As we all slowly define our ‘new normal of existence’ within the boundaries of the current pandemic, I have noticed that there is and has been a single constant throughout. There is a collective desire for legitimate leadership. Perhaps you have heard it said that a time of crisis builds character. Nothing could be further than the truth! A time of crisis reveals true character, as fear and uncertainty strip any hollow facade away from those who would claim to lead the wanting masses.
This is not the forum – nor do I wish – to philosophize on the necessary qualities of those who might wish to lead a movement, a resistance, or even a country. That is a whole different book! But in these unsettled times, as people and businesses reinvent themselves all over the world, the uncertain future awaiting us suggests that regardless of what the workplace structure of the future looks like, it is important to consider the traits that are going to be essential for the next generation of ‘Leaders’ to possess.
Do I Have What it Takes?
At one time or another, we have almost all asked ourselves, “Do I have the right personality type to be an effective leader?” Whether you are contemplating your role in a business or social setting, at the office, or perhaps your kid’s little league or softball team, we have all wondered if there is one best personality type that makes a good leader – and am I it?
The answers are yes, there is – and no, there is not. While many so-called experts postulate that it really depends on the job or the task at hand, I would argue that in fact, the job or task is secondary, it really depends on the people you will be leading.
A ‘job’ is what you get. ‘Leadership’ is what you give.
We have all heard of and perhaps even been subjected to Myers-Briggs, Jung Typology, or possibly even the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Each one of these assessments will spit out a code that informs the test-taker of their projected personality type and associated leadership style. While fascinating for the first-time participant, eliciting the giggles and excitement of a carnival sideshow, I find these assessments serve as little more than third-party validation of what we should already really know about ourselves.
The First Key
Herein lies the first key to Leadership in the new age: The Leader already knows and understands their strengths and weaknesses. They acknowledge them, own them, build on them, and are self-aware.
The individual Leader’s strengths and weaknesses have their foundations in personal values, and just as every company has a reputation (an outward projection of corporate values), every workplace environment has a personality, a character. These workplace personalities may even differ within the same company – and usually do. Many senior-level executives and corporate boards work hard spending enormous amounts of money to fabricate an image of how they want their company to be perceived – their brand – and more often than not, little to no attention is paid to the internal character of the company. Rather there is an expectation that employees will simply be complicit in towing the corporate line. It is often left up to middle management to figure out how this happens.
The Second Key
Thus, the second key to Leadership in the new age: The Leader must have a deep understanding of the workplace personality, character, and conscience.
Personality is the result of conscious experience and a life lived measured against a set of standards and personal values. Workplace character is an expression of the group conscience. Within the workgroup, even at the lowest rank or task assignment, certain individuals will be apotheosized and emulated by others. Regardless of whether it is someone in a management role or a subordinate, personality influences behavior, establishes our attitudes, and impacts our perception of the things and others around us. Therefore, it should be a small step to accept that in fact, Leaders are not identified by their leadership styles, but by their personalities; their level of awareness of self and others, and their appreciation, understanding, and reaction to diversity and paradox.
The Third Key
The third key to Leadership in the new age: Recognize that while the personality of a leader is important, how those essential character traits combine to make up that personality – those individual strengths and weaknesses – may differ tremendously depending on circumstance, environment, and reaction to the employee pool.
At no time is this more evident – and important – than in a time of crisis. During a catastrophic event, the entire organization is looking to its Leader for assurance, that there is someone in the organization that has command of a situation that is otherwise completely out of everyone else’s control. It is a deep-seated human need to feel you have some control over your life, your destiny, some influence over the things going on in the environment around you, and to feel cared for. When a loss of control infringes on the day-to-day routine, subordinates look to the Leader to protect them. To manage the incident successfully, to move them out of harm’s way, to reduce or eliminate the potential for loss, and to return a sense of normal to an otherwise untenable situation.
The Fourth Key
The fourth key to Leadership in the new age: The Leader must understand collectivism in the modern individualistic workplace as it relates to the most basic needs of the employee.
Some organizations encourage employees to think for themselves, while others promote collaboration above all else. Here in the United States, we are raised to be self-reliant, individualistic, to not depend on others to make decisions for us, and the word ‘teamwork’ has truly become a tired cliché. So why is it that in the event of a true emergency, in the event of a crisis, we look to the Leader for direction on how to collaboratively overcome the difficulty at hand?
Crisis and leadership are inextricably intertwined and both have the potential to complement each other. Thus, for the individual Leader, how they manage a crisis situation can go only one of two ways. Group respect for the leader will either increase or it will decrease. Organizational leaders face crises on a regular basis but we do not necessarily classify them that way. Most Leaders do not think of their day-to-day responsibilities in terms of ‘crisis management.’ Why would they?
The discussion then becomes a question of context. During a time of crisis, regardless of the severity, there is a pronounced degree of vulnerability that accompanies the leader-subordinate relationship. In other words, whether the trusted person will act responsibly with respect to the trustor? There-in lies the fifth and final key to successful leadership in the new age.
The Fifth Key
The fifth key to Leadership in the new age: Mutual trust.
While the desire for strong leadership in a crisis has not always yielded positive results (there are several prevalent recent examples) it does persist, and according to research conducted by Dr. Markus Hasel, that need is more present today than at any time in the past almost 70 years. However, while trust is an antecedent of efficacy and performance, leadership functions as an antecedent of trust. Therefore, the Leader must work on trust every single day, building trust, preparing their team daily for the inevitable single-event catastrophe.
Support, Care & Trust
In this present time more than any time before, whether a remote worker or office-based, the individual employee is seeking a supervisor who can provide support and care. The concept of understanding leadership behaviors that focus on human needs is known as Attachment Theory. The leader is seen as a fireman, a lifesaver, a stabilizing force during the uncertain times when subordinates are most in need of support and protection.
Have you ever noticed how many lists there are promoting “x–number of Qualities That Make a Good Leader”? Considering the psychodynamics of the most common leadership dimensions, at the very heart of every list – often given nothing more than integral or component emphasis – is that of Trust.
This might seem like pretty basic stuff to some of you but if a business is a conglomeration of both individualistic and collaborative effort, what does it really mean to suggest that business leaders are the main source of trust for the organization? That may seem like an obvious question with an equally obvious answer but before you jump to the nearest readymade wrote-learned conclusion, be sure first that you understand exactly what kind of trust it is I am referring to.
Look for my posts over the next few weeks as I unwrap this further and explore each of these characteristic dimensions of leadership in the new age. These short missives may offer some surprising insight and are intended to inform and help you succeed. Then again, considered in the context of this brave new world, perhaps this information will not be too much of a surprise at all.
- Marsiglia, A.J., The relationship between leadership and personality. Leadership and Managements, 2005: p. 1-39.
- Demiroz, F. and N. Kapucu, The Role of Leadership in Managing Emergencies and Disasters. European Journal of Economic & Political Studies, 2012. 5(1).
- Hasel, M.C., A question of context: the influence of trust on leadership effectiveness during crisis. M@n@gement, 2013. 16(3): p. 264-293.