Written by Dan Hughes, Director of International R&D
In our series of blogs about Talogy’s international research study on leadership, we’ve explored a range of important topics:
- 6 ways leaders need to address changing employee expectations
- Lessons learned from the pandemic (part 1) – leadership strengths
- Lessons learned from the pandemic (part 2) – leadership development areas
- Five toxic leadership behaviors which harm the employee experience
- Top leadership challenges for the next five years
These research findings provide insights into how expectations of leaders have shifted because of the pandemic, the impact of toxic leadership behaviors on the employee experience, and key challenges that leaders are likely to face in the coming years. To wrap up this series, we’ll explore what effective leadership needs to look like in the future based on these evolving demands and expectations.
People-centered leadership in practice
Overall, the results across the various research themes in our study emphasize the need for leaders to adopt a more people-centered approach moving forward. At the same time of course, leaders must balance this with the necessity of delivering organizational results and, where required, driving business transformation. However, a key insight from our research was that employees and leaders reported it is largely the same leadership behaviors that drive achieving results as well as creating a positive employee experience.
Our research highlighted six key behaviors that leaders need to focus on to provide more people-centered leadership. These six behaviors each directly meet a core need employees have at work, which were described in our previous blog about changing employee expectations of leaders.
- Inspiring, motivating, and engaging people
- Empowering people to deliver
- Fostering collaboration, trust, and respect
- Demonstrating authentic leadership characteristics
- Coaching and developing people
- Showing empathy and compassion
Many employees are looking for organizations that have an inspiring purpose and vision that they can personally engage with through their work. Leaders need to focus on creating this meaning and purpose for employees – giving them a ‘why’ to their work and providing a clear line of sight between what they do and the overall goals of the organization.
Scientific research indicates that meaningful work is strongly associated with employees having higher work engagement, commitment, and job satisfaction.
With more teams now functioning as hybrid or remote, it will become more important than ever that leaders empower their employees, putting their trust in them to find the best way to achieve organizational goals. Leaders need to recognize that the complex problems they are facing today can no longer be solved by the ‘heroic leader’ that always has all the answers.
From an employee perspective, this is also important because autonomy is a fundamental psychological need. Research evidence suggests that leaders who adopt an empowering leadership style are more likely to have positive, motivated employees who perform better.
For organizations that have moved to a hybrid and remote working model, this creates a challenge for leaders in terms of building and maintaining collaboration. Leaders need to find the most effective ways to foster team spirit, connection, and inclusion between team members working remotely. This is important because feeling a sense of relatedness is another basic psychological need that helps to encourage intrinsic motivation at work.
Beyond this, leaders need to think carefully about which activities may benefit from being worked on in-person and which are just as effective in remote settings. For example, virtual communication may inhibit creative activities like idea generation.
Now more than ever, there is increased focus and expectations around a leader’s character and values. Being open, authentic, and honest, as well as demonstrating a clear moral compass are essential ingredients to build trust, loyalty, and commitment in the workplace. Leaders who behave unethically, such as lying or treating people unfairly, lose credibility quickly with their employees.
A leader’s own integrity and behavior is also important for setting standards within the organization and building an ethical culture. Leaders need to hold themselves accountable for setting the right example for employees to follow.
To address the challenge of retaining talent, leaders must look for opportunities proactively to help employees grow and develop within their organization. People are more likely to feel intrinsically motivated when their role provides them with an opportunity to build their competence and mastery – a third basic psychological need.
Additionally, effective coaching from leaders should also increase individual and team performance. Leaders should provide regular, constructive guidance and feedback to help individuals build on their personal strengths and improve their development areas.
The pandemic accelerated the focus on well-being in the workplace and leaders have a critical role to play in supporting positive well-being for their employees. The most effective people-centered leaders during the pandemic recognized the emotional stress and anxiety that individuals and teams were under and showed genuine care and concern towards their challenges.
Leading with empathy and compassion is important because, according to a recent report from the UK Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development, stress remains one of the leading causes of absence at work, and management style has been identified as one of the most common causes of stress by employees.
Setting leaders up for success in the future
Based on our research, these six attributes lie at the heart of effective leadership, according to both employees and leaders themselves. Each of the six attributes supports a core need which employees have in their work: to have purpose and meaning, autonomy, connectedness, trust, opportunity to develop, and genuine concern for their well-being. For many leaders, this will require them to reflect, adjust, and evolve their approach to be successful in the future.
Leaders who can demonstrate them consistently will be well set to provide a more people-centered leadership approach moving forward. In turn, this will enable leaders to navigate the key challenges they are likely to face in the future and achieve sustainable success both for their organization and their employees.
To read our full research report about ‘Leading in the Future World of Work,’ download a copy here.