What is good leadership?
It is a question that many have tried to answer. A search of the literature suggests thousands of texts. The internet too, is filled with articles trying to provide enlightenment.
What we do know about leadership, is that there is no one, simple list of traits, habits or characteristics that make a good leader. The issue is far too complex. Attempts to reduce leadership to a list of bullet points is fated, not least because the issue is so contextual. What makes a good leader in one industry or one organisation will vary depending on the situation, the environment, the culture and the people that operate within it.
What we do know is that the power that leaders wield has an impact on organisational success, culture and employees. Leaders, and their behaviour, cast long shadows. Whether the behaviour is judged to be positive or negative, leaders are role models and people will look to them for guidance on how to behave.
Good leadership and emotion
In some organisations, “emotion” is a dirty word: something to be left at home, or at least outside in the company car park. There is still, in some organisations, an expectation that work self and home self are separate. This is the old school model, but it is no longer fit for purpose. Successful leadership in the modern age requires something else. Something more.
We take it for granted that leaders can do all of the operational stuff: budgets, strategy, metrics, KPIs. When hiring senior executives, this is mostly what we talk about and focus on during selection: the numbers.
But successful leadership also needs to include emotion and feeling.
Leaders who have emotional maturity understand that showing kindness, compassion and care for others helps to build deep relationships and connections. Leaders who show empathy and respect inspire those people around them. Leaders who reflect, who are self-aware, who trust… these are the people who really motivate others. They understand that authenticity and transparency and all of these critical attributes help people do their best work.
We need leadership with heart and emotion. Without it, leaders miss opportunities. They miss the chance for personal growth. Without it, we see the corporate scandals that make the headlines. Working conditions that no employee should have to tolerate. Financial wrongdoing.
Emotion at work has power and potential.
This may sound like just another leadership wish list. Do these things before breakfast and success is guaranteed. But this simple list is far from simple in the doing. It requires courage, commitment to personal growth, an investment of time and of energy – and not least of self.
A leader can be the heart of the organisation and that leader needs a heart too – and can’t be afraid to show it.
These are the leadership skills for the present age. The leadership skills required for now.
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Written by Gemma Dale
Gemma Dale is an experienced HR Director and CIPD Chartered Fellow. She is a regular speaker and writer on HR topics like employee engagement and social media.