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The 5 characteristics of a good leader

September 15, 2022 | Blog | 7 minute read

The modern work world looks significantly different than it did fifteen years ago (or even five years ago). The emergence of advanced digital technologies has dramatically changed both customer and employee expectations, while successive crises like the 2008 financial recession and the COVID-19 pandemic have forced companies to stay on their toes and learn to react in real-time.

As these changes have shaken businesses to their foundations, the most successful leaders have learned new skill sets to become better equipped to handle emerging challenges. In particular, empathy, communication, decision-making, resilience, and delegation constitute the 5 characteristics of a good leader in today's business environment.

What makes a successful leader in the modern work world?

A strong sense of collaboration and a commitment to psychological safety are among the shared themes that link each leadership characteristic together. The old, command-and-control leadership style that characterized successful organizations a few decades ago is now outdated and obsolete, unable to meet the needs of employees or the demands of the market.

Employees don't just want to show up to work, work through tasks and go home (or log off). They want to feel like a valued part of a larger mission they can believe in. Additionally, they want their employers to respect and accommodate their personal lives by offering fair compensation packages while also providing the flexibility that enables them to tend to nonwork priorities in a remote work setting. According to a survey from Bankrate, 55% of employees now say flexibility is their top workplace priority.

The 5 characteristics of a good leader

The following leadership traits are among the chief qualities that constitute great leadership in today's business environment.

Empathy

Roughly 9 out of 10 employees see a link between job satisfaction and empathetic leadership, according to a survey from EY. Empathy refers to the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel and to see things from their point of view. Empathetic leaders are able to examine circumstances from the perspective of others and understand their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes toward a given situation. Empathy is critical to good leadership because it creates an open and psychologically safe environment that lets each team member express their authentic self free from judgment.

Pros:

  • Empathetic workplaces make each employee feel valued, respected, and safe, which is important to satisfaction and engagement.
  • These types of work environments are typically more innovative because they encourage employees to bring new ideas to the surface without fear of judgment or punishment.
  • Organizations with a strong culture of understanding and compassion are better able to attract, hire, and retain top talent.

Cons:

  • Empathetic leaders might become too bogged down in the personal lives of their employees, making it harder for them to focus on their own responsibilities.
  • Leaders might become too close personally with their direct reports, hindering their ability to make difficult decisions, like passing someone for promotion.
  • Excessively investing in the emotional needs of others can also be draining, and this can create undue stress for the empathetic leader.

Communication

Strong communication skills are a critical competency in the toolkit of an effective leader. This skill enables great leaders to convey ideas, visions, and strategies, while at the same time building a shared sense of community and purpose on the team. In particular, listening — a critical communication subskill — helps strong leaders accept and incorporate input from colleagues to improve their performance as a whole.

Pros:

  • Employees don't want to feel like simply a number or a cog. Strong communication ensures that they are heard, making them feel like a valued part of the team.
  • Good communication skills ensure goals, plans, and expectations are conveyed clearly and accurately across the whole organization, creating a strong sense of alignment.
  • An open style of communication leads to a culture of general openness in which employees feel free to share their ideas, concerns, and perspectives without fear of reprisal.

Cons:

  • While there are few disadvantages associated with good communication, poor communication (like messages that go out too quickly or without coordination) can lead to apathy and a sense of confusion among employees.
  • A lack of communication manifests in poor conflict resolution skills, which can cause tension between individuals, teams, and departments to simmer if left unaddressed.
  • When organizations aren't bound together by strong communication, cliques and favoritism can emerge, further deepening division and fostering intense rivalries.

Decision-making

Ultimately, your leadership team is your organization's final decision-maker. Whether they head a team of five or sit atop the organization in the C-suite, leaders are the ones who must assess all the information at their disposal and make a decision that is in the best interests of the organization.

Pros:

  • Put simply, great leaders know how to get things done. They don't ruminate over decisions for longer than they need to, ensuring everyone around them can complete projects and advance goals.
  • Strong leaders are also good at staying committed to a decision once it's made. They don't falter and avoid the trap of looking for the best of both worlds.
  • Ultimately, because they don't get tied up in the decision-making process, organizations with decisive leadership are more productive and efficient.

Cons:

  • Leaders that are too quick to make decisions without forming a broad-based consensus risk alienating other stakeholders with direct (or indirect) interest in their decisions.
  • A deliberative approach to decision-making is advantageous, but too much deliberation can cause leaders to become indecisive and unable to advance organizational goals.
  • Leaders should also avoid becoming over-decisive, taking an inflexible approach to their decisions and refusing to adapt when new information is gained.

Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of resilience to the success of modern businesses. Despite the eventual end of the public health crisis, businesses will still need to have resilient processes and plans in place to withstand unexpected crises with the least operational disruption. Doing so not only helps to preserve their long-term growth and success, but also demonstrates to employees that they can feel confident and secure in their leadership's ability to overcome serious challenges.

Pros:

  • The most successful resilience strategies are the ones that turn inward and focus on supporting employees throughout a crisis.
  • Employees that feel cared for and supported are much more likely to stay in their roles despite disruptions, creating needed stability for organizations in crisis.
  • Organizations that successfully withstand a crisis are better prepared to overcome new challenges again in the future.

Cons:

  • The main risk associated with resilience is that organizations can slip into always-on crisis modes, creating a constant sense of uncertainty throughout the business.
  • Businesses that are over-resilient risk losing their humanness, weakening their connection to employees on a personal level.
  • The stress, overwork, uncertainty, and insecurity that are associated with highly resilient work environments can lead to burnout, absenteeism, and churn.

Delegation

Many leaders struggle to delegate assignments and responsibilities to other members of their staff. This is particularly true of leaders who level up from one leadership position to the next, like when a sales director becomes the CRO and must now focus on the priorities of the entire organization as opposed to just the sales department. However, delegating tasks appropriately is critical to the efficient operation of both leadership teams and the organization at large.

Pros:

  • Delegation of authority helps build trust and confidence between leaders and each team member, creating tighter, more productive bonds.
  • Spreading responsibilities around and trusting employees with challenging work takes the pressure off individuals to deliver more than they are capable of, allows employees to grow and develop, and keeps engagement and satisfaction high.
  • Delegation also creates space between leaders and their teams, giving direct reports the freedom to manage their responsibilities in the way they feel is more appropriate.

Cons:

  • A failure to delegate can cause even a great leader to become overburdened with other team members' responsibilities, leading to excessive stress and eventually burnout.
  • On the other hand, too much delegation can make it seem like a leader is avoiding doing hard work, causing frustration and even resentment.
  • Leaders might also pass off responsibilities to another person that they themselves are best suited to complete, putting the quality of work at risk.

Enhancing your leadership skills: The Bailey Group approach

At The Bailey Group, we apply the elements of our coaching method to our own internal leadership style, giving us an intuitive understanding of key challenges and solutions. We take a holistic approach to leadership coaching. Our coaching bench consists of both psychologists and former business executives to give our clients access to the broadest range of expertise and resources.

At the beginning of our relationship with clients, we ask probing questions to get to the root of their challenges. Backed by findings we collect from science-based assessments and conversations with their colleagues and managers, we build a complete picture of our clients' leadership profiles, which we use to establish a set of defined goals. From there, we work in an ongoing capacity to help them meet their objectives, identify new opportunities for improvement, and overcome challenges as they arise.

Our coaches are committed to meeting clients where they are, which is important to our collective success. We never approach an engagement assuming we already know the single best approach; instead, we take the time to listen to our clients' concerns and objectives and work with them to find a strategy that is best suited to helping them become a better leader.

Check out our blog for more leadership insights from our team of executive coaches, and reach out to our team to schedule a free consultation today.

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