Being a team player, embracing diversity, and valuing opposing opinions are key characteristics 21st-century leaders must exhibit to engage and inspire employees, drive progress within an organization, and deliver results.
Martin Inkster, Head of PMI Global Studio, London
In some ways, I feel like an imposter talking about leadership. Why? Because it can be defined in so many ways. It’s never “one-size-fits-all.”
That said, the starting point for any leader who wants to be effective and influential in their role is to lead by example.
We’ve all had experience of leaders failing to turn words and promises into actions. If you don’t follow up on the objectives and goals you set, you risk losing the support and trust of your team—as well as your future credibility. This can lead you down a path that’s difficult—if not impossible—to come back from.
For me, one of the most underrated and important characteristics of good leadership is a confident humility. In other words, having the confidence to put yourself out there, humble enough to know you’re not always going to be right, and able to listen and learn when opinions differ from your own.
This approach will help equip you with the courage to take calculated risks, empower you through times of change, and enable you to navigate those difficult conversations and decisions you face almost every day.
Be a champion of diversity
Like a sports coach, you’re only as good as the team you build. Leadership is not about seeking to raise your profile, but inspiring your team’s collective success. Bringing out the best in each team member will ensure the optimal output of the group.
This is a crucial characteristic for any leader—whether they’re in charge of two people or 2,000. Ask yourself: How do I improve the collective productivity, success, engagement, and enjoyment of the group to drive us to our objectives? Getting this consistently right over the long term isn’t easy, but it’s essential.
Assembling and harnessing a diverse and inclusive team is a key component of driving greater performance. And by diversity, I don’t just mean race, gender, sexual orientation, and any other dimensions representative of our society today—but also in terms of thought.
Teams that look and think the same are likely to be less challenging of any “received wisdom,” less creative, and less productive.
Instead, you need to gather a diverse pool of people with an array of opinions—many of which will contradict your own—to embrace and pursue different ideas and approaches that will lead to breakthroughs and better results. And this can only be achieved by leaders and organizations that make diversity and inclusion a business imperative.
Be an ideas generator
An effective leader is available and approachable, encouraging open conversation, and new ideas, and exploring uncharted avenues.
They will recognize that not all opportunities emerge in what we once called “formal” meetings. Sometimes informal conversations in the office kitchen, by the desk, or remotely over a cup of coffee can be just as productive.
Rigid work structures can make teams feel constrained and less creative. In that environment, leaders are unlikely to spark those instantaneous, urgent, and spontaneous problem-solving solutions and ideas that are so central to innovation and progress. This has proved even more true during the pandemic, where traditional work structures have given way to innovations in how we can achieve our goals as a team.
Part of your job is to create a sense of collective urgency and commitment in a vibrant—but not panicked—way. This helps to harness an environment where everyone supports each other, clear on where the organization is headed and the role that each individual plays.
Be a morale-booster
Engaged, challenged, and happy teams are almost always more productive. And there are few more effective actions to boost morale than valuing and recognizing good work.
Whilst it’s important to acknowledge if targets are missed, leaders should also recognize—and celebrate—the targets their team has hit. All too often, we sprint from one goal to the next without taking the time to take stock of each achievement.
We all fall into that trap, because we’re action-orientated. But we should consistently make an effort to praise teams and individuals when their hard work and dedicated efforts lead to success, no matter whether big or small. After all, nobody—myself included—is immune to being motivated by recognition.
Assembling and harnessing a diverse and inclusive team is a key component of driving greater performance.
Be composed in times of stress
For many leaders, stress is part of the job. As challenging as your job can be at times, it’s vital to stay balanced in front of your team
Of course, everyone’s human, and it’s completely unrealistic to think you won’t feel anxious or uptight at times under intense pressure.
The key is to find the ability to channel that frustration into a more constructive dialogue with individuals.
The solution? It sounds obvious, but take a deep breath, step away from a situation, gather your thoughts, and, if needed, address it later in a more composed manner.
Be genuine and authentic
Good leaders are genuine people who speak with their true voice. They don’t try to be someone they are not.
We can all spot insincerity. It’s unattractive and ineffective.
So, find your voice and style, and be consistent with it. Don’t say something just because you’re under pressure, or stood in front of a group and need to impress. People may smile and nod their heads, but ultimately they’ll walk away shaking them. When you say something, mean it. And when you commit to doing something, do it.
Don’t try to fit the mold of how you think a leader should be—be yourself: genuine and authentic. This is how you’ll engage and inspire others to deliver the best results—benefiting your organization, your team, and society, as you pursue your company’s purpose.
Top photo posed by models. © Getty Images.