The days of alpha bosses and power-hungry managers are over, so what kind of leader do you want to be? Fleur Britten on the many ways of fostering success and happiness at work.
It used to be, not so long ago, that "business leader" was synonymous with "alpha", "invincible", "autocratic" or simply "masculine". An increase in boardroom diversity (women, introverts, team players) has chipped away at the uniform vision of a leader and introduced new models of leadership. Not only does this provide inspiration for those who might previously have thought they weren't cut out for management, it's good news for everyone. What employee is going to mourn the demise of command-and-control leadership? The big question is, which one of the eight new leadership styles would you most like to be — or be employed by?
"Most women I coach say, 'I wish I could bring more of myself through the door,' " says women's leadership coach Diana Theodores. While female bosses might once have been inclined to imitate men, authenticity is now a prized leadership quality. "It garners trust and engagement," says Anna Crowe, author of Get Real: The Power of Genuine Leadership, a Transparent Culture, and an Authentic You. Being a transparent and honest leader will make you more relatable and accessible, and employees will feel freer to share their ideas. "It doesn't mean unloading all your emotional baggage in the workplace," explains Theodores, "but using a bigger range of who you are, rather than the narrow default zones."
High EQ leadership
Why do some executives who look great on paper get fired? According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist and leadership expert who introduced the concept of emotional intelligence (or EQ) to the world back in 1995, it's invariably down to their low EQ. "Leaders can be brilliant, yet alienate others. You need both cognitive ability and empathy." High EQ is good for business. "When people feel their voice is heard, they want to contribute more," says Belinda Parmar, CEO of the Empathy Business. It boosts motivation and confidence and, in turn, innovation — unlike fear-based cultures where people aren't encouraged to speak up. Fortunately, EQ is trainable. Goleman recommends practising "active listening", with open-ended and follow-up questions as well as extending compassion to others. Parmar suggests delivering small "empathy nudges", which she believes "in aggregate, will have a big impact on an organisation".
Can you say that your boss is in service to you? If they knew about service leadership, they might actually want to be. It is, after all, "the model that people tend to aspire to now", says Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association. Instead of the "macho old- school" style of leadership, modest servant leaders are "all about the success of the team and, therefore, the organisation. Personal success comes as a result of that." Also known as humble leadership, it entails putting employees first and accepting that you don't have all the answers, Goleman says. It's a style particularly suited to women, according to Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union, who says her humility is at the forefront of everything she does. If Starbucks can build a global empire around the model, no one can argue it's not economically viable.
Imagine if, at the end of a big external meeting, your boss asks you for feedback on how they did. Might you think less of them? You shouldn't. Too often, leaders go unchallenged, but the work-in-progress leader knows that with criticism comes learning and growth. "I want to feel like I am continuously improving," says Hayaatun Sillem, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering. "You never finish that process." Not fearing feedback is key, she says. "It also shows people that their opinions matter." The work-in-progress leader must test the feedback, as it might come loaded with assumptions or differing opinions, or it may not be well intentioned. "Understanding how you can be the best version of yourself is at the heart of progression and satisfaction in life," Sillem says.
What is a creative leader? They are not, says Emilie Colker, MD of Ideo, a global design company, "creative dictators who hold all the ideas and are there to direct others". A real creative leader is someone who values creativity and sets the conditions to get the best out of creative people. Those conditions include a clear purpose, optimism, the opportunity for collaboration and a learning mindset. A creative leader encourages "exploration and points to specific horizons, rather than issuing directions". Giving space is essential, adds Colker, as is variety, albeit with appropriate constraints. This is the premise of "design thinking", which has been implemented by Ideo at Gucci, Nespresso and John Lewis, among others. Creative leadership also harnesses play in order to unleash creativity. "We see real changes when our clients play," Colker says.
"When we think about high performance, we imagine a stressed-out person nailing it, all guns blazing," says Neil Seligman, author of Conscious Leadership: Reveal Your Potential, Inspire Excellence, who consults for Netflix, Warner Bros and RBS. The opposite — the "powerful peaceful" leader — can be achieved, Seligman says, by honing our mindfulness abilities in order to be more aware of what's happening in the workplace. Say a colleague is being obnoxious: take a pause "to notice what else is going on for you". It's in the pauses, he says, that consciousness comes. It's about "slowing down, witnessing, being compassionate — the softer elements usually bypassed in macho environments. They're vital to balance the picture."
If your ambition for the top job has been dampened by concerns about your own indecisiveness, it's time to reconsider. The democratic leader is someone, says Goleman, "who asks for input and considers feedback from their team before making a decision". They work more as team members than top-down leaders, which helps employees to feel heard and empowered, and that their contributions matter. The result is greater workplace harmony. "A democratic leadership style is often credited with higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction," says Goleman.
Happy leaders are good for business because, according to research by Yale School of Management, emotions are contagious. If a leader is upbeat, colleagues become energised and team performance shoots up; if negative, it tanks. "Leadership creates ripples of positivity," says Andy Cope, author of Leadership: The Multiplier Effect. "Happy leaders spread good feelings throughout their team, who in turn create an emotional uplift in those around them, thus raising productivity." He cites the Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, who has made happiness the central tenet of his billion-dollar business. "His view is that you can't browbeat people into being happy," says Cope. "They have to feel it for themselves." It starts, he says, with being inspired as a leader. He also advises a positive communication ratio of 6:1. "Definitely worry if there are more negatives than positives."
But it's not enough just to be a happy leader, or democratic, or authentic. The modern leader needs to deploy several styles, says Goleman, with different people or situations requiring different approaches. There are inevitably overlaps, with common themes including an emphasis on "we" over "I". Compassion, authenticity, vulnerability and humility — once regarded as soft skills — are now the hard skills of progressive leadership. If your own boss remains unenlightened, it's time to push for better. "The 'I'm the boss' model of leadership has been proven to be highly ineffective," says Goleman.
Written by: Fleur Britten
© The Times of London