A new era of soft-skilled entrepreneurs?
Are we seeing a new era of soft-skilled entrepreneurs where emotional, ethical and cultural leadership qualities displace harder-edge strategic disciplines?
Read this article to find out!
Are we seeing a new era of soft-skilled leaders?
In a UK survey of 430 SME’s completed by Grant Thornthon ‘risk-taking’ and ‘vision’ rank bottom of the list of 18 leadership attributes that distinguish leaders in the modern business world. Yet when asked what attributes they would like to develop as leaders, vision and risk-taking were ranked as highly desirable.
In the leadership training courses we run we always ask participants what characteristics they associate with leadership. Some 90% of the time our participants would identify vision and risking taking as characteristics of strong leaders (this is particularly true if our participants are business owners). So, are we seeing a new era of soft-skilled entrepreneurs where emotional, ethical and cultural leadership qualities displace harder-edge strategic disciplines?
In today’s compliance and legislative driven business culture the whole area of honesty and integrity is a growing pre-occupation of many businesses of all sizes. In light of recent banking and other corporate scandals where issues of transparency and honesty (or lack there-of) were brought to the fore, it is not surprising that integrity, experience and honesty are ranked top of distinguishable leadership qualities. But as business leaders, are we just trying to protect our corporate reputations and be seen to be doing the right thing when we rank these attributes top of the list. Do we really see the opposite as more desirable leadership attributes. By placing creativity & vision, charisma & motivation, intellect & strategic thinking and risk-taking bottom of the list are we ignoring, to quote Liam Griffin, ‘the real stuff leaders are made of’? Without all these attributes, where does this leave thinking outside the box, creativity and innovation?
While many will bemoan the loss of traditional hard-edge leadership attributes to a more soft-skilled approach, this survey highlights the importance of the ‘Authentic Leader’ in the modern business environment. Effective communication, strong teams and a value set founded on a reputation for honesty, integrity and trust with staff and other stakeholders are the leadership attributes that are most highly valued in today’s business world. These are the attributes of an authentic leader. It does not mean that our leaders have gotten softer and it should not prevent leaders from being innovative, visionary or entrepreneurial. It is merely reflective of the attributes that are required to deliver competitive advantage today. They are the attributes that are required to act effectively and quickly to changes in the operating environment.
As an authentic leader you should keep the following in mind when dealing with your staff and other stakeholders:
1. Authentic leaders are promise keepers, no matter how big or small the promise.
2. Transparency in communication with all stakeholder is essential as an authentic leader.
3. While compliance and conformity are important, in leadership it can sap creativity. Thus, as an authentic leader you should encourage staff to adopt the notion of ‘intelligent disobedience’ i.e. give them the authority to use their judgment (like the way guide dogs are trained to be obedient and conform, sometimes they need to disobey to keep their master out of harms way).
4. As an authentic leader you need to establish a culture that values openness – make it safe for staff to stick their necks out when required for the overall good of the company.
5. When it comes to review time, make sure that you see the person as a real human being. Remember, more trust has been eroded through ill-prepared and thought out performance reviews than any other HR process – it is very difficult to sum up an individual in a form. Two-way communication and a firm focus on feedback through 360 degree evaluation will help trust levels soar.
The problem with the authentic leader style is that we cannot always trust that others are as genuine and as authentic as us. In a competitive marketplace where the development of Sustainable Competitive Advantage is paramount, the hard-edge characteristics of vision, risk-taking, strategic thinking and entrepreneurship are acutely desirable. However, as a rule, leaders must stay true to who they are. So, if authenticity is your chosen leadership style you must balance this with the need to display the more hard-edge characteristics. There are two things you should keep in mind here:
1. Straight talk, self confidence and simplicity are the foundations for substance.
2. Start collecting personal stories that you can use to illustrate and demonstrate your leadership style – what motivates you to lead, what are your leadership characteristics, what is your philosophy of leading?
Declan Byrne is Director of Innovo Training & Development and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org