Leadership Traits For The ‘Next Normal’

By Kiran Tuljaram|21-12-2021 | 7 Min Read
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Photo by Mathias Jensen on Unsplash

Leadership Traits to Hone

What makes a great leader? A great orator? One with integrity, dignity and dedicated to serve? One who strategically deliberates, innovates, and executes? One who can influence? What are some of the good leadership traits to hone? Whilst there are many definitions of what a leader is, probably a more common definition of a leader can be summed as - one who is driven by a vision to improve or make better the environment, community, or workspace they belong to. 

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Guided by vision, we have throughout history seen: -

  1. countless leaders who made positive changes despite the challenges (well-known leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela & Mother Teresa) and;
  2. some narcissistic, destructive leaders who used their power to hurt, annihilate and wreck communities (I’ve saved you some time – here’s a list of these ruthless leaders!).


Today, as we are progressing towards an entirely different era post Covid-19, we human folks are demanding for a different kind of leadership at work and in our communities. As work from home and hybrid work becomes the ‘next’ normal and the lines of work and home are blurred - anxiety, mental health and fatigue are real. Job losses, soaring cost of living, mounting debt, disparity between the rich and the poor, sluggish economy, change in the way businesses are conducted calls for strong, committed leaders with a new compass to help navigate their people, organisations or communities in these unprecedented times. With ambiguity and despair rife in the air, people want hope and direction. They want to anchor their hope in good leadership.

That being said, let’s look at some multi-traits or attributes in good leadership, whether you are leading the young or the old.

Honesty

Honesty is the cornerstone of good leadership. Honesty connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness. And by this, we mean being just in all your actions without any trace of double standards practices. Be it in your organisation in all your dealings with your stakeholders (customers, employees, investors, suppliers, communities, and government) or in the case of a government representative – your citizens. 

As aptly said by Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai -

Integrity is key for long-term business growth and sustainability. Lack of integrity can cause the collapse of a person, a company and even a country”.


And no half-truths please! You will be busted.

Related: Ethical Leadership: What It Is And Why It Matters

Your willingness to act with integrity is a decision you make for yourself. Whilst positive values, beliefs, principals, are taught and exemplified during one’s formative years as a child, correcting oneself later in life can be achieved with self-awareness. Self awareness is a life-long effort and this conscious decision to be better arises from within you.

Related: Why Self-Awareness Is The Key To Great Leadership

What we need now more than ever is credible leadership. One that is true, honest and will always be loyal to their people, teams and communities. Do you have it in you?

“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence, and the third is a high energy level. But if you don’t have the first, the second two don’t matter.” - Warren Buffet

Accountability and Humility

Accountability is about being answerable and willing to accept any outcome (good or bad). Here we are focused on the negative outcome from an action or the lack of it. Taking responsibility of one’s mistake (oh yes! that’s a tough one for some of you) is accountability. But couple that with assurances to be better or to do better is humility. Humility (sadly, a rarity today) is a highly desired leadership quality. Being humble and acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers, is not a sign of weakness. It is actually quite attractive and encourages your people to step up and find creative solutions to problems and challenges. 

Whilst taking ownership is the right thing to do – be sure to be honest, communicate effectively with your team and strategise ways to damage control the situation and execute the plan diligently. Post this, a self-evaluation exercise to decipher what went wrong together with lessons learnt is equally as important. Be honest and ask yourself if you had contributed to it. This learning experience makes you a better, respectable, and credible leader.

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Accepting your mistake displays courage, an affirmation of good character. This will influence the people you lead, strengthen your relationship (it builds trust) and earn respect in your leadership.

“The price of greatness,” said Winston Churchill, “is responsibility.”

Agile, Flexible and Resilient  

Agile leaders are good learners and are capable of adapting quickly to change. They display curiosity, open to innovation, and can communicate effectively with their teams. Agile leaders sometimes know that systems and processes don’t work in their favour and in so doing innovate ways to overcome those challenges. 

To be an agile leader in your organisation, you will need to distribute power equitably. Set out teams with clear accountable roles and this means getting the right people to do the job. Flat structures reduce hierarchical barriers and has seen to be effective. Arising from this reallocation of power, employees are empowered and have better autonomy of their jobs, tasks, schedules and decisions. Employees will innovate ways to be more efficient and optimise processes. 

To be an effective agile leader, here are some of the things you can implement:-

  1. encourage employees to share ideas;
  2. be open to experimenting;
  3. ensure transparent communication on the organisation’s purpose and frequent communication so employees can make quick and informed decisions. This eliminates rigid processes that suppress creativity;
  4. adopt new technology in work processes. Technology has to be seen as an enabler as opposed to hindrance; and
  5. address business continuity and crisis planning issues.


An effective agile leader always measures outcomes from any action taken. Data from failed projects should be studied to ensure there is learning from that experience. 

Related: Three Dimensions of Leadership Agility

Agility, flexibility and resilience are inter-twined and interconnected. Because agile leaders are quick to respond to changes, they are undoubtedly flexible and their ability to put into effect those changes to be workable and lasting changes exhibit their resilience.

Listen, Influence and Work Together 

In months to come, we can’t help but wonder what work will be.
 
A McKinsey article suggests that employers can get it right by creating ‘thoughtful, open, ongoing, and two-way dialogue with employees, partnering to shape the solution from the onset. The return to the workplace is not about a swift, single decision, but the start of a journey to define what’s next. Employers should share their broad direction, aspiration, and key principles now, then continue to listen, discuss, and act in partnership with their employees as answers emerge and evolve’.

Today, employees are relooking at their jobs and questioning whether they are fulfilled in those jobs. The Great Attrition is happening. In communities with poor governance and unfair treatment, brain drain follows. What can leaders do to retain talents? How can leaders influence their people?

Leaders can start by having these difficult conversations, listening to the grouses, murmurs and comments in social settings. Leaders can build long lasting relationships with employees premised on trust and respect. Organisations can use digital apps to gather information and data. A fun feature can be embedded to allure or nudge them to ensure buy-in. 

Be a servant leader – educate, inspire them, act as selfless mentors, empathise, understand their struggles, make them feel valued and provide support (offer in house psychologists services if necessary). Invest in creating better bosses or leaders as research shows a high percentage of people leaving jobs are because of their bosses.

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Above it all, lead with compassion and influence them to work with you and help transform the organisation. People respond to a persuasive message not because of what it says but on their perception of who said it. Think about it. Have you gone and bought something on an impulse after reading or listening to something persuasive or was it because of your perception of the person who said it? So how are your people seeing you? One that they can rely on, trust and respect?

Parting words

A leader exists only because there are followers. A breach of trust, arrogance, failure to be accountable and more will set you back and deprive you the honour and opportunity to lead your community or organisation to greatness. 
 
Watch this interview with Syed Saddiq here, brought to you by Leaderonomics Media. Is he your 'next normal' leader?
 

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Kiran Tuljaram is an Editor with Leaderonomics. She is a trained lawyer and spent a number of years in banking. Post her role as a Legal Manager at a bank, she founded and ran a couple of businesses, including starting her own fashion accessories label. She is a mum to three teenage girls. Her varied experience in banking, being a mum, an employee, occasional social worker and managing director in her business gives her great insights and perspective into how crucial leadership in organisations are.
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