What Do Great Leaders Have in Common, And How Do You Nurture More of Them?

January 30, 2023 | New Workplace Leadership | 6 min read

When I speak with executives worldwide, three specific attributes are often cited as sure signs of a great leader:

  • Authenticity
  • Inclusivity
  • Empathy

These attributes contribute to less turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and a more flexible institution overall. Broadly, here's how these attributes matter in a business context.

Authenticity: The culture of an organization is a reflection of its leadership. Authentic and engaged leaders inspire others to be involved and genuine. If you're going to lead, people need to see that you can walk the walk.

Inclusivity: It's only possible to grow by exposing yourself to new things. Building diversity of thought into your teams helps those teams iterate fast and overcome challenges faster. In addition, inclusivity ensures your organization reaches the widest possible customer base.

Empathy: Great leaders hold themselves and their teams accountable. You can't do this successfully without empathy. Understanding where your team members are coming from, helping them fail fast, and stay engaged is an essential leadership skill. Empathic leaders connect with their team members beyond business outcomes to ensure good work.

Evolutions in business and technology have spurred change for everyone. Continuous learning and development solutions are proven to drive success.

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A new world demands new leadership skills

Today's working environment is vocal, seemingly always on, and fragile. It's an era of working differently and virtually anywhere--a very different world for the workforce. That means it's a different world for leaders as well. Many leaders already have the skills and knowledge to excite their teams but lack the confidence and resources to lead in such a changeable environment.

Am I doing it right? What does this new environment require me to pay attention to? How do I balance leading in-person with virtually? They don't have answers to all the questions and don't know what they don't know—which can be an unsettling position for a leader.

Authenticity, inclusivity, and empathy are not mystical powers; they are entirely teachable skills, and new and old leaders alike must become competent to adapt to modern business practices. Ten years ago, leaders were expected to have all the answers. We understand that organizations are much more team-oriented today, and effective leadership is more about relationship building. Great leaders reach out into the broader organization to pull in resources or crowdsource the right solution.

If there is one thing we have all learned in the past few years, it's that a crisis can emerge at any time, and it's nearly impossible for a single person to navigate a crisis alone. However, a team with effective leadership has a better chance of steering the company through successfully and building resilience for the future.

Nurturing future-ready leaders with “soft skills”

The talents that great leaders share are often on the softer side, which means that they deal with interpersonal skills, communication skills, listening, and understanding skills. In a business context, these abilities are difficult to measure, so it can be difficult to get a holistic view of if leaders are applying them properly. One very practical way to tell if your leaders have the right skills is to see if business goals and strategies are being effectively executed. Often, failure to achieve goals stems from a lack of communication, understanding, or competency training.

Without the ability to communicate a vision and connect with coworkers, leaders will be hard-pressed to motivate their team effectively. When challenges occur, a great leader seeks to understand the issue at hand and solicits perspectives on the problem to mitigate or eliminate the risk as quickly as possible. And they do it all with solid business acumen, keeping in mind the organizational processes that need to happen in tandem with other work.

It's true that great leaders are made, not born, but how do you measure creativity? How do you test for compassion? How do you ensure your leaders receive the resources that will help them lead?

46% of new employees fail within 18 months, and of these, 89% fail because of a lack of interpersonal skills. Nurturing the next great leader is not just about imparting knowledge; it's about building confidence and strong relationships throughout the organization. An effective way to help leaders build confidence is through coaching. Coaching allows leaders to fine-tune their knowledge, understand their blind spots, and leverage that insight to build trust with their team.

In business, nurturing leaders often means making space to bounce back from challenges, fail fast, and learn from mistakes or disappointments. Great leaders instill a sense of ownership in their team and create a feeling of psychological safety by allowing teammates to communicate their different ideas and experiences.

Organizations struggle with developing effective leaders – and relying on a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership development doesn’t work. When you develop leaders, you need a combination of formal training, personalized coaching, and practice.

Listen to this on-demand webinar with Rashim Mogha, to explore Transformative Leadership and how to develop effective leaders at all levels.

Good relationships build solid businesses

Business has always been about relationships, and today's companies can build a relationship directly with a global customer base. It's no longer about simply providing a product or a service; your business has a brand identity it needs to protect. That identity is often an expression of your company culture. As leaders, you want to ensure it's a culture that resonates with customers and partners but also with employees.

Every member of the team needs basic leadership skills. To succeed in the global marketplace, organizations need to meet the expectations of customers, partners, and employees and be transparent and socially responsible simultaneously. That takes great leadership skills to navigate.

For a while, the global market prioritized tech skills, and that focus led to an explosion of new technologies and ways of doing business. Now we're seeing organizations struggle to hire, keep, and train leaders that can execute those new strategies. Improperly trained leaders don't last. There's a 30% turnover rate per year at the leadership level. This 30% costs the organization time, emotional investment, and 8% of a company's annual revenue.

Effective leaders need effective training

Leadership skills must be present at all levels of your organization; managers and executives that lead authentically ensure their team feels valued, proficient in their role, and safe to explore ideas with the team. But building great leaders takes investment in a solid leadership program with clear business outcomes. Therefore, the leadership programs organizations should look to implement must include a long-term approach. It should be developmental, not supplemental, and must smoothly integrate into how your leaders are already working.

Once you're helping leaders develop knowledge, it's essential to reinforce and contextualize what they're learning, which is best done through coaching. Most critically, if you want your leaders to engage fully in a leadership development program, it must be robust. It must be reactive; you need to make space for your leaders to execute like leaders but still be flexible enough to meet challenges head-on and either learn from failure or accomplish goals despite adversity.

For great leaders to thrive, they must be comfortable sharing their ideas, questioning old processes, or innovating new ways of executing strategy. We all have to rise together in an organization, and tying leadership development programs to strategic initiatives is a smart idea. An organization needs to be clear and transparent with what the expectation is and how leaders should use their skills to strengthen the leadership pool.

Everyone in the organization must be prepared to handle this new technology-driven force entering the workplace. If great leaders do not channel it, it can cause much disruption. Still, when conducted properly, it will help organizations accomplish their long-term objectives, scale and succeed in the global marketplace.

The future of work is here, and for leaders, the skills needed to succeed in today’s hybrid workforce continue to evolve at an exponential pace. To keep up, we must develop tomorrow’s leaders today, and digital coaching will play a crucial function in nurturing leaders at all levels. Check out this on-demand session with Chief Coach & Learning Advisor, Latarsha ‘Coach Tarsh’ Horne to learn how coaching could work for your organization.

Digital Coaching: The future of leadership development