By Adrian Johansen
What makes a great leader?
It’s a question that philosophers, entrepreneurs, athletes, and heads of states have been asking for millennia.
The answer is frustrating: “it depends”.
Great leaders understand the context of their leadership and are adept at saying and doing the right thing at the right time.
Some might view this answer as a cop-out or be frustrated by its evasive nature.
However, the idea that leadership is contextual should be exciting. It means that there is no singular playbook to call from, and allows leaders to continue breaching into new and unknown leadership territories.
Here are a few current trends that can help you thrive in a leadership role today.
Critique, Don’t Criticize
Across the nation, corporate structures are becoming flatter. This means that the corporate ladder is smaller than it used to be, as firms seek faster, more agile responses to issues that were previously bogged down by slow-moving middle management.
As a leader, this gives you a closer connection to your employees, but it also means that you have to do away with the idea that your position grants you immediate respect.
Additionally, a flatter corporate structure means that you need to reconsider the way you point out flaws or failures in your employee’s work. Instead of merely criticizing employees who are falling behind, you should consider taking a more active role in helping them by offering useful “critiques” instead.
This is because criticism is toxic to relationships. Sure, you’ve pointed out a failure or weak spot, but you haven’t helped your employees improve — you’ve just made them feel anxious when you’re around. Instead, you need to invest time and energy into understanding an employee’s performance holistically.
So, for example, you might notice that a sales rep has fallen behind on their call volume. Instead of just telling them to up their volume, you need to take the time to study why they’ve fallen behind and offer them feedback that is actually helpful.
By turning criticism into critiques, you can improve your employee’s motivation and will be rewarded with a well-informed, loyal workforce who trusts your feedback.
Millions of people are working remotely and have never even seen their employees or bosses in real life. This can feel a little odd, but it offers many employees the chance to find a healthy work-life balance.
As a leader in a virtual environment, know that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Leadership styles still work in a remote context, and it may even be easier to utilize authoritarian leadership that keeps everyone on the straight and narrow.
As a leader, you should take the time to consider which leadership style will work best within the context of your remote operations. As a general guide, more complex, creative work will require a transformative, people-first, leadership style. Conversely, results-driven, output-intensive work will probably benefit from a transactional leadership approach.
You can also try out some of the hottest tips for managing virtual employees, as new technology makes it possible to connect with more of your employees in intuitive, rewarding ways.
Regardless of the leadership approach you adopt, your company will benefit from investing in community leadership.
The idea of community leadership has gained traction in the last five years, where social movements have highlighted the need for well-informed, community-centered leaders. There are two ways you can approach community leadership in your company: outsourcing and insourcing.
Outsourcing community leadership is a great way to show that your business cares about a particular issue or challenge. Typically, you should outsource community leadership when you don’t have an expert within your company structure, or are looking to change the tone of leadership for any reason. It also allows your employees to focus on their work, rather than having to consider leadership at the same time.
Insourcing community leadership can be a great way to develop employee buy-in and show that you value your workforce. However, you have to be extremely careful about the way you approach internal community leadership — after all, you are being paid to lead, your employees are not. With this in mind, you should always offer community leadership opportunities, rather than demand them.
Community leadership is a great way to show your commitment to social values. It also allows you to center new or marginalized voices that may have been missing from your previous leadership initiative. Just be careful about how you ask community leaders to work with you — particularly if you are asking an employee from a traditionally marginalized group if they would like to be a part of your leadership initiatives. After all, it’s not their job to fix your mistakes.
Seek and Serve Grace
The idea of grace has been utilized by leaders in sport, religion, business, and communities for thousands of years. Leading with grace means that you actively center the people you are leading, rather than yourself and your own goals. It also means that you must admit when you don’t have a perfect answer, and should give others the same level of respect that you are asking for.
By leading with grace, you give yourself room to grow and learn. This means that you might spend hours every week working on professional development skills that seek to better your leadership abilities.
Likewise, leading with grace means that you give employees room to fail, and show them how to overcome setbacks without punishing them. This is particularly useful if you work in a creative field or changing industry where you are asking your employees to actively think through the way they work.
Nobody said leadership was easy — but the challenge brings its own rewards. If you can find ways to successfully lead in today’s ever-changing world, then you will likely find yourself with a passionate and loyal following of employees. And remember, no one is born a leader: leadership is transformative, so even your failures are just part of the journey towards becoming a great project leader.