Four Unexpected Leadership Traits

In the current environment of global economic uncertainty, stressed employees – and board members – will be looking to their organisation’s leader to guide them through tough times. Have you got what it takes to lead well?

If you take a look at the number of leadership self-help books around the globe, you might believe that replicating someone else’s leadership style is the key. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In a research report published by London Business School, professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones present a view that leadership has more to do with “personal authenticity” than a learned formula or recipe.

The challenge for leaders, particularly in uncertain environments, is to be true to themselves and not emulate the behaviours of others. In this current environment, leaders need energy, a strong sense of direction and a clear vision.

We have seen in a number of clients that have successfully transitioned out of periods of difficulty, that clear, authentic and effective leadership has been the key to improved performance.

In particular we have seen that leaders who recognise their capability gaps and seek to overcome these quickly, with support from external advisors and internal management, have had the highest degree of success.

This is never easy to do, as most leaders have invested significant personal capital in building the internal and external relationships. Sometimes ego can get in the way of effective decisions and recognising their weaknesses.

The research work of Goffee and Jones suggests that the most effective leaders share four rather unexpected leadership traits:

  1. Capacity to reveal their weaknesses
    They may be irritable in the mornings or disinterested in minor detail. Understanding their weaknesses enables wise leaders to build teams around them who compliment or support their blind spots, thereby creating a high functioning team.
  2. Ability to read situations
    Effective leaders are able to consider individuals and their motives/skills and how that relates to the broader team. They are able to analyse the balance between team members, tensions and how a team builds it capabilities. They are also concerned with the culture of an organisation and aware of any subtle shifts in the organisational landscape.
  3. Genuine Care
    A key leadership trait is an empathy with the people being led and a passion for their work. Genuine care balances the respect for individuals against the objectives the organisation is addressing via a task or activity. Getting the balance right is not always easy as leadership is not a popularity contest. This does involve some personal risk for the leader in revealing their personal value drivers, but the upside is that authenticity is communicated.
  4. Ability to stress their point of difference
    Effective leaders use their differences – whatever they are (e.g. personal qualities such as sincerity, creativity, expertise, resilience or loyalty). They move to distinguish themselves through their differences.

While all of the above traits are necessary for effective leadership, they cannot be used as a recipe. To be an effective leader you need to bring “personal authenticity” to your role.

Footnote: Excerpts of this blog have been sourced from London Business School Faculty Research.

Vantage Performance is anational business transformation and turnaround firm – Winner of the 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 Turnaround Management Association – Turnaround of the Year Awards.

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