Uncovering the trials and tribulations of leading the pack
By Sohana Nasrin
Of all business skills that are consistently under the microscope, leadership appears to be the most scrutinized and crucial one. Countless books, articles and academic researchers have been talking about the value of leadership and how to achieve those. It is most likely that any bookstore will have at least one book that talks about how to make a great leader, making the aspiration of achieving leadership an essential part of our pop culture, not only academic scholarship.
The scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists and gender researchers chime in the discussion to make sense of leadership skills and the process of acquiring those. While everyone on individual and communal levels strive to achieve leadership positions, it is probably not very difficult to understand why companies and organizations pay special attention to leadership and its development- because it is a matter that is directly related to the financial success of the company
Why Leadership is Essential
We all know that leadership is a big deal when it comes to any business – for profit or not for profit. What people do for their company or organization really matters. What we consciously don’t know, probably, is the reason why it is such a big deal. Here are ten reasons why leadership is one of the most important phenomenons in any organization:
1. Leadership and high performance: these two are interconnected. An ideal leader is capable of creating higher performing teams which is vital for any organization.
2. Sales and customer satisfaction: these two terms are directly related with the leadership in any organization. A good leader who leads a successful team not only conceptualize all the theories of leadership, but also knows how to translate those into action like sales and customer satisfaction.
3. Organizational commitment and loyalty: loyalty towards an organization springs to the most when the team members feel safe and confident under someone’s leadership.
4. Willingness and motivation: two very important traits that are vital for any individual to thrive. A good leader, with his or her strong leadership, knows how to nurture willingness and motivation in his or her team members.
5. More successful representation: a leader who is confident in his or her team is more likely to represent the success more elaborately to the upper management. And we all know how that works out in a company- if you have more success as a team, you have more incentives too.
6. Reduced turnover and drop out rates: leadership plays a vital role in keeping turn over and people’s spirits up. Hire a good leader who can mold the minds of people and there will be less drop outs.
7. Recruitment: a history of successful leadership positively affects the recruitments in a company. It is hard not to say good things about a good leader and it kind of travels fast among qualitied job seekers.
8. Leadership aids authority: at times authority sounds like a negative word, but in fact it might not be a really negative one when it comes to business projects and deadlines. It is nice to have someone to guide you and check on you while you try to accomplish something.
9. Seamless collaboration: any kind of production, be it tangible or intangible, is concerned with land, labor, capital and entrepreneurship. Leadership is the major factor that makes everything work together seamlessly.
10. Leadership and social process: any organizational experience is transformed into a social process with the help of good leadership. People, being social beings, thrive the best in a social process and hence it is much necessary to have a ‘hero’ among them who can be a star to guide them.
Leadership Reality Check
There are more myths about leadership than the fingers in your hands. These myths expand from the conceptual to the practical level preventing very deserving people from rising to the top. These false beliefs and outdated concepts are holding many companies and organizations back. More often than not, these myths also affect us on an individual level. Let’s try to defy some of these myths after identifying them. That way we can set ourselves for bigger things in life.
Leaders are born, not made.
Reality: It is possible to have some innate leadership qualities like charisma, vision and so on but it is also very true that many leadership qualities can be achieved with focus, willingness and patience. Which means, leadership can be learned, after all. Scholars argue that it relies heavily on confidence and confidence is a leadership skill that can be learned, practiced and implemented effectively. Leadership consultant Peter Barron Stark believes becoming great leader is 10 percent genetics and 90 percent hard work. “I recently saw a teenager with a severe developmental disability give a speech,” Stark says. “At the end of his presentation, about 50 people walked up to this kid and volunteered to help him advance his cause. Anyone can be a leader, but it takes the willingness to take a risk, continue learning and work hard.”
Men make better leaders.
Reality: Gender difference might not be a myth when it comes to leadership. May be the men and women do lead differently but that does not mean that one is better than the other. In fact, women tend to be better at demonstrating concern for others, which is an important trait of being an effective leader. This phenomenon is also known as transformational leadership. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, is doing this right now. She is transforming the culture of the company through her own example of brutal honesty and accountability.
Leaders are only found at the top.
Reality: According to the traditional school of thought, leaders are only found at the top of any organogram. For example, executives, supervisors, managers and directors – they were the only people who used to be called leaders. But leaders can be found throughout the organizations, and people at all levels can hone their leadership skills to have significant and positive impacts on those who are around them, and not necessarily only sub ordinate to them. In fact, different progressive organizations have started to embrace the ‘bossless’ culture, empowering all employees to serve as leaders in some capacity, depending on necessity. In this model, if an employee finds a problem that needs to be fixed and can be done from his or her level, he or she will act as the leader and make decision to fix it. This model not only creates great decision makers but also makes it easier for the CEO or Managing Director to manage people.
Great leaders keep their emotions in check.
Reality: Great leaders connect to others on a human level and that requires using emotions such as empathy, compassion and happiness. Every day, people in different organizations are dealing with personal situations. We try to leave these emotional matters at the door or somehow lock them up for the day until we get home, but that is not a realistic approach. Effective leaders recognize that employees and colleagues are people and they may have pressing personal matters. Hence, they make efforts to work with those emotions, they become flexible and at the end it works for the betterment of both the employee and the company.
Good leaders have more education than other people.
Reality: Educational degrees may mean you have a good education, but it doesn’t necessarily ensure good leadership from your part. When it comes to leadership, experience is the best teacher, according to a large number of leadership scholars and trainers. Leaders need to learn from mistakes, be that of other people or themselves and learning from mistakes is often something that is connected with practical implications. Hence it can be conferred that although academic education is crucial in leadership development, the most important element is probably the experience.
Do Men and Women Lead Differently?
Companies spend millions exploring new information about leadership styles and ways to foster successful leadership in the company, which has, over the time, brought forth a fundamental question – do men and women lead differently?
Leadership literature, which has been seeing a tremendous growth for about last half century (about the same duration of time that women have had started to assume leadership roles to a considerable extent) suggest that the answer to the aforementioned question is ‘it is complicated’. Women in high level leadership positions, such as corporate CEOs, tend to exhibit similar behavior as their male counterparts. However, that does not mean that the notion of gender difference in leadership is null, as the percentage of women who are in those high positions is barely scanty. According to Catalyst, a research firm who conduct studies on gender based issues, just 4.6% of Standard and Poor 500 CEOs and 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. That being said, the idea of women behaving same as their male counterparts in leadership positions cannot be applied to all organizations and all levels of leadership. In fact, some researchers have argued that the same men and women exerting the same leadership qualities might spring from the fact that the demand for leadership roles require certain actions and behaviors to succeed. In addition, because of the hurdles that women must overcome to get themselves to the top, it could be the case that only women who exhibit the same sorts of leadership styles and behaviors as male leaders make it through. Leadership and gender expert, Alice Eagly refers to this as the labyrinth that the women need to go through, but men do not. So, studying leaders in the top most position leaves implications that there is no big difference in how men and women lead.
Women in leadership positions but not on the top most position in the company organogram seem to exhibit different leadership qualities. The difference is almost always in line with the gender stereotypes, e.g. female leaders are more nurturing, empathic and responsive than male leaders, with bit of negative trait of being moody. Male leaders, on the other hand, are perceived to be more action-oriented and more focused on tasks. As a Catalyst study concludes, ‘women leaders take care, men leaders take charge.’ Nonetheless, there is a growing body of literature that suggests that leadership styles and leadership potentials of men and women can be studied under different themes or leadership trends as well. The theory of transformational leadership is a revolutionary one that has almost changed the definition of leadership and the expectations that come along with it. Companies in developed countries are not studying and promoting transformational leadership as there has been indications that the transformational model tend to work better. Transformational leaders are inspirational, positive role models, concerned about followers, empowering and push followers to be creative and take chances. Researches indicate that women, as a group, have more transformational qualities than men, as the later seems to exhibit more transactional leadership which translates into a give and take model. If women are more transformational, then it is not only safe but probably also fair to assume that women tend to lead more effectively than men. That brings us to the next phase of discussion, what are the implications of the claim and how can we utilize it to the best of our advantages.
97% of women and 79% of men believe that men and women focus their behavior differently as leaders. Women believe men lead by promoting themselves and their abilities and men believe women focus on seeing input from all concerned sources and are found to be more emphatic and flexible and have stronger interpersonal skills than their male colleagues. That is good news for many of us who think it is important to achieve gender parity in work as well as any intellectual pursuit in life. As attitudes about women leaders change (albeit, very slowly), the labyrinth mentioned earlier in this article becomes less difficult to navigate and more women are expected to achieve higher leadership positions in their lives. Noted leadership scholar Bernard Bass predicted that for their high adaptability and transformational leadership styles, majority of high level leaders will be women by the year 2034. Time will decide whether this prediction is close or far from truth, but for now, we can confer that more men are realizing that transactional way of leading is not the most up-to-date or demanded style to execute in a company. Hence the wisest thing at this point is to forget about gender difference in leadership and try to attempt for the best – which is to take the bests of each perceived gender roles and come up with a model that is effective for any leader regardless of their sex, class or color.
How men and women lead differently:
Intelligence and Leadership
Questions have often been raised regarding how intelligence plays a role in leadership skills. There have been cases where even the most intelligent leaders have failed dismally which has lead to people concluding that high IQs alone are not sufficient for when recruiting for leadership positions. According to Dulewicz and Higgs (2000), the combination of intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence is a better barometer for success. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas (2006), CEOs are constantly moved from their positions. The rate is apparently a high 7.6 every business day. Additionally, more than 28% of these leaders had only been in these positions for less than three years. In all probability, these leaders were highly intelligent but questions have been raised about whether they lacked points in the emotional intelligence department. One often mentioned case is that of Jeffrey Skilling of Enron. Having taken charge of Enron from founder, Kenneth Lay; Skilling was transforming Enron into the largest wholesaler producer of Gas and Electricity with $27 billion worth of trade in just one quarter in 2014. However, his reign ended in bankruptcy, fraud and criminality.
British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil spill scandal also showed questionable leadership issues. CEO, Tony Hayward’s made matters worse with the disaster by failing to connect to people’s emotions. He was noted to have made the comment ‘I’d like my life back.’ While the disaster was ongoing, he was reportedly watching his yacht race (Lyons, 2011). Even though BP paid a $42.2 billion fine, the company’s image took a massive negative hit, and the CEO paid the ultimate price for failing to make the valuable connection to prevailing public emotions.
These examples show how leaders and their failure to identify, assess and control their own emotions can affect the role they’re supposed to be playing. Without having a proper grasp of what to do when these emotions engulf and entrap them, as well missing the ability to understand their audience’s emotions and to effectively manage relationships they are bound to fail. When making decisions in a speech and/or with actions, leaders should consider the consequences of their decisions, including the emotional impact these decisions will have on all involved parties.