If asked what makes a good leader, few would say “someone who tells me what to do and makes all the decisions”. And yet far too many leaders still take this ‘old school’ approach, viewing leadership as being about authority and power. Although this approach was typical twenty years’ ago and so was rarely challenged, today’s generation are rejecting traditional models of leadership outright. In fact, leaders who exert control over their teams are not only alienating today’s employees, but are negatively impacting all aspects of the business, from staff turnover and productivity through to revenue growth. Organisations that permit traditional styles of leadership are therefore putting their entire businesses at risk. Here, I explain the pitfalls of the ‘boss’ mentality and the leadership changes companies must make to ensure their survival.
The impact of leadership
Business leaders are fundamental to workplace culture and the employee experience. They hire their teams, set the tone, provide direction, are responsible for communicating the company’s purpose and values, affect wellbeing, give (or don’t give) appreciation and impact growth and development. If leaders are inspirational, focusing on mentorship and collaboration, they can drive organisational success. Conversely, if leadership is about giving a dangerously high percentage of decision-making power and control to a small percentage of designated leaders, everything about the business culture will be negatively impacted and the results could be disastrous.
The ‘controlling leader’ effect
The 2020 Global Culture Report from the O.C. Tanner Institute, which researched 20,000 employees and leaders worldwide, found that over half of leaders won’t give up control of anything. In addition, only 26 per cent of employees feel their leader encourages collaboration, highlighting the sorry state of leadership in 2019.
When leadership is associated with authority and power, leaders tell their teams what to do, discouraging independent thinking and innovation. Employees don’t feel as though they have a voice. They don’t view their work as having any real impact on the ‘bigger picture’ and development opportunities are few and far between as ‘the boss’ will fear relinquishing power. The result will be a workplace with disengaged and resentful staff, little innovation, high staff turnover, chronic stress and poor revenue growth.
The traits of great leaders
Rejecting ‘old school’ leadership can turn around a company’s fortunes. By forcing organisations to rethink and reshape the way leaders lead, instead viewing leaders as inspiring mentors, advocates and influencers, this can create a positive, innovative and flourishing culture.
Great leaders aren’t about power but exhibit humility. Rather than being a ‘boss’ or ‘micromanager’, an effective leader collaborates with their team, shares leadership and provides mentorship. They care about their team’s health, goals and aspirations and work hard to connect with them, helping them to grow and succeed. The best leaders show their appreciation, regularly give recognition and continually provide support, encouragement and advice. And employees with great leaders will understand their value to the business and how they contribute to the ‘bigger picture’. They’ll be encouraged to reach higher and dream big. Ultimately, great leaders will leave an inspirational legacy and a thriving business.
Challenging the status quo
It’s easy to underestimate the impact just a few leaders can have on the fortunes of an organisation. However, the qualities and behaviours of leaders are instrumental to a business’s success or failure, and research shows that companies which maintain traditional leadership approaches have poor employee experience and engagement scores. In fact, they are poor in all areas of workplace culture including company purpose, opportunities, organisational success, appreciation, wellbeing and of course, leadership. Such businesses also have a decrease in odds of growing revenue and increased odds of laying off employees. With such compelling evidence, it’s time companies rejected the ‘old school controlling boss’ model of leadership in favour of leadership that advocates humility and collaboration.
Not only will employees thank you for it but your business depends on it.