In the HR departments of companies, big and small, the importance of value-based leadership, diversity, inclusiveness and openness is being touted as core to the success of the company and its main asset, its people. Similarly, headhunters sell their services and their candidates with an emphasis on the soft, human side of the management talent they suggest to their clients for leadership positions. Undeniably, this is the right approach to recruitment, talent development and human resources management.
Why then is there such a large gap between theory and practice? Why do shareholders and boards condone authoritarian, Machiavellian leadership to attain their goals? Why do CEOs often engage in behavior that no book about leadership would ever propagate? Why does society view so many politicians as strong, determined leaders, when these politicians in fact lack the capability of self-censorship or empathy, and are probably woefully insufficient for the job at hand?
An autocratic and self-centered person, who views contrasting opinions as a threat rather than embracing them, is a weak and insecure leader who will never attain the full potential of the company and its people. Strong leaders excel at showing empathy, listening, being self-critical and having the ability to change their opinion based on well-founded arguments. They embrace opposing views and are not fearful of showing their human and vulnerable side. They seek diversity in their teams to supplement their own strengths and neutralize their weaknesses. They are humble and understand that they are there by grace of the team who works with them, rather than the other way around.
Everybody’s opinion matters.
Companies spend inordinate amounts of energy and money on attracting and developing talent. The cost of a talent acquisition and development team is significant. The money spent on headhunters and leadership training can be equally large. Unfortunately, the valuable insights and creative perspectives of many of the talented people being recruited and groomed will never see the light of day. A considerable number of them will end up working in a hierarchy that simply does not value their opinion. Is there a purpose to surrounding yourself with talented people, only to then disregard their point of view? Every single soul in an organization has something to add to its success, whether janitor or executive. Modern, value-based leadership creates an environment that entices all of its associates to share their views. It then takes those views into consideration and includes them in decision-making.
Admit when you are wrong.
All of us make mistakes; oftentimes we are convinced we’re moving in the right direction, despite having made decisions in isolation, either in impulse or without full consideration of the facts. A respected leader is capable of publicly changing his or her opinion based on well-founded arguments, which are encouraged in the inclusive and creative environment the leader has helped foster.
Don’t fear your weaknesses, you are human.
When you stand in front of an audience of your co-workers, few things are more endearing than your ability to show your human side. While you may be the last one in the room to come to the realization, you are no superhuman and everybody knows that. What’s more, you are likely not the smartest or most talented person in that room. You are a valuable and integral part of a team, as are your co-workers. So, it is okay to show your weaknesses, to give testimony to mistakes you have made in the past, to talk about insecurities, or to solicit input and help. It will make you look stronger and more approachable.
Embrace diversity, different is good.
So often in corporate life, those involved in recruiting will focus on a very narrow subset of available talent. Shareholders, boards, CEOs and headhunters will tend to look for clones of what is proven and tested: comparable educational background, in-sector job experience, stereotypical personality profiles. Rather than creating an intellectually challenging environment where professionals can learn from one another’s different cultural, ethnical, professional or educational background, these companies cultivate their narrow definition of talent. The most successful companies and the best leaders do not define talent narrowly or even individually; they strive to compose a team of complementary, yet diverse professionals.
Never be a bully.
The ultimate sign of weakness in a leader is lack of containment. Raising your voice, losing your patience, pounding tables? You just lost the battle. Your associates deserve your respect. They deserve a calm and composed leader, who always puts the interest of the company and the associates before self-interest.
Jozef Opdeweegh, also known as Jos, has served as CEO for over 17 years of global technology, distribution, and supply chain optimization companies with 5,000 to 20,000 employees, public or privately held. Opdeweegh has extensive board membership experience on 4 continents with related and unrelated companies.
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