Sunday, July 28, 2013

Are We Creating the Best Environment to Develop the Best Leaders?

Way back in 1985 researchers like B.M. Bass proposed that the best leaders exhibit behaviours that create an atmosphere that increases a followers’ sense of self-worth and belonging. Yet the recent global recession has yet again brought the question of what makes a truly effective leader back into the spotlight again – as stakeholders, from shareholders to employees at all levels, seek to find and develop that special leadership talent that will optimise and transform their organisation into a sustainable, profitable and inspirational company.
Part of the dichotomy that seems to exist is that the key behavioural traits that support leadership excellence don’t necessarily translate and transpose themselves into a modern, social media driven world, which seems to be more about the ‘individual rather than the group’.
A 2009 peer reviewed report by Michele Frey, Roy Kern, Jason Snow and William Curlette found that softness, representing an optimistic view, and striving for perfection were found to indicate an achievement orientation with good coping skills, and were the key behavioural traits that distinguished transformational leaders from others.
In a post-global recession; social media enhanced world it may be hard to correlate ‘softness’ with effective leadership, as you find so many people shouting at the top of their voices about what makes effective leadership and why ‘they’ are right. But what in fact it might tell you is that those doing all the shouting, might not be the people you should be listening too; as maybe they’re just trying to sell something, like themselves; rather than actually being proven, effective leaders with a track record of success that you can really learn from.
Think about it for a moment – what inspires you and motivates you in the organisational setting? In most cases it will be leaders who are optimistic about the future and who do strive for ‘more’, pushing the boundaries to achieve something special. Leaders who motivate you to achieve greater things, maybe things you didn’t know or think you were capable of yourself. They aren’t harsh and loud, but ‘soft’ – that doesn’t mean soft as in a ‘push over’, it means someone who talks to you in a calm way, even when you’ve made that horrendous mistake that you think is going to be the end of your career :-) They are the ones that get the best out of you.
Another key behavioural trait for effective leadership is a leader’s willingness or unwillingness to cooperate with others for the general good. Professor Adler first talked about this as far back as 1956, which has since been interpreted as social interest, or more recently as community feeling. Adler believed that social interest was manifested by a healthy lifestyle, that is, one in which an individual moves in a cooperative, egalitarian way towards others, leading to a feeling of belonging within ones social context. Adler highlighted how the capacity for cooperation and social interest can be gauged by the way one sees, listens, copes, and acts.
The danger with the current social-business environment in which so many people operate, but especially the young, is that too often the way to get ‘noticed’ and ‘heard’ does not develop the necessary behavioural traits that will support an effective transformational leader in the future.
Since much of the research over the last 50 years has supported ‘upbringing’ as having a significant impact on leadership styles and abilities, we must be very careful that we are not allowing current ‘trends’ to encourage and develop negative traits associated with effective leadership behaviour.
It has been argued that life experiences, including family upbringing, accumulate and impact our ability to be effective leaders – and as mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is from these experiences that the best leaders exhibit behaviours that create an atmosphere that increases the followers’ sense of self-worth and belonging.
But we have to be careful that in the mad rush to be ‘socially accepted’ in the media-sphere, that we are not inadvertently creating the wrong environment to develop the effective leaders we need for the future – those that will strive for perfection; but know how to work with people, in a calm and optimistic way, to motivate and inspire them to achieve their goals and in doing so, maximise the potential for the organisation.
Frey, M., Kern, R.M., Snow, J and Curlette, W.L. (2009). Lifestyle and Transformational Leadership Style. The Journal of Individual Psychology. Vol. 65, No. 3, p. 212-240.

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