“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better” — Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
This quote is inspiring but not often applied to organizations, especially the leadership cadre. Change management efforts will be unsuccessful if leaders don’t share their challenges. Employees and policies will remain static instead of innovating to solve the issues of an ever-changing market.
Change is not only inevitable. It’s vital. With change in any organization, there also needs to be changes in leadership. This doesn’t have to mean turnover — leaders need to be flexible and rise to the challenges to come in the future of work.
What is leadership?
If you look up leadership in a dictionary, you’ll find a range of definitions that surround the word “lead” — it’s the position of being a “leader,” the capacity to “lead,” and the act of “leading.” Follow the trail to the definition of “leader,” and you will find descriptions about ranking first and having authority or influence.
Think of the leaders you know in your life: your company’s CEO, your team lead, the captain of your weekend soccer team. What makes them effective leaders — is it their influence or something else?
W.C.H. Prentice’s 1961 article about leadership summarizes the concept of leadership best. While some leaders are popular, powerful, and wise, that’s not the core of their effectiveness. Instead, a great leader effectively organizes and directs their collaborators to achieve a goal and does so consistently in different circumstances.
Leadership isn’t a static quality that you do or do not have. It’s an understanding of the capacity of and relationships between others and how they can work to best achieve the group’s primary goal.
The good news is that anyone can learn to be an effective leader if they put in the time and dedication to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of those around them. But what skills should leaders themselves have?
What makes a good leader?
Even though the concept of leadership is somewhat vague, there are still certain personality traits that are helpful — if not essential — for leaders to have.
It’s important to note that not all of these traits are individual — collaboration and inspiration, in particular, rely on managing relationships with others. Leadership today doesn’t work if the leader delivers orders from on high. Employees want to feel valued and listened to by higher-ups and are willing to look for employment elsewhere if it doesn’t happen.
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Four ways to inspire confidence as a leader
How do you take the characteristics of a great leader and project them outwards? Returning to Prentice’s thoughts on leadership — and the state of flux that is the world of work— here are four ways to put your leadership to the test and showcase your effectiveness.
Disruption is the new norm. Instead of being reactive, we need proactivity. Leaders need to create a culture of innovation, the key to surviving a turbulent environment.
Developing an environment where change is accepted instead of feared empowers employees to be creative, think critically, and learn agility. These employees can find solutions in a volatile and ambiguous market.
Enable Bottom-Up Decision-Making
Many leadership scenarios follow a strict top-down hierarchy where it’s the CEO’s way or the highway. But in today’s unstable and fast-paced market, hierarchies slow down innovation and decision-making. It’s time to cut back the layers and empower staff to find fast and effective solutions while leaders manage quality and risk. Giving employees more autonomy inspires confidence, boosts communication, and improves creativity and collaboration.
Bottom-up leadership and decision-making also create the need for employee training, coaching, and mentoring. Investing in employee growth decreases turnover and makes your company more attractive to prospective hires.
Supporting Employee Growth
Leading in from my previous point, finding talent is important, but cultivating it is critical. Great leaders don’t just pass instructions along and communicate performance targets. They focus on developing the potential of their staff and providing learning opportunities.
Employees want to work in a space where they won’t be reprimanded for mistakes. Instead, they can learn from them and continuously improve. This is possible when leaders expose their employees to new opportunities and challenges and provide resources to help them grow.
Questions, Not Answers
Sometimes we have too much information, and others, we don’t have enough. For leaders, the key is always to ask the right questions. If we create a culture where it’s only acceptable to know the correct answer without room for error, we risk developing an atmosphere that prioritizes conformity. By making room to challenge the status quo, employees can ask meaningful questions, think differently, and bring together different knowledge to find solutions.
For companies to survive the changes occurring daily, we need leaders who accept change, promote innovative attitudes, and are constantly learning. What may have worked 20 years ago — or even three — won’t cut it in the workplace today. After all, things need to change in order to get better.