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Make Sure 21st Century Leadership Is Human

10/23/2014 04:48 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST
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Employees are expected to perform -- no doubt about that. But how well do leaders make use of their competencies and behavior to create the ideal circumstances and fertile ground for optimal performance?

The recently published St. Gallen Executive Education Report (SEER) 2014 confirms that a large majority of European leaders are dissatisfied with the level of leadership training and development in their organizations. According to the participants of the survey, short-term efficiency goals are on top of the list for most organizations, keeping them from systematically building an effective learning architecture. Based on their own assessment, leaders are only insufficiently enabled to provide good leadership. They would wish for remarkably more support in further developing their leadership skills.

A recent Gallup survey focusing on employee engagement has shown that about half of the leaders do an insufficient job in the eyes of their teams. The often-quoted statement that people join companies and leave their managers is quite thought provoking because it really hits the nail right on the head. It is still much too rare that managers give their team members the necessary room to maneuver so that they can really commit and act responsibly. Unfortunately, this leads to an awful lot of competencies and potential being left untapped and to employees complaining about being micro-managed.

In fact, there are big differences among organizations when it comes to the quality and effectiveness of leadership. So, what are the reasons?

Is leadership really just a side-job?

More often than not, leadership is still taken for granted and seen as something that is more of a side-job than anything else. With that comes the assumption that some people are more talented in leading than others. Especially among small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), this perception of leadership is still quite common.

Based on this leadership concept, what happens is that those employees are usually promoted to leading roles who have proven to have the best technical skills. Like this, the best sales guy quite logically becomes the sales manager or the best specialist becomes the leader of the team. Experience clearly shows though that being technically skilled doesn't necessarily mean that somebody is qualified to lead a team. In some cases, when having a closer look at the job requirements, shifting to a leading role can almost be like changing into a new profession. Sadly enough, the personal, interpersonal and leadership skills needed in the new role are often not recognized and as a consequence not systematically developed. "Just do it -- you'll be fine!" is a statement that is often heard and that clearly shows how much the requirements of a leading role are underestimated.

In the worst case the organization loses its best technical specialist and gains an average leader who struggles along and becomes more and more frustrated and discontent. Let alone the impact on employee satisfaction and engagement in his or her team. Obviously, someone who got promoted into a leading role under these circumstances will hardly become a charismatic and passionate leader. He or she will barely be accepted as a role model by followers who want to follow rather than having to do so. The latter is only possible based on good and trustful relationships between leaders and their team members, a proven key element for employee satisfaction and engagement.

Relationships are key

Respectful and appreciative social interactions as well as open and transparent communication are essential if both parties want to collaborate effectively and benefit from each other. This is especially true with generation Y employees, as many studies have clearly shown. Unfortunately, workplace reality often tells another story: Depending on the sector, a harsh atmosphere and tone prevails with managers varying their style between high and low appreciation, if ever. In some cases, the tone can even get loud and rude which in a modern and professional understanding of leadership is simply unacceptable and a clear no-go. The reason for such behavior can often be found in a lack of alternatives, i. e. the manager simply doesn't know how to handle an employee who doesn't meet the expectations or makes mistakes.

Leadership development is crucial

With that being said, systematic development of leadership competencies should be at the top of the list. Fortunately, an increasing number of organizations have already begun to see this potential. Leadership development programs consisting of practical hands-on training events combined with individual leadership coaching have proven to be among the most effective measures, providing lasting and measurable results. In some organizations, every person who is promoted to a leading role will automatically receive an onboarding-coaching program, supporting them in successfully adopting the new role. The results are very positive, as they create a solid basis for the newly appointed leaders, giving them the necessary confidence and certainty right from the beginning.

Human leadership impacts profitability

Especially in high-performing workplaces, as opposed to organizations in which productivity and profitability are below average, statistics show that leaders are not only allowed to lead but also have the ability and willingness to do so, because they feel empowered and possess the necessary competencies. Out of these various elements, the ability of a leader to understand people's motivators, hopes and difficulties and to create the right circumstances and support mechanisms to allow people to live up to their full potential has the greatest correlation with profitability and productivity. Engaged employees will focus their attention on their internal and external customers, which will increase customer satisfaction, which has an impact on customer loyalty and as a consequence impacts profitability. Needless to say, this can create a substantial competitive advantage in today's highly competitive marketplace.

It goes without saying that for many organizations this approach requires a change in leadership culture. An outdated command and control approach that was inherited from the industrial age needs to be left behind. Instead, organizations need to embrace a respectful and appreciative leadership style in which individual development, empowerment and autonomy are at the heart of effective collaboration. I call it Human Leadership.