In the ever-changing world of work the only constant is what you stand for as a leader, writes Ksenia Zheltoukhova, research advisor at CIPD, the professional body for human resources and people development.
There is simply too much advice on leadership. Worse, it is often conflicting. For example, while empathy and people centricity are two of the most rehearsed aspects of leadership practice, new findings from neuroscience suggest that connecting with people doesn’t always produce the desired performance results.
Some of the latest thinking says there simply isn’t a leadership style formula that would be effective across all of the diverse business and cultural contexts. Most recently, both Dave Ulrich and Jeffrey Pfeffer argued that leadership is highly contextual, and individuals should draw on their personality strengths, experience and the situation at hand. Similarly, Herminia Ibarra reframed the core leadership concept of authenticity, showing that the most effective leaders scan the environment for clues on how to act and “fake it”, chameleon-style, until they find a style that works for them.
So, how can leaders develop unique – but effective – ways to get the best out of people and organisations? Ironically, the only constant in the unpredictable world of work is the leaders themselves and their values. At all times, leaders should work towards a specific and valuable purpose.
BECOME CLEAR ON YOUR BIGGER PURPOSE
Traditionally the corporate agenda has been dominated by short-term shareholder value. Today, businesses realise that in order to be successful they have to create mutual benefits for business owners, employees, customers and for wider society. But, stakeholder needs are complex and relationships often ambiguous. This calls for leaders to be consistently clear as to what they stand for, and apply those principles consistently – building trust in their decisions.
HELP OTHERS SEE HOW THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Achieving that purpose is easier if it is shared throughout the business and beyond. Research shows that employees who are engaged with the organisational purpose are more satisfied with their jobs and perform better. Of course, it is unlikely that everyone will feel exactly the same sense of purpose in their work, but they must be aware of the ‘golden thread’ that links individual contributions to the big idea. Leaders should communicate and role model their principles and help others create personal roadmaps.
CONTINUE TO WORK ON YOUR STRENGTH OF CHARACTER
In practice, holding true to principles is not straightforward. Temptations arise to do the easy thing, or to yield to powerful players who may influence your decisions. But, leaders must set the course, continuously investing in their development and finding ways to deliver without sacrificing their values.
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