For years, I believed that leading by example was the catalyst to being a great leader. Take all the needed leadership traits and practice them every day.
It served me well, up to a certain point. Trying to be a hero every single day was not sustainable. So, I went on and tried to deconstruct outstanding leadership while experimenting with fresh learning in my own role. I soon realized that these COVID-19 days give us a unique opportunity to rethink leadership as we keep reshuffling the cards.
When asked about “great” leadership, we often think of many dimensions: integrity, courage, decisiveness, communication, ability to delegate, learning ability, respect… These are all essential traits. You can’t lead without them, but what has changed most recently? What are the traits leaders should over-index on?
As the current global crisis keeps decimating so many businesses and industries, we can see a new leadership form emerge. Look around you, and you will notice that successful modern leaders share a few critical traits. You can sum it up to the following three dimensions:
#1 — Over-index on communication and transparency
It’s time for leaders to be incredibly transparent and over-communicate about what’s at stake for their business and where they stand with challenges and opportunities. We often think such communication is vital for team members. And it is. But don’t under-estimate its power to all stakeholders: customers, partners, analysts…
Transparency is hard, especially when things don’t go as planned. But, it’s actually an excellent opportunity for you to review your business vision. Is it still on target? Should you revisit your desired destination? Once you’re clear on it, over-communicate the whole package from your WHY to vision, mission, and strategy to all stakeholders.
Communication is a two-way street. As you engage, think of it as the perfect opportunity to check on your team members, customers, and partners. You should really assess how they fare, what they’re struggling the most with, what keeps them excited.
#2 — Enable and trust your team’s critical thinking
Gone are the days of the old command-and-control model. Great leadership is about true empowerment, bringing inspiration, and developing others’ strengths. With experience, we realize there’s rarely a right or wrong answer. But, I’ve seen the best outcomes when team members came to me with a problem, not asking me to solve it for them, yet soliciting the right questions from me. It takes practice and trust, but this clearly is the best thing you can do to help open their minds and explore more options before THEY conclude.
One example was the launch of a new generation headset at Plantronics. The product was a substantial evolution from an already very successful franchise. We had pressure from partners to launch it at the same price as the older version and replace it. That was the plan of record. The product was exceptional, though, and the first reactions extremely positive. The team was quite uncomfortable with the situation. We all felt we were leaving opportunities on the table. So, I made it clear there were no “sacred cows,” helping the team consider “What if?” scenarios combining different price points and channel strategies. After analyzing for a few weeks, we decided to go with a higher price by 20%. It was a smashing success, and the older version actually stayed in the market for many more years. Double-win!
This story’s moral is that once the team was “allowed” to open up their options, they baked a decision through proper analysis with their own critical thinking. They took in a lot of information, evaluated its relevance and impact. They handled ambiguity and reached the best conclusion they could with what they had at that moment. As a leader, I really didn’t have to weigh in anymore. I had coached them to worry less about coming first hand with the right answer and focusing more on asking themselves the right questions.
#3 — “Humility” is the magic sauce
To help your team get to the right level of critical thinking and have them truly solve the problems at hand, you need to create the right kind of culture and environment. That’s where some form of humility comes into play.
I don’t mean you should have a “low opinion” of yourself. Instead, make it clear to others that you don’t have all of the answers. Recognize the expertise where it is and invite team members to engage in problem resolution with the same mindset. The expertise that lies in your teams is your goldmine. That’s how you can solve the most challenging problems. So, make sure you leverage the collective brainpower.
Interestingly, such humility can co-exist with very different leadership styles and personalities. A fascinating combination is probably Steve Jobs 2.0 (after getting fired the first time from Apple). It shows that ‘humble narcissists‘ can become the best business leaders. Despite his “aggressive” style, Steve Jobs clearly understood the power of the team.
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people”. Steve Jobs
Levels of anxiety, doubt in our future have never been that high in the crisis we’re currently navigating. “Great” leadership can’t solve it all, but it can act as a catalyst to unlock the power of all the talent you have working with you. While enabling critical thinking and serving with humility are permanent pillars for great leadership, the current times demand an extraordinary effort in transparency and two-way communication. Problem-solving is a collective effort, so trust your teams' power and don’t afraid to experiment there.