WARREN G. Bennis, American scholar and author of On Becoming A Leader, is widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies.
He describes what it means to lead well: “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery.
“Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organisation. When that happens, people feel centred and that gives their work meaning.”
In essence, the heart of the leadership challenge that confronts today’s leaders is learning how to lead in situations of ever-greater volatility and uncertainty in a globalised business environment.
Leadership is both an art and a science.
It is an art because it continually evolves, changes form and requires creativity. It is a science because there are certain essential principles and techniques required.
A good leader knows when it is time to change shape because he is highly attentive to those around him.
Coming from a position of strength, a great leader takes risks by freeing up the creative genius in his followers to build their capability and multiply the talents of the organisation.
By powerfully communicating a vision that animates, motivates and inspires followers, a great leader is able to transform his organisation.
We are operating in a hypercompetitive business environment.
Companies feel the pressure to decrease time to market and improve the quality of products while delivering on ever-changing customer expectations to maintain competitive posture.
In other words, they must be adaptive and nimble.
Driving results is difficult even for companies that have leverage from dedicated and knowledgeable employees.
That is why it is crucial for organisations to nurture the right kind of leaders.
In the early years of leadership studies, the so-called “trait theory” took the view that there is a set of traits that separates the leader from the pack.
Traits purported to be characteristic of leaders included intelligence, a drive to dominate others, being extroverted and having charisma.
Today, people often point to the importance of emotional intelligence in achieving leadership effectiveness.
Recent research has uncovered links between specific elements of emotional intelligence and specific behaviours associated with leadership effectiveness and ineffectiveness.
Flexible and inspiring
Flexible leadership involves being able to adapt your leadership style according to the situation and the state of the team — for example, taking charge when a team is forming but playing the role of a coach when a team is managing itself well.
This is critical in developing and sustaining employee engagement.
Organisations need leaders to visualise the future, motivate and inspire employees, and adapt to changing needs.
On-going research indicates that with the right leadership development support, including executive coaching, those with leadership potential can be developed into outstanding leaders.
As emotionally intelligent leaders rise through the ranks of an organisation, their profile becomes more visible to employees and their increased power can have greater impact.
The most important tool
Effective communication is an essential element of leadership.
Leaders are communication champions who inspire and unite people around a common sense of purpose and identity.
They lead strategic conversations that get people talking across boundaries about the vision, key strategic themes and the values that can help the group or organisation achieve desired outcomes.
Leader communication is purpose-directed, and an important element is persuading others to act in ways that achieve goals and accomplish vision.
Four steps for practising the art of persuasion are:
Build goals on common ground;
Make your position compelling; and
Connect with others on an emotional level.
To be an effective leader — one who inspires his people and gets desired results — communication is the primary and most important tool.
There is no substitute for good judgment, and change leaders need to be reflective and thoughtful about the ways they communicate.