Effective Leadership: The Key to Productivity and Wellbeing
Overwhelming research evidence, as well as our daily experience, demonstrate the importance of leadership in practically every human endeavor. Be it in government, economy, politics, religion or the community, the huge impact of leadership is undeniable.
Leadership has become even more decisive and clamored for. Sprawling globalization, the recent financial meltdown, deepening employment insecurity, increasing income inequality and the all-invading use of technology have created ever more uncertainty and a compelling need for new directions and reassurance.
Yet, in so many organizations, inspiring leadership is lacking, impairing their performance and even threatening their survival (1).
The good news is that we have learned a great deal about effective leadership from companies that are governed by it, to the benefit of all.
So what is leadership? What are its key dimensions? What are the most effective leadership styles? And can leadership be learned?
Five Critical Dimensions of Leadership
Given its crucial place in our lives, no wonder that there has been so much research and writing devoted to leadership. More than 100’000 books on leadership are listed in Amazon (2) and close to 5 million entries are found in Google!
Clearly, identifying the key characteristics of leadership is challenging. However, five dimensions have emerged which are part of most leadership definitions: Vision, I.Q., E.Q., Creativity and Courage. All appear necessary to succeed as a leader.
Imagine a pentagon with its five axes all interconnected, and in its center, the core of leadership, the personality of the leader.
An inspiring vision is an essential hallmark of leadership. Goals worthwhile to strive for represent a strong driving and empowering force.
It is critical that the desired end-state be delivered with conviction and passion to motivate the followers to buy in and incite them to act. Charisma is often invoked to characterize a communication style that is most persuasive (3). It can be a powerful tool to influence people, but without substance, ethics and integrity charisma can also be destructive (4).
A compelling vision is typically associated with a strategy providing purpose, direction and setting clear objectives and priorities, emphasizing collaboration and teamwork linked to the same goals.
A successful vision is future-oriented and calls for innovation and change. It identifies present problems and unmet needs, proposes meaningful and convincing solutions and attempts to involve everybody.
Intellectual and Technical Competence
While leaders do not necessarily have specialized knowledge in every sphere of the organizations they direct, their general cognitive prowess, their ability to grasp connections and interdependence among multiple factors, as well as their organizational and analytical reasoning skills, represent important assets that help to establish their credibility.
Using strengths-based leadership (Rath & Conchie, 2009) involving workers in what they do best and providing regular feedback, result in higher performance and greater satisfaction.
Emotional and Social Intelligence
Awareness of one’s emotions and self control, as well as interpersonal skills and relationship management are defining characteristics of emotional and social intelligence (Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2013).
Based on over a million EQ profiles in his database, Bradberry (5) has found that EQ scores are higher at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy, such as supervisor or middle manager, and much lower at the executive level, with CEO’s having the lowest EQ scores. However, the top performers within each leadership category were those with the highest EQ scores.
In the end, people drive outcome, so not surprisingly, leaders with a high regard for others, who emphasize collaboration and win-win solutions, are more successful in creating rapport and motivating workers to perform at higher levels of engagement, quality and productivity (1).
Imagination, original ideas and the aptitude to visualize new and more effective approaches, products and services are essential in the drive for innovations without which no organization will survive in the long haul (6).
The ability to anticipate new tendencies, needs and problems in business and society, thinking outside the box, as well intellectual stimulation, challenging followers to find new, more effective ways to do their work, contribute in major ways to the success of any organization.
Openness to new solutions and more effective approaches in all sectors (production, public relations, customer care, human resources…) are essential for thriving in a permanently evolving environment and remaining competitive in a global market.
Last, but not least, perhaps one of the most critical but often missing trait in many people who otherwise possess leadership potentials, is the courage to take charge of an organization and lead others. Their fear of failure may be too strong to overcome, preventing them from venturing into unchartered territory.
Leading change, especially in a crisis, when leadership is all-important for success, entails taking risks and requires demonstrating courage. Self-confidence is indispensable, as is the capacity to anticipate and be proactive.
The Core of Leadership
The center of the pentagon model, linked to all 5 dimensions, is the personality of the leader, representing the inner dimensions or core beliefs and values (7).
Attributes such as integrity, humility and trustworthiness, contribute to the leaders’ capacity to influence their employees.
Optimism and positive feelings of leaders greatly impact their workplace. A positive mindset is contagious. It transmits energy and hope, enhancing the productivity and wellbeing of the team (8).
Ultimately, the leaders’ everyday actions will determine their effectiveness, more than anything they can say or any one trait, style, background or orientation.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Leading by example, walking-the-talk, modeling the behavior you wish to develop in your people, as well as your own lifestyle, will greatly influence your team’s trust in you and its inclination to follow you.
Expressing recognition and appreciation, showing compassion and consideration, keeping employees informed and providing regular and honest feedback will create a bond with your followers. Trusting them, favoring autonomy, coaching your team members and developing their potentials, will all strengthen your leadership (9).
Can Leadership be learned?
Empirical evidence indicates that leadership can be learned and developed (cf. for example Bennis & Goldsmith, 2010; Kouzes & Posner, 2012), but improving leadership skills will involve intense efforts, including reflection, observation, analysis, soliciting feedback and collaboration from the team.
Such efforts need to be congruent with the leader’s core values, identity and personal convictions. Individuals lacking authenticity and inspirational power are unlikely to obtain enduring success.
Those seeking to excel as leaders must take into account all 5 poles of the Pentagon Model, as has been demonstrated by ample research on effective leaders, as well as by employees’ profiles of their ideal boss which have revealed large agreement of desirable characteristics (9).
Effective Leadership Styles
Over the years, numerous leadership theories have been proposed. Transformational leadership (Bass & Riggio, 2005), which studies have shown to be among the most effective leadership models, includes all 5 dimensions together with the core of the Pentagon Model. So does Integrative Leadership (Scouller, 2011), a promising new model that incorporates previous theories, but focuses on inner values and leadership presence, as well as providing a complete psychological theory of leadership.
These conceptions are in sharp contrast to transactional leadership, unfortunately still largely dominating. This approach, which emphasizes rewards and punishments to obtain compliance from people, has clearly shown its limitations.
The question also arises at what level someone may be fit and feel comfortable to assume a leadership role, given the fact that leaders are sought at all organizational levels –– be this for a team, at a departmental or divisional level, or at higher executive echelons (10).
Of course leaders can be found in any group, without having been designated for a hierarchical position. Individuals emerge as leaders because of their personal qualities without any title and, inversely, persons with official executive functions, lacking these qualities, may have little impact.
- Inspiring leadership, despite its crucial importance for employee engagement and wellbeing, productivity, talent attraction and retention, as well as innovation, is lacking in many organizations.
- Five critical dimensions of effective leadership have emerged across ample research evidence: Vision, intellectual competence, emotional intelligence, creativity and courage.
- The core of leadership is represented by the leaders’ personality, values, ethics and beliefs.
- The leaders’ integrity and authenticity as reflected in their everyday actions determine their impact on the followers and the organization.
- Leadership can be developed by increasing self-awareness of one’s values and behavior and by strengthening each of the 5 critical leadership dimensions. Comprehensive feedback and personalized coaching have proven to be particularly helpful in this effort.
- For organizations to flourish it has become essential to select the right leaders and make continuous leadership development a priority.
Bass, B.M., Riggio, R.E. (2005), Transformational Leadership, Psychology Press.
Bennis, W., Goldsmith, Joan. (2010), Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, Basic Books, 4th edition.
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., McKee, A. (2013), Primal Leadership, With a New Preface by the Authors: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Harvard Business Review Press; 10 Anv. edition.
Kouzes, J.M., Posner, B.Z. (2012), The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, Jossey-Bass; 5th edition.
Rath, T., Conchie, B. (2009), Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, Gallup Press.
Scouller, J. (2014), The Three Levels of Leadership, Management Books 2000 Ltd.
Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, PhD Director, Management Training & Coaching, MTC