but this type of culture can only exist if a learning-focused leader is at the helm. A learning culture establishes a desire in employees to learn and then apply and share their learning continuously. The key to establishing a learning orientation is to be intentional about the learning opportunities available in every situation, rather than being concerned with only demonstrating competence. By specifically shaping what you pay attention to, you will interpret situations in a more productive way.
Ways to develop this trait:
Successful leaders understand the undeniable benefits of cultivating a personal habit of reading. Reading makes you smarter. It improves mental clarity, reduces stress, increases your knowledge base, grows your vocabulary, improves memory, activates your reasoning skills, improves your ability to focus and concentrate and improves writing skills. The learning you gain from reading greatly enhances your potential to succeed.
Leaders must always find and engage with superiors that they look up to and admire. Entering into personal coaching relationships with people you admire is critical to your own success. Good leaders know that all leaders need leaders.
Please keep a lookout for our next blog where we will review the last 3 traits!