We have reached an interesting point in our professional lives. The digital revolution and its implications coupled with the economic and societal aftermath of the pandemic have presented organisations with a new set of critical of challenges to overcome. The responsibility may fall on the board or a group of key decision makers to carve a successful path forward and present solutions for helping their organisation to stay relevant in the future. While those plans may look different for every business, it is clear that strong and engaging leadership will be crucial for success in whatever comes next.
But what makes an effective and successful leader? What skills, capabilities, and attributes do they possess that inspire others to follow their lead and buy into their vision? How do these individuals seem to effortlessly navigate even the most challenging circumstances?
The harsh reality is that not everyone is cut out for leadership, and not all who attempt it will be successful. We work very closely with global leaders of all backgrounds from organisations of varying types and sizes, and while there is no clear-cut formula for what makes a leader successful, several patterns have emerged.
Here are the five factors that most often result in leadership success, as identified by our ongoing research and multi-disciplinary team of specialists:
Good leaders have the ability to engage teams in facilitating change within the organisation, and know that speaking in edicts and assuming that their word will be taken as law is not the same as generating buy-in. Similarly, you cannot expect automatic buy-in on your initiatives simply because of your position in the company. Mastering buy-in is all about building strong collaborative relationships with the people you need to have on your side and giving all a voice in shaping the future.
Networking and fostering your connections over time helps to build a strong reputation and rapport. Good networking helps build a basis of trust and support that can help you to win new business or engage staff more effectively. These connections will not only enable you to win support more easily, but also allow you to gain understanding and perspective that can help to inform the plans and initiatives you create.
The most successful leaders are constantly looking for patterns, opportunities, and problems across their teams, industry, and markets that they can leverage to help further their business objectives. They are skilled at assessing concerns by asking the right questions and listening effectively. However, the challenge top leaders face is getting others to also understand these issues, see the opportunities to be gained, and get on board with making any necessary changes. It goes beyond persuasion. The most successful teams are those who truly buy into the bigger vision and purpose and are committed to delivering impact. It falls on leadership to create and encourage those attitudes.
Of course, if you want people to buy into the plans, objectives, and initiatives you are proposing, there needs to be clear communication of what you are looking to accomplish and how. Leaders are tasked with managing countless relationships throughout the organisation, the industry, the community, and perhaps even the world at large. Learning how to convey the right messages to these various groups so that everyone truly understands and can act accordingly is a major skill for leaders to develop.
Effective communication is vital to gain trust, create alignment, and drive change. Without it, objectives get lost, vital information can be misinterpreted, relationships suffer, and unnecessary hurdles are created. Being able to communication across multiple channels authentically, consistently, simply, and clearly is what separates a successful leader from the rest.
The best performing teams are typically supported by an environment that enables them to feel safe and enthusiastic about sharing their ideas and allows them to work through problems collaboratively and constructively. Strong leaders encourage and seek out the opinions of their people, and they take the time to actually listen. Staff usually have a deeper insight into the day-to-day workings of the business and the needs of the customer than those at the top of the organisation do and can provide a much-needed reality check when proposing new ideas. Leaders should encourage these discussions and take feedback on board in order to ensure their initiatives will actually provide value to the organisation.
Making plans and setting objectives is only half of the battle. How well do you actually deliver on them? In our blog about leading with purpose, we discussed the idea of ‘walking the talk,’ or essentially practicing what you preach. If you are making promises to your team, your customers, and the organisation’s other stakeholders, there needs to be action attached.
You could have every sought-after soft skill there is, but at the end of the day success boils down to delivering results. In order to do this, get clear on expectations and responsibilities, clearly define your goals and determine what metrics you will use to measure individual and team. What is the value of your initiatives, and how will others experience it? Success will look different for every project and every leader, but some good areas to observe for benchmarking include efficiency, profit, productivity, leads, and satisfaction levels.
Your effectiveness as a leader hinges on your ability to not only make plans and get the team involved, but also to turn your ideas into positive outcomes. That sends the message to your team and your organisation’s stakeholders that you are trustworthy, dependable, and can follow through. All of these contribute to deeper trust and easier buy-in in the future.
Leaders are the most visible figures in the organisation. Depending on their level or role within the organisation, they may even be the public figurehead for the business. That responsibility comes with a unique set of pressures and expectations. The way a leader behaves, carries themselves, and manages their role is a reflection on the organisation and has been proven to directly impact staff’s attitudes and performance.
That is why it is vitally important for leaders to set a good standard and model the behaviours and attitudes that they would like to see reflected throughout their organisation. This includes being aware of and open about their own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations as not only a leader but also a person. Leaders carry a lot of responsibility, and that comes with heavy expectations. By looking after their own wellbeing, leaders are able to send an important message about the importance of mental health and work-life balance. While we may be in business to create a profit, we are not alive to be in business. Those who lead with emotional intelligence, mental agility, empathy, and humanity are more likely to be viewed favourably by the people they are looking to gain the support and trust of.
Because of the added pressures and responsibilities, leadership can often feel isolating. While a big part of the job is creating and managing relationships in order to further business objectives, it is important for senior leaders to create their own support network. The most effective leaders recognise that they cannot and do not have to go it alone. Having formal confidants such as other board members, trusted colleagues, a mentor, or a career coach can help to provide professional support when the stresses of the job begin to pile up. Outside of work, having an informal network such as friends and family helps to provide personal support and encouragement when needed.
Additionally, successful leaders know and understand that the only way forward is through experimentation, exploration, agility, and open-mindedness. At times, progress will require even the most experienced leaders to unlearn old habits in favour of new future-focused practices. The best leaders are those who are constantly evolving and adapting. These leaders seek out opportunities for continuous learning and encourage their teams to do the same.
Of course, technology is one of the most vital areas for reskilling and retraining. With our increased reliance on digital technologies and the rapid adoptions of new tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), proficiency in digital skills has become a must-have. It is vital that leaders familiarise themselves with these tools so that they can champion them within their organisation. As with any major change, there is likely to be pushback from some members of staff. Along with the other capabilities already discussed that help to build trust and credibility, a leader’s ability to reasonably explain the uses and benefits of emerging technology can go a long way for getting the sceptics on board. Once that happens, the organisation is able to better keep pace with the evolving business landscape and ever-changing habits and increasing expectations of their customers to deliver long term value.
Again, there is no fool proof formula for successful leadership. What sets effective leaders apart is a willingness to continuously learn, evolve and adapt, effective communication and listening skills, strong relationships, and a focus on the future. Focusing your attention on the five areas above will position you and your organisation well for long-term success.
During 2020, digital transformation initiatives helped businesses to stay afloat when the world was plunged into challenging and uncharted territory.…
In the first instalment of our Personal Digital Branding series, we introduced the foundations to creating a representative ‘personal’ profile.…