As workforces and their needs evolve, managers must adapt to ensure they have the right leadership characteristics to maximise productivity and performance. Five experts in people management have shared their views on what it takes to be a better leader in a modern-day business
Leaders need emotional intelligence
Intelligent use of emotions is pivotal. It boils down to how you motivate people, so if you want yourself and your team to perform effectively, both you and they need to be in a positive emotional state. This means managing your own emotions in the moment.
As a leader, a lot of it is about influence. So think about what will galvanise and get the best out of others. Sometimes this means putting a bit of pressure on so your team pulls out the stops for a while and at others it means creating a positive, energised but calm environment.
To do this requires self-awareness and awareness of others at an emotional level. Leaders who are in touch with themselves recognise their blind spots, but they are also aware of what others’ strengths are and bring them on board. So they understand other people.
While in the past leaders were promoted on the back of their knowledge and competencies, it is becoming much more important to influence others and manage them to do their job well.
Chief psychologist, JCA Global
Leaders need humility
A humble leader enables a culture of continual improvement. They understand that it is OK not to know everything, and the importance of continuing to develop and improve.
In days gone by, it was about being the all-knowing boss who was strong and formal, and took tough decisions, but that is starting to shift. Enabling others to teach you changes this dynamic as it allows you to learn and build more open relationships with people.
Another thing about this approach is that it allows risk-taking to take place and encourages innovation, which in turn leads to improvements in productivity and performance. People these days are increasingly looking to leaders to give them good questions, rather than answers, and to steer them in the right direction, rather than tell them what to do.
So some key habits to develop include asking open questions, respecting individuals and including them in decision-making, watching and learning, and going to where the work is, which means walking the floor. That way you will start to understand your team as individuals and also appear more human.
Managing director, OC Tanner Europe
Leaders need good communication skills
Leaders with poor communication skills leave employees floundering and teams in disarray. As a result, it is vital to explain your vision with both passion and clarity, making it plain where the organisation is going, why, and what is in it for the team. This is important because now more than ever people want to feel part of something bigger, while at the same time understanding where they fit in.
Although all of us assume we can communicate effectively, it is not always true and in reality there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In other words, it is about ensuring the language you use is suitable for your audience.
On the one hand, it should be simple and jargon-free, while on the other it should take people on a journey. Just as key on a personal level though is fitting in with different communication styles, so understanding who requires detail, who needs an overview and who should be given context.
But also be sure to remember that communication is a two-way thing. So ask for feedback and, if you can, act on it; if not, explain why.
Managing director, P3 People Management
Leaders need to be good at listening
The ability to listen to everyone’s views is a hugely underrated skill for a leader. But it is important. If you want people to follow your leadership, you have to demonstrate that you understand them and have empathy, and listening is a big part of that.
If you fail to listen, it is often damaging for people’s self-esteem and they may not fulfil their potential. Feeling listened to is vital for wellbeing and creates a happier, healthier work environment.
Another reason why listening is important is that the best ideas usually come from people other than the chief executive. Some of our most business-defining notions have come from our junior team, for example. So it is imperative that everyone has the opportunity to speak and feel heard.
As a leader, it is also important to listen first and do second. Ultimately, it is up to you to make the decision and not all ideas will be used. But there is still a lot to be gained from listening to a diverse set of opinions and showing people you are interested in their views.
Chief executive, MediaCom UK
Leaders need resilience
Resilience is about an individual’s ability to grow, adapt and perform, and it is becoming increasingly essential to help navigate these times of change and challenge. As a result, part of a leader’s responsibility is to improve not only their own resilience, but also that of their people, which means developing five core elements.
The first is support, which involves building positive relationships to create a help network for when we experience stress. The second is confidence, which entails building belief in our ability to hit our goals by undertaking the right balance of “stretch” activities and being aware of critical self-talk that can hold us back.
Striving is about having the grit and determination to achieve our aims combined with an ability to shift direction if circumstances alter, while recovering is the ability to reset and start again if we fall back into negative patterns. Finally, adapting involves continuing to learn and evolve as situations change using a process of reflection.
While most leaders focus on a couple of areas, as change and challenge continue to mount, having access to wider resources will become increasingly crucial to ensure that they, and their team, can thrive.
Managing director and head of Europe, YSC Consulting