March 30th, 2010 | 6:00 am

Aspire: The Leadership Advantage

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aspireBy Elizabeth Harrin (London)

“This new century needs a new generation of leaders who are more transformational and embrace their feminine qualities,” says Dr Samantha Collins, Founder of Aspire, an executive coaching and leadership development consultancy that has recently released a report into successful leadership styles. “The old school style of many politicians and corporate CEO’s is on the way out and transformational leadership behaviours are on the way in.”

“In this latest research it appears that the financial and political events at the end of the last decade have given us pause for thought,” says Catherine Shovlin, Director at Customer Interpreter, a strategic research consultancy which co-produced the report.

The report, Tearing up the Rule Book: A New Generation of Leaders for 2010, introduces the new measure of Leadership Intelligence (LI). LI measures rate your ability to be a successful leader, and what makes a successful leader in today’s economy is not what you would necessarily expect.

What makes a good leader

“Based on our research, the best leaders tend to be female and they tend to improve with age and business or parenting experience,” says Shovlin. You’d think that the most senior people would be the best leaders, but this is not the case. Board members actually had lower LI scores than other managers. And the sector you work in has an impact on how good a leader you are as well.

People scoring highly on the leadership scale often work in the public sector. They opt for jobs that will make a difference, in companies that make a difference. In short, the best leaders are those who are personally invested in the work that they do.

“Women appear to be less of a gamble when it comes to LI,” says Shovlin. “Their variance is significantly less than that of men and they are less affected by the sector, seniority level or working patterns.”

The New Generation Leader

The authors identify a new type of person at the top, which they call the New Generation Leader. Successful leaders in the new world have high levels of emotional intelligence, promote teamwork and empowerment, and are committed to seeing the long-term picture.

This, the authors say, is a completely different approach to the aggressive short-term management style that some commentators have linked with the economic downturn.

It’s probably too soon to categorically say that the financial crisis has resulted in a fundamental shift in leadership styles. However, it is clear that the behaviours valued in our leaders centre around integrity and vision – much of which was lacking from financial board rooms around the world.

Female styles are in

Transformational behaviours – like communication skills, and fostering team work – have often been seen as ‘feminine’ traits. The Leadership Intelligence model puts these at the heart of being a successful leader, along with ethical decision making. Out goes the old-style view of command and control, and in comes a style more suited to a sustainable future. There is also a clear focus on achieving balance by managing incremental change and encouraging a culture of continuous improvement – instead of large-scale, radical actions.

The researchers point out that while these behaviours may be associated with women’s leadership styles, the best leaders apply these behaviours regardless of gender. Male leaders who adopt empowering, team-building approaches are equally rated as successful leaders.

Top leadership strengths

The researchers surveyed over 300 leaders from 30 countries, 60% of whom were working at Director to CEO level. The detailed results showed that what people think of as the top leadership strengths change as we get older. For example, women over 40 value strategic thinking, but this wasn’t such a highlight for other age groups.

Flexibility was considered a top strength by senior women, and women working independently (whom you might think would value flexibility) rated communication skills.

Mentoring is often considered a great skill to have – and to be on the receiving end of. However, mentoring was one of the lowest rated leadership skills. Being able to raise your profile and finding role models were also not highly rated. Perhaps leaders feel that they don’t need to do these things in their roles – after all, they are leaders already.

Tips for doing it right

Leading a team is a tough job, especially if your own leader isn’t terribly inspiring. But you can set aside your personal challenges and be a great example for your team. One of the tips that came from the research was to create a vision for your team, whether or not one exists at the corporate level. This helps your team believe in you, and positively tackle the challenges they face, because they see that you support the team vision or strategy.

Your vision should include an idea of the end state – where you want your team to end up. Then let them get on with it. Don’t dabble in the details unless you are asked for help. This empowering approach gives team members the space to be able to achieve the common objectives without feeling stifled.

Making this work requires excellent communication skills, both from yourself and from others in your team. If you expect action as a result of your message, make sure that you are very clear and that the communication has been understood.

None of this is exactly new. Good managers and leaders have been around for a long time. However, it’s interesting to note that some of the undervalued skills we always knew were great leadership qualities are now getting the recognition they deserve.

“The time for a new rule book is here and women and men who operate with the highest integrity, think beyond short term profit, have a vision for the future and are not afraid to prioritise their family and personal life will not only survive but thrive in a new decade,” says Collins. “This is a new era for women as leaders.”

4 comments

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  2. Monique Svazlian

    Very much agree with the research findings – well done Aspire! I’m a strong advocate of feminine based leadership, and the timing is now to infuse those concepts into organizations. As women, we need to embody our natural gifts fully and encourage men to embrace them as well!

  3. Janet Hayes

    Thank you for this inspirational research. Can I get a copy of the full report for our Womens Leadership Initiative employee network in my company?

  4. Catherine Shovlin