Do different people need different leaders? Probably. The fundamental principle is that leaders have influence because they meet human and organizational needs. Many of these needs are psychological. Leaders push others forward, help people solve problems, set agendas, inspire others to live their best lives, and create compelling visions. In other words, they help people become who they want to be. They help organizations change, evolve and grow. In a diverse and complex human world, we may want to become different people and organizations. Our brands are most valuable when they are differentiated and in demand.
Of course, this does not mean that people cannot be similar, share the same values, or aspire to become like a certain group. Most leaders I work with are similar in some ways, which is dependent on their personalities, backgrounds and environments. It is a matter of fit. “Fit” is not a negative judgment in the eyes of talented business leaders. It is simply an environmental assessment of needs, values and beliefs.
What great leaders do consistently is see the world through the eyes of others. They see outside of their own limits, through both empathy and perception. This allows them to accept or reject opportunities and create value from assets and resources around them, without acting destructively towards the values of others.
When leaders create environments where human psychological needs are met, they foster employee engagement. People are engaged when they enjoy what they do, and respect and trust the people they work with. Marcus Buckingham, a global expert of talent development and strengths-based leadership, has stated that there is a marked decrease in employee engagement when the percentage of work people enjoy and are good at drops below 20%. However, the reverse is not true. In other words, people benefit from work variety and can tolerate a lot of differences, but there is a critical point at which they may quickly and completely disengage.
Busy jobs or lives do not impact the above leadership abilities. We can have a short conversation with someone and have the impact last for days, months and even years. Or we can work with someone for decades and move nowhere at best. Engagement is a two-way street, and the road is much brighter when we are collectively moving forward.
Here is what I would define as critical leadership competencies to drive employee engagement especially when leading organizations through change, reinvention or disruption:
- Receptiveness to feedback. Also known as self-awareness, ego-management, or leadership imprint management. It is the ability to not get angry, hurt and defensive when someone tells you what you do not want to hear, challenges your core values or beliefs, or approaches the situation from a different perspective. If someone tells you that feedback is overrated and out-of-fashion, they are telling you what you want to hear. Feedback is how we learn about the impact we have on the world and others. I wrote about feedback in an earlier post. I agree with the view that average feedback reflects the feedback provider and not the feedback recipient. What it does do is give incredible amounts of valuable information about the environment in which a leader may operate, and thus allows skilled leaders to make much better decisions.
- Ability to create, manage and resolve constructive conflict
- Ability to see people beyond the limits they set for themselves, and fight to that vision (formally, this is sponsorship and mentorship)
- Ability to have deep conversations with any employee about purpose and motivation, when needed
- Sound decision-making (not allowing organizational behavior to become individuals’ competition for perks)
- Ability to make tough and fast decisions about people who are not a fit, without being destructive
- Ability to identify and meet psychological and instrumental needs of others
- Emotional health
- High expectations
- Ability to define criteria for accepting or rejecting ideas, based on strategic business models and profit formulas (rather than political affiliations or seniority)
- Systems and first principles thinking
- Understanding and being sensitive to what people see as right and wrong
- Influence with key stakeholders
If you believe that organizations are made up of employees and leaders’ behaviors and skills matter little, you are also correct. In stable environments, leadership behavior is less impactful. However, traditionally leadership is about change, while management is about getting things done. Leaders must deliver value from change in complex teams, and that is a difficult job.