Over the years, I have often been asked to define what makes a good leader. Most working professionals have a strong opinion about this topic, or at the very least a personal view. I have come to realise that it is not so much the qualities of the leader that make a difference, but the effect the leader has on a company’s culture, and the engagement and determination this leadership inspires in all teams.
Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to achieve common goals. It is about sharing a clear vision, set a steady direction and make all individuals and teams understand the important role they all play in moving the company forward. Today companies are diverse and people have different needs and expectations of their job and the company they work for. Several studies show that the levels of disengagement among employees in many countries are high and increasing. The loyalty that defined previous generations’ relationship to their employer has changed drastically. Today, people need to find a sense of purpose in their job. They also need to feel that they are part of a community, that they have a clear role to play, are recognised for their contribution and that they can leave their own marks. People want to work for an organisation that represents their own values. If they experience a mismatch, they are likely to disengage, lose motivation and often end up leaving.
I believe that a good leader can change this trend. Leadership is about seeing everyone’s potential and empowering your teams to use their entire skillset, give them room to express their ideas and creativity, and work to the best of their ability. This is not only positive for the employee, but highly beneficial for the company as well. Good leadership is fundamental in creating a culture where employees feel empowered to do their very best, think out of the box and dare to speak up when there is a problem.
As leaders, I believe we cannot succeed without the support of our teams. We are a lot stronger and more prone to success when we have their support because they believe in our vision and feel part of it, than if they only follow instructions from their hierarchy. This is why empathy is as important as drive, the ability to listen as crucial as the skill to communicate our own convictions, and the power to learn from failures as essential as celebrating major victories. Authority is not leadership. Leadership is about empowering teams to succeed and creating velocity for growth by capturing the team’s collective IQ, EQ, and their individual capacity to drive outcomes.
I also think that a leader that is passionate about his or her vision and goals makes a real difference. There is a saying that states that, “People with great passion can make the impossible happen”, and this is true also in a corporate setting. Inspirational leaders are passionate people who move beyond the reality of limited thinking. When you are working with someone who has a passion for what he or she does and believes in the goals he or she is trying to achieve, the feeling is extremely contagious. It makes people around them believe that they can achieve anything as well, and the more people that are engaged in their job and enthusiastic about what they are working to accomplish, the stronger and healthier the organisation will be. As Steve Jobs was quoted as saying: “If you’re working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you”.
Women leaders are better at creating a sense of purpose
The important word here is “working”, which is different from thinking, wishing, hoping and believing. If you work towards something, it means that you have passed the initial motivational and awareness stage and you are actually implementing concrete steps and putting real and measurable effort into making a change. Motivation alone will not yield results, just as the ability to motivate people is not in itself enough – leaders need to be empathetic and connect with others to be successful. Passion goes hand in hand with purpose, and both come from within and are defined on a personal level. That’s why it is so important for a leader to be authentic and true to himself or herself. Only then can a leader inspire real change and passion in others.
According to a recent survey on leadership led by employee engagement platform Peakon, women leaders are more successful in creating a sense of purpose within their organisations and are better at communicating their organisation’s strategic goals internally. The differences seen between female and male-led companies could be due to the fact that industries that promote female leaders or attract top female talent might already be higher-performers when it comes to strategy and autonomy. Interestingly, the survey suggests that female leadership might not be the cause of these findings, but the result.
I believe that we need diverse leaders to reach our common goals and create a better work environment and society, with equal opportunities. With more women leaders, we would be able to fight the disengagement among employees in many industries. Women are often driven by a strong purpose, we promote teamwork, we are inclusive and we often put people first. However, women cannot succeed in a world without men; it is the diversity in perspectives that lead to success.
I am very proud to be part of the jury of WFE’s Women Leader’s List 2021, and I encourage women across the WFE member organisations to dream big and set high ambitions for themselves and their teams.