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What makes an effective leader? This question is a focus of my research as an organizational scientist, executive coach, and leadership development consultant. Looking for answers, I recently completed the first round of a study of 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations. Participants were asked to choose the 15 most important leadership competencies from a list of 74. I’ve grouped the top ones into five major themes that suggest a set of priorities for leaders and leadership development programs. While some may not surprise you, they’re all difficult to master, in part because improving them requires acting against our nature.
Giles, Sunnie. "The most important leadership competencies, according to leaders around the
world." Harvard Business Review (March 15, 2016).
What makes an effective leader? This question is a focus of my research as an
organizational scientist, executive coach, and leadership development consultant. Looking
for answers, I recently completed the first round of a study of 195 leaders in 15 countries
over 30 global organizations. Participants were asked to choose the 15 most important
leadership competencies from a list of 74. I’ve grouped the top ones into five major themes
that suggest a set of priorities for leaders and leadership development programs. While
some may not surprise you, they’re all difficult to master, in part because improving them
requires acting against our nature.
Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety.
This theme combines two of the three most highly rated attributes: “high ethical and moral
standards” (67% selected it as one of the most important) and “communicating clear
expectations” (56%).
Taken together, these attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment. A
leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence
that both they and their employees will honor the rules of the game. Similarly, when
leaders clearly communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure
that everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment employees can relax, invoking the
brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.
Neuroscience corroborates this point. When the amygdala registers a threat to our safety,
arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our limbs in preparation
for a fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the social engagement system
of the limbic brain and the executive function of the prefrontal cortex, inhibiting creativity
and the drive for excellence. From a neuroscience perspective, making sure that people feel
safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.
But how? This competency is all about behaving in a way that is consistent with your
values. If you find yourself making decisions that feel at odds with your principles or
justifying actions in spite of a nagging sense of discomfort, you probably need to reconnect
with your core values. I facilitate a simple exercise with my clients called “Deep Fast
Forwarding” to help with this. Envision your funeral and what people say about you in a
eulogy. Is it what you want to hear? This exercise will give you a clearer sense of what’s
important to you, which will then help guide daily decision making.
To increase feelings of safety, work on communicating with the specific intent of making
people feel safe. One way to accomplish this is to acknowledge and neutralize feared results
or consequences from the outset. I call this “clearing the air.” For example, you might
approach a conversation about a project gone wrong by saying, “I’m not trying to blame
you. I just want to understand what happened.”
Empowers others to self-organize.
Providing clear direction while allowing employees to organize their own time and work
was identified as the next most important leadership competency.
No leader can do everything themselves. Therefore, it’s critical to distribute power
throughout the organization and to rely on decision making from those who are closest to
the action.
Research has repeatedly shown that empowered teams are more productive and proactive,
provide better customer service, and show higher levels of job satisfaction and
commitment to their team and organization. And yet many leaders struggle to let people
self-organize. They resist because they believe that power is a zero-sum game, they are
reluctant to allow others to make mistakes, and they fear facing negative consequences
from subordinates’ decisions.
To overcome the fear of relinquishing power, start by increasing awareness of physical
tension that arises when you feel your position is being challenged. As discussed above,
perceived threats activate a fight, flight, or freeze response in the amygdala. The good news
is that we can train our bodies to experience relaxation instead of defensiveness when
stress runs high. Try to separate the current situation from the past, share the outcome you
fear most with others instead of trying to hold on to control, and remember that giving
power up is a great way to increase influence which builds power over time.
Fosters a sense of connection and belonging.
Leaders who “communicate often and openly” (competency #6) and “create a feeling of
succeeding and failing together as a pack” (#8) build a strong foundation for connection.
We are a social species we want to connect and feel a sense of belonging. From an
evolutionary perspective, attachment is important because it improves our chances of
survival in a world full of predators. Research suggests that a sense of connection could
also impact productivity and emotional well-being. For example, scientists have found that
emotions are contagious in the workplace: Employees feel emotionally depleted just by
watching unpleasant interactions between coworkers.
From a neuroscience perspective, creating connection is a leader’s second most important
job. Once we feel safe (a sensation that is registered in the reptilian brain), we also have to
feel cared for (which activates the limbic brain) in order to unleash the full potential of our
higher functioning prefrontal cortex.
There are some simple ways to promote belonging among employees: Smile at people, call
them by name, and remember their interests and family members’ names. Pay focused
attention when speaking to them, and clearly set the tone of the members of your team
having each other’s backs. Using a song, motto, symbol, chant, or ritual that uniquely
identifies your team can also strengthen this sense of connection.
Shows openness to new ideas and fosters organizational learning.
What do “flexibility to change opinions” (competency #4), “being open to new ideas and
approaches” (#7), and “provides safety for trial and error” (#10) have in common? If a
leader has these strengths, they encourage learning; if they don’t, they risk stifling it.
Admitting we’re wrong isn’t easy. Once again, the negative effects of stress on brain
function are partly to blame in this case they impede learning. Researchers have
found that reduced blood flow to our brains under threat reduces peripheral vision,
ostensibly so we can deal with the immediate danger. For instance, they have observed a
significant reduction in athletes’ peripheral vision before competition. While tunnel vision
helps athletes focus, it closes the rest of us off to new ideas and approaches. Our opinions
are more inflexible even when we’re presented with contradicting evidence, which makes
learning almost impossible.
To encourage learning among employees, leaders must first ensure that they are open to
learning (and changing course) themselves. Try to approach problem-solving discussions
without a specific agenda or outcome. Withhold judgment until everyone has spoken, and
let people know that all ideas will be considered. A greater diversity of ideas will emerge.
Failure is required for learning, but our relentless pursuit of results can also discourage
employees from taking chances. To resolve this conflict, leaders must create a culture that
supports risk-taking. One way of doing this is to use controlled experiments think A/B
testing that allow for small failures and require rapid feedback and correction. This
provides a platform for building collective intelligence so that employees learn from each
other’s mistakes, too.
Nurtures growth.
“Being committed to my ongoing training” (competency #5) and “helping me grow into a
next-generation leader” (#9) make up the final category.
All living organisms have an innate need to leave copies of their genes. They maximize their
offspring’s chances of success by nurturing and teaching them. In turn, those on the
receiving end feel a sense of gratitude and loyalty. Think of the people to whom you’re most
grateful parents, teachers, friends, mentors. Chances are, they’ve cared for you or taught
you something important.
When leaders show a commitment to our growth, the same primal emotions are tapped.
Employees are motivated to reciprocate, expressing their gratitude or loyalty by going the
extra mile. While managing through fear generates stress, which impairs higher brain
function, the quality of work is vastly different when we are compelled by appreciation. If
you want to inspire the best from your team, advocate for them, support their training and
promotion, and go to bat to sponsor their important projects.
These five areas present significant challenges to leaders due to the natural responses that
are hardwired into us. But with deep self-reflection and a shift in perspective (perhaps
aided by a coach), there are also enormous opportunities for improving everyone’s
performance by focusing on our own.
Dr. Sunnie Giles is a professionally certified executive coach, leadership development
consultant and organizational scientist. She is President of Quantum Leadership Group. She
has an MBA from the University of Chicago and PhD from Brigham Young University.
... Whereas they seem to be means to the same ends, it makes sense that companies would both search for ethical leaders while also adopting EM technology. Indeed, today's companies routinely emphasise ethicality in the hiring and appraising of their supervisors ( Giles, 2016 )-such as evaluating supervisory candidates on perceived integrity-while subjecting their employees to electronic surveillance ( Gartner, 2019 )-such as desktop software-based monitoring. ...
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Practitioner notes What is currently known? Ethical leadership is a coveted trait in managers because it promotes positive behaviour important to organizational effectiveness. Electronic monitoring has become a popular HR practice as well because it is assumed to also promote positive employee behaviour. Many organisations are currently pursuing an HR agenda of hiring ethical leaders and electronic monitoring, yet oversights in these literature make this a tenuous approach. What this paper adds? Empirical evidence suggesting that many of the benefits of ethical leadership can be undermined by electronic monitoring. Empirical evidence suggesting that electronic monitoring has relational consequences for supervisors and employees where supervisors show ethical leadership. Empirical evidence suggesting that electronic monitoring may have contradictory effects to those advertised by monitoring technology companies. The implications for practitioners: For organizational owners and stewards—in hiring organizational leaders with desirable styles or traits, it is important to also consider the conditions facing leaders. For organizational owners and stewards—implementing an electronic monitoring system should be done on a case‐by‐case basis as it may not be needed under some conditions. For organizational managers—additional efforts may be needed to develop and maintain trust with employees where electronic monitoring is required. For HR managers—it may be important to pay attention to and measure the interactive effects of formal HR practices rather than evaluating them in isolation.
... Such correlations serve as the empirical evidence for the set of high ethical and moral qualities of Daoist water-like leaders. Giles (2016) conducted a global survey by asking 195 organizational leaders worldwide to decide on the most important leadership qualities from a list of 74 qualities and found that "high ethical and moral standard" was the top rated competency for effective leaders. Other research (e.g., Mayer et al., 2009Mayer et al., , 2012Neves & Story, 2015;Ng & Feldman, 2015) also suggested that working under leaders with ethical attributes promotes a wide range of benefits in working behaviors, for example, better work performance, lower levels of counterproductive work behaviors; higher levels of organizational citizenship behaviors, and more ethical behavior within subordinates. ...
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Based on the Daoist water‐like theory in relation to leadership and gender, the current study aims to compare two leadership styles (Daoist water‐like and Agentic) and their relation to the gender role of leaders and the masculine values of perceivers. A 2 × 2 × 2 between‐subjects factorial experiment (leader gender, leadership style, and perceiver masculinity value) was conducted to examine the favorability, empowerment, and democracy (FED) of the leader by using vignettes as stimulus materials. Participants (N = 383) were recruited from MTurk and were randomly assigned to evaluate the leader candidate in the vignette. Overall, the results indicated that Daoist water‐like leadership was perceived as more FED than agentic leadership. Moreover, Daoist water‐like male leadership was seen as the most FED, while the agentic male leadership style was seen as the least FED. Finally, perceivers with low masculine values tended to view the Daoist water‐like leadership as more FED than agentic leadership, while perceivers with high masculine values did not endorse agentic over Daoist water‐like leadership. Implications of the Daoist water‐like leadership in relation to the gender role of the leader and masculine values of the perceiver are discussed.
... It is this connection between sustainable corporate governance and responsible team management, with both serving the organizational project and collective interest, that generates performance, at least where this succeeds in materializing as closely as possible to the level of each individual actor. This can be achieved thanks to managers' dual roles: they carry meaning; and they communicate project values [71]. By ensuring that its daily practices remain verifiably close to the values of the organization, and to the SSE in general, managers reinforce staff members' motivation and involvement by giving them a sense of belonging to an adventure, one rooted in collective solidarity. ...
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This article offers a general reflection on governance and managerial practices within a Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) and suggests that in a time of profound socioeconomic change, it is in SSE companies’ interest to establish global sustainable governance and responsible team management systems consistent with both the values structuring this domain as well as employee aspirations. This a French point of view with a sustainable dimension based on a literature review and on several published studies but not on an empirical approach. In a way it is an essay more than a demonstration. It is a proposal which could lead to methodological work. Here is a first step.
Leadership is a combination of various behaviors exhibited by leaders across various contexts. Leadership studies based on management, industrialization and motivation have been in vogue in business practice. The leadership competencies as cited earlier by researchers include ‘Demonstrate strong sense of ethics and integrity, a sense of Empowering others to self-organize, Fostering Connection, Fostering Growth’ (Giles in The most important leadership competencies, according to leaders around the world. Harvard Business Review, 2016). They are now examined in the perspective of Indian spiritual discourse and would include competencies such as courage, leading with a Higher Purpose, Display extreme empathy and Commitment to selfless action. This paper explores the practices of Leadership Development followed by five large Indian organizations through their leadership frameworks, their competency models, assessment systems and coaching interventions and multifactor leadership questionnaires to get 360 feedback on the behaviors of their senior leaders, besides results of psychometric assessments administered, and behavioral event interviews are done. These are used to describe the effectiveness of these leaders and their strengths and weaknesses. The results from the studies were compared with an organization with leadership development approach inspired by the Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 16 and Patanjali Panchakoshas. The Indian scriptures and philosophy prescribe leadership as an integration of self-leadership, spiritual leadership and professional behaviors. With the COVID-19 pandemic, demands on leadership behaviors have changed. The impact of leadership behaviors on well-being of the employees and other stakeholders has become crucial. The paper ends by recommending a Leadership Model that builds leaders who lead Physical Well-Being, Communication Well-Being, Emotional Well-Being, Intellectual Well-Being and source inspiration from Spiritual Well-Being.
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The present paper sets out to investigate the relationships among several key constructs that cover the work patterns and processes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emphasis is laid on the leader-team communication, the fostering of a strong team culture, team performance and satisfaction with teamwork in the case of virtual teams. The scrutiny is intended to complement recent developments in the field which compared traditional and virtual teams at different levels by adding knowledge to virtual teams’ communication and interaction patterns and processes. In this vein, an online survey was conducted with 175 members from different virtual teams. The findings showed the advancement of a pertinent conceptual model, mostly displaying significant relationships among constructs. Four out of the five formulated hypotheses were validated, the highest influences being reported between leader-team communication and team culture, respectively, and between team performance and satisfaction with teamwork. Furthermore, the structural model explained over 50% of the variance in the satisfaction with teamwork, thus supporting the relevance of the inferred relationships.
Now, more than ever, while facing the worldwide pandemic COVID-19, communities such as Tasmanian cities are anticipating for the build from the ground up after the pandemic passes. Entrepreneurial emergence will play a crucial role in the re-establishing of Tasmania's identity, as these individuals are described as being motivated by opportunities and are recognized by their distinct eye for creation and innovation. Leadership competencies are the underlying characteristics of an individual, which can be demonstrated though knowledge, values, capabilities, and behaviors. With the COVID-19 pandemic depleting our resources and population, the need for individuals with effective and ethical leadership competencies has seen a rise, sparking the research question: How can authentic leadership competencies create and enable entrepreneurial emergence?
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Skepticism toward CSR is increasing. Management research on CSR tends to focus on positive outcomes from the practice of CSR, such as enhanced financial performance and best practice business cases. Less attention is devoted to why CSR is under siege. This paper argues that CSR is intimately connected with the way that capitalism is practiced, and that poor CSR outcomes are often the result of five “shortcomings” of contemporary capitalism: runaway self‐interest, quarterly focus, elite orientation, volume orientation, and one‐pattern capitalism. To evidence this, I employ a two‐stage approach: a “diagnostic” stage that investigates current challenges facing capitalism and how they affect CSR, and a “clinical” stage that identifies potential solutions based on a qualitative data set collected in Asian business contexts. The proposed solutions suggest ways that researchers, practitioners, and policymakers can conceptualize, design, and implement CSR programs that better fulfill CSR’s promise to business and society. Based on these results, I conclude with ideas on how CSR research can be strengthened by exploring the under‐researched linkages among CSR, modern capitalism, and global institutional contexts.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.