Leader or boss? The difference is in the approach
There are countless comparisons between an effective leader and a mere manager. A common visual you’ll find splashed across the internet is a split image of a scenario handled by two different individuals: a ‘boss’ and a leader. The boss is typically seen barking orders at employees who are expected to lug the weight of the boss, while the leader is seen down on the ground with employees doing the grunt work and leading them on which way to go.
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The image portrays how a leader gets involved in the work and stays focused on inspiring performance, while coaching the best out of the team. Additionally, leaders tackling today’s complex set of challenges are expected to embody a more human-centred model of ‘responsible leadership’, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) study. Instead of just generating results for the business bottom line, leaders are required to showcase capabilities across five attributes:
- Stakeholder inclusion - Leaders need to ‘safeguard’ trust, showcase accountability, and create positive impact for all. This requires considering diverse stakeholders when making decisions and fostering an inclusive environment where diverse individuals have a voice and feel they belong.
- Emotion & intuition - Unlock commitment and creativity by being truly human, showing compassion, humility, and openness.
- Mission & purpose - Advance common goals by inspiring a shared vision of sustainable prosperity for the organisation and its stakeholders.
- Technology & innovation - Create new organisational and societal value by innovating responsibly with emerging technology.
- Intellect & insight - Find better paths to success by embracing continuous learning and knowledge exchange.
Younger workers especially believe that leadership decisions in the coming decade will require a balanced approach that cuts across all five areas. All this doesn’t mean that financial performance is no longer vital to business success. In fact, the study found that responsible leadership is linked with higher financial performance. Companies that showcase higher levels of innovation and trust outperform competitors financially, research showed. HRD finds out what it really takes to be a great leader in today’s disruptive world.
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Able to manage change
In a study by Deloitte, about three in five executives said that leadership was important to prepare for unknown futures – the top-ranked priority for supporting preparedness in a crazy, uncertain world. “And while much of leadership has historically been about setting direction and ensuring compliance, now effective leadership is shifting to preparing for the unpredictable by coaching, teaming, and fostering workers’ ability to learn and adapt,” wrote the study on global human capital trends.
According to Deloitte, effective leaders are the ones who consider the following:
- Job evolution: How often are jobs changing, which ones, and to what degree?
- Future workforce readiness: How ready is the team for the future of work? How do you close any capability or skills gaps?
- Change ability: Are you and the team able to quickly adapt to change?
- ‘Future leader’ readiness: Do your leaders have what it takes to succeed in the future?
As disruption becomes the norm, leaders who showcase the potential to succeed in their roles are the ones who can collect real-time information, reassess the company’s and employee needs, and translate it into ‘meaningful action’.
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A good communicator
And with constant change, leaders need to be adept at developing trust. The best way to do it? Through clear and effective communication. Unfortunately, Edelman’s annual trust barometer this year found that over half (56%) of employees mistrust business leaders. Regardless, companies have emerged the most trusted institution (61%), compared with governments, with employees citing communications from ‘my employer’ as their most reliable source of information.
Despite this, Adrian Warr, CEO of Edelman Hong Kong and Taiwan, market growth Thailand explained that it’s okay if a leader is not a ‘great communicator’. He said that many individuals get promoted into leadership roles because they’re brilliant at their jobs or simply “fantastic people”. “They don’t all have to be great communicators, but they have to have an authentic style of communication,” Warr told HRD. “Doing what’s right for that leader and the type of company is far more important than following some kind of formulaic approach.”
Good communication also needs to be relevant. “It’s about understanding,” he said. “It’s very basic communication stuff but it’s communicating in a way that’s relevant to your audience rather than the business.”
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Shows compassion and empathy
Besides trust, the ability to showcase compassion and empathy is highly crucial to ensure a positive employee experience. Time and again it’s been said that employees leave bad leaders instead of their jobs, but what does a compassionate leader look like? “Compassion is composed of different elements,” said Evan Harrel, chief operating officer at the Center for Compassionate Leadership (CCL). “It’s composed of awareness – you have to be able to see what’s going on around you,” he told HRD.
“It’s composed of a connection – you have to be able to see what’s happening with the other person in a way that makes you feel like you’re interested in knowing about them and helping them. You have to be aware in a non-judgmental way, then you can begin to feel what they’re feeling, which is empathy.
“The final step in compassion is action or the desire to try to make a difference. So, what compassionate leadership looks like to employees is an understanding of their circumstances, and when those circumstances are challenging, you have a desire to figure out how to improve them.”
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Finally, leaders who can inspire purpose in their team members can motivate and engage them for “years to come” compared with the short-term impacts of company benefits. Inspirational leaders thus have an advantage over other potential leaders. But it’s harder to do than one might think, shared Jessica Simpson, human resources director at Amgen Singapore Manufacturing.
“You have to come at it from an individual lens, thinking about what drives your staff today to want to be motivated and commit and give back,” she told HRD. “A purpose-led mission is crucial for companies and the staff that work there. And if you can do it well, you will be able to really drive engagement in a way that will sustain you and the company for years to come.
“I think the hard part is: how do you individualise it because right now we are in such a diverse time – we have a multi-generational workforce. What is inspiring to somebody who’s close to retirement may be different than what an early career professional is interested in. So you really need to think about the different types of hooks or the different types of incentives that will be meaningful and the type of activities of work that is meaningful to different types of people. Same thing with diverse ethnicities and genders.
“It’s just critically important that we understand we have a diverse group and that we need to build purpose that is meaningful to everybody. And then once you do that you’re able to really make an impact in their lives.”