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Beyond Bravado – Now Is the Time for Leaders with Humility

How authenticity, wisdom, and diversity in your leadership team pave the way for stronger teams and future growth.

Transformation and Turbulence

Transformation and turbulence – are these the words to sum up 2019 so far? We’re living through the 4th industrial revolution – seeing technology become ever more powerful, organizations embark on ‘digital transformation’, and individuals adapt in order to thrive in the new world of work. Layer on top of the turbulence in the political landscape and it’s not surprising to hear individuals are battling with anxiety and that mental health issues are on the increase. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty.

The role of leaders in uncertain times becomes even more critical. We need strong, directive, decisive leaders to define a vision, promise great success, and build hope. Or do we? Certainly, these are the traits displayed by many of our most visible leaders today (I’m sure everyone will have their own examples from across business and politics to draw upon here!).

Robots are getting closer to mastering communicating a vision, as well as motivating and inspiring others.

Paint me a picture

As humans, we want to believe. We like listening to positive visions of the future. Promises of safer lives, greater wealth and opportunities is music to our ears. We rarely stop to evaluate the likelihood of these becoming a reality, especially if the leader is believable. Peter Harms, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Alabama, reported that most of a leader’s role can now be completed by AI. Robots are getting closer to mastering communicating a vision, as well as motivating and inspiring others; while technology is being worked on to match leadership style to the situation and type of followers. So, what’s left? The human elements. A successful leader uses integrity, is authentic, listens, consults, reacts and responds to others’ emotions, empowers, builds networks, questions data, and ‘logical’ conclusions. They support employees through uncertain, turbulent times and they build high performing teams without simply burning them out or developing destructive cultures. These elements are uniquely human.

Actions speak louder than words

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s recent book ‘why do so many incompetent men become leaders?’ talks to this challenge. He states that most organizations equate leadership potential with a handful of destructive personality traits, like overconfidence and narcissism. “When competent women – and men – who don’t fit the stereotype – are unfairly overlooked, we all suffer the consequences. The result is a deeply flawed system that rewards arrogance rather than humility, and loudness rather than wisdom.”

There are some clear parallels with Chamorro-Premuzic’s research and SHL’s. In our own leadership research, we discovered women perform better when context is considered. Women tend to score higher than men on the measures of leader attributes that are most often related to leader success. Our research found the traits in which women had higher average scores than men tended to be positively related to performance within contexts, while the traits in which men had higher average scores than women tended to have no relationship or even negative relationships with performance within contexts. These higher average scores on so many traits that are positively related to performance translate to a distinct advantage on the context-specific leadership solutions. Women score higher than men on 21 of the 27 contextual challenges we identified.

In our own leadership research, we discovered women perform better when context is considered.

Buck the Trend

The answer is not simply to appoint women into leadership roles. It’s to cut through the bravado, the showmanship, and the political jostling, and make leadership appointments based on the right criteria and objective information about current and future capability. To build cultures that genuinely value and reward humility. We’re heading towards using science to make key leadership decisions, why are we still relying on intuition and feeling to make decisions about who takes on the most critical roles in our organizations?

One organization potentially bucking the trend is RBS. Alison Rose has recently been announced as the successor to Ross McEwan as CEO, the first woman to lead one of the big four banks in the UK. In a recent Financial Times article, Rose’s style has been described as more ‘low-key’ than McEwan’s, and that she has built clear loyalty from her teams. Hopefully, this is a leader not afraid to show her distinctly human traits, relying more on substance than style.

To find out how you can cut through the bravado and make objective talent decisions contact us today!

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Sarah McLellan

Sarah is a business psychologist who spends her days seeking to understand and optimize the power of people to help individuals and organizations flourish. As Director of European Professional Services at SHL, she’s responsible for an international team who design talent solutions to help solve business challenges for hundreds of companies around the world. Sarah has been partnering with organizations for over 15 years, consulting across talent acquisition and talent management. She is passionate about optimizing the role people science can play in shaping the future of work.

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