Do Nice Leaders Get Things Done?

I am delighted this week to feature guest blogger, Mac Farquhar. If you would like to blog on a theme related to The Trusted Executive then please get in touch. Here is Mac’s valuable insight into habit no.6 – Choosing to be Humble:-

How many of us are used to a kinder style of leadership, where the bosses are human, caring and often humble in their interactions with people? Not many I suspect. But a recent article, ‘Are Nice Leaders Effective?‘, by executive coach Tom Loncar reminded me that there are a few well known leaders in the public eye who are like this, such as former US president Barak Obama, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, and Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella. Who would you add to this list? And do you think that managers should give up their caring, human side to get ahead? Let’s look at the evidence for nice leaders getting the job done.

Researchers at the Catalyst Research Centre for Advancing Leader Effectiveness in New York surveyed 1500 employees across six countries. Their report, ‘Inclusive Leadership: The view from six countries’, found that kinder leadership – what they called altruistic leadership – was a critical factor in creating an inclusive work environment. Such environments yield higher engagement and more innovative ideas, and therefore a performance edge for their organisations. Here are the four leadership behaviours the research linked to inclusion:-

Empowerment Enabling direct reports to develop and excel.
Humility Admitting mistakes. Learning from criticism and different points of view. Acknowledging and seeking contributions of others to overcome one’s limitations.
Courage Putting personal interests aside to achieve what needs to be done. Acting on convictions and principles even when it requires personal risk-taking.
Accountability Demonstrating confidence in direct reports by holding them responsible for performance they can control.

Together, these behaviours are part of an altruistic repertoire of leadership. Rather than being motivated by concerns about self-promotion or protecting their own interests, altruistic leaders believe their primary obligation is to support and assist others. I was particularly intrigued by the inclusion of the leadership characteristic of humility which is also habit no.6 from ‘The Trusted Executive’. Think of the most successful leaders in your organization. How highly does humility rank among the attributes these leaders have in common?

humble leader

Humility was one of the most significant indicators, after empowerment, of altruistic leadership in this study. It is also one of the leadership attributes that is most opposed to common notions of traditional leadership. Research suggests that we most readily associate leadership competence with attributes like charisma, self-promotion, speaking up first, and speaking longest. Yet these characteristics may not actually be the “stuff” that makes leaders effective in creating inclusive environments. Humility in leadership means letting go of any tendency to have to be right all the time. Rather than seeing discussions as debates that need to be won, humble leaders use dialogue to genuinely understand and absorb other perspectives. When people feel listened to, engagement and innovation follow more easily. As Simon Sinek, concisely quipped as the title for his latest book – ‘Leaders Eat Last’!

So, back to our two questions: Who would you add to the list of kinder leaders that people might recognise? And do you think that managers should give up their caring, human side to get ahead?

Mac Farquhar is an executive coach who helps leaders rely upon the power of trust rather than trust in power. He will shortly be joining The Trusted Executive Foundation as co-founder and co-director of this new not-for-profit organisation. The purpose of  The Trusted Executive Foundation is to build thousands of Trusted Executives around the globe through their experience of  ‘The Journey of Trust’.

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