‘Modern management theory’ has always posited that great leaders can be made. There are a number of key traits that an individual must be able to demonstrate in order to be a truly great leader. When you meet such a person, they invariably embody certain traits that naturally get the best from others. In today's ever-changing and challenging environment this ability is more important than ever.
Many businesses are experiencing disruption on a grand scale due to changing customer behaviour and increased competition. Positive disruptions from technology, from CRM systems to digital self-service, offer opportunities alongside potential threats. The political landscape also drives disruption for example; the Brexit result and the election of Trump as US President.
A strong leader needs a range of specific traits that will help them to successfully steer their organisation through disruption, particularly focusing on successful change management in an uncertain new world. Below are four key traits that all great leaders demonstrate:
Excellent communication skills are absolutely essential. Great leaders proactively communicate with all stakeholders, sharing authentic messages, rather than simply relying on approved soundbites from the corporate PR team. Employees are likely to feel confused and worried about the impact of disruption on their jobs and the future, and leaders should be able to reassure without making false promises.
A great leader must be trustworthy, honest and transparent; all traits that naturally inspire confidence from stakeholders and demonstrate an individual with strong values. When operating in a disruptive environment, this honesty will help to build trust and confidence from those who are unsure and worried about the implications of change. United Utilities saw several CEOs change hands. In order to steer the company through a sizeable change programme, each newcomer rapidly gained support by demonstrating transparency, honesty and trustworthiness to the board, staff and customers alike.
Great leaders will delegate, invariably knowing that their success is largely driven by having a great team around them. Their high level of self-awareness means that they do not attempt to be experts in everything; instead they hire experts, delegate relevant tasks, and listen to their advice before making decisions that steer the company. Great leaders are also great listeners and hear what their team are telling them about the disruption the business is facing and the possible courses of action.
Confidence and a sense of humour are two wonderful traits to demonstrate in a disruptive environment. Making difficult decisions, sometimes with imperfect or incomplete information, is a leader's job, and one who can use appropriate humour will be able to gain stakeholder support. Disruption is challenging and it can be wearing trying to steer a business through a complex and unclear set of challenges. A great leader will be committed to their course of action will inspire others by demonstrating a positive attitude.
Aligned to these skills, great leaders will navigate change and uncertainty in the industry by demonstrating excellence in softer skills such as intuition, creativity and approachability. Listening to the all-important gut feel alongside analytics and recognising that creative solutions must consider people as well as resources.
Change will always be a feature of business, and disruptive environments magnify and accelerate the pace of change. Strong leadership is needed to steer organisations through difficult paths. When supporting our clients in appointing senior leaders we always consider the above traits in tandem with the specific skills and experience required for the particular position, to ensure a strong addition to the business.
Marisa Williams is a Principal Consultant specialising in recruiting senior management and leadership positions across the Energy & Utilities sector at Berwick Partners.
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