When answering the question: what do employees think will make a great future leader?, it is interesting to observe how different – or similar – the list of attributes is from leadership experts’ take on the subject. The latter’s core list would no doubt include vision, business acumen, confidence, strategic and critical thinking, agility and the ability to innovate. But softer skills and qualities like excellent communication skills, openness and honesty, authenticity, emotional intelligence, empathy, integrity and empowerment would also be cited as a key part of a successful leader’s make-up.
In the same way, while employees wish to see the more people-related attributes and behaviours that demonstrate a leader cares as much about his or her people as they do the organisations, they also want a leader who will possess the kind of traits that are going to make the business a success.
Yes, they want a charismatic leader who can communicate and tell compelling stories about the future of the company but they also want a strategically minded and highly focused individual who can devise and execute the vision. And while they desire a modern-thinking leader who believes in empowering employees to use their initiative and reach their potential, rather than one that micro-manages, they also want to be led by someone who is confident and can solve complex problems.
As a basic, employees want job and financial security and most would also prefer to work for an ambitious, aspiring dynamic organisation rather than a staid one. This isn’t just because everyone enjoys being part of a success story but because it increases their chances of enjoying a fulfilling and rewarding role and the tangible benefits that this brings outside of work.
Moreover, in the era of digital transformation and disruption, employees also want to feel assured that the senior team can react to developments and changing market conditions. If leaders aren’t sufficiently agile, flexible and fast-thinking, the company risks being left behind by rivals, which will put everyone’s career path and livelihood at risk.
So while the questions are often posed separately, in reality the leadership qualities desired by both sides is not dissimilar or at least there is significant overlap. Where differences are most likely to appear though are in the weighting of these traits and that is the crux of the situation.
A leader might know that they need to take time out to articulate the company vision and ensure employees understand the part they play in it but if they are being pulled in another direction by the board, they will likely choose to delegate it as a task. And conversely, even though an employee understands that a leader can’t be on the shopfloor all of the time, they will start to lose faith if they never appear to leave the boardroom.
A Rialto Consultancy blog posted earlier this year featured the results of Glassdoor’s CEO ranking. The Glassdoor Economic Research report revealed that highly rated CEOs are statistically linked to companies with great cultures. It highlighted that among the measures of company culture, the biggest driver of high CEO approval ratings is employee satisfaction with their senior leadership. The study also identified a strong link between CEO approval rating and financial performance.
Clearly employees want their leaders to build great workplace and corporate cultures but also want them to be effective as business leaders and devise winning strategies that means the company maintains competitive edge. So the leadership wish-lists aren’t that different and, like everything in life, it is about achieving the right balance.