There’s no doubt about it – great leaders are key to retention. Studies show that leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence contribute to their employee’s creativity and job satisfaction. Conversely, employees will disengage and become cynical when they perceive “value erosion” or a lack of authenticity from their leaders. The question then becomes “why do some leaders help their organisations to flourish while others fail?”. What traits and behaviours separate the successful leaders – those with satisfied, creative and ultimately high performing teams – from those that don’t? It turns out that there is much more to read on the topic than the musings of top CEO’s. Psychology shows us that it is adaptive and flexible leadership which generates true organisational success.
The aim of any business leader is to move the organisation forward. There is always some way in which an organisation can change for the better. The styles of leadership which can be used to achieve this fall into some rather broad categories:
- Transformational leaders: The inspirational visionaries who lead by example and challenge those around them to do better every day
- Transactional leaders: The more traditional leaders who encourage good performance with rewards (contingent reward type leaders) and discourage poor performance with punishments (management by exception).
- Laissez-faire leaders: The coaches, those who empower their employees by allowing them to make their own decisions. This leader provides their employees with guidance rather than rewards or punishments.
But which type of leader is best for organisational performance? Should those in management positions lead, drive or coach their teams to achieve continuous business improvement? The answer lies in the behaviours that the organisation needs their employees to embody.
Employees exhibit different behaviours when faced with different leadership styles. The most beneficial to the organisation is that of genuine emotion. Here, the employee resonates with the aims of the leader and organisation on a deep and true level, and they act to bring these to fruition accordingly. Second is “deep acting”. In this instance, the person truly wants to resonate with the vision of the organisation. They wilfully change their internal perspectives and emotions to bring them in line with what is expected. Finally, “surface acting” is when a person fakes the emotional state that the organisation wants them to display (ie. when your barista wishes you a pleasant day after you’ve just ordered your soy, decaf, caramel mocha latte in a mug…).
So which leaders provoke which behaviours? You can probably guess that transformational leadership is a predictor of genuine emotion and deep acting. Transactional leaders tend to generate both deep and surface acting amongst employees. A laissez-faire leader predicts genuine emotion in the worker.
The answer implies that we should fill our businesses with inspirational coaches… but this will have its detriments. Despite the emotional labour that is implied through surface acting, burnout in employees is most associated with genuine emotion. And we cannot neglect the effect of personal preference of leadership style on the employee. The reality is that some people prefer authoritative leadership, whilst others prefer trainers and mentors.
Adaptive leadership is the true key to organisational success. Leaders must be able to exhibit different leadership styles at the appropriate times – a great leader has the ability to inspire, and coach, and reward their people. Most importantly, they know which situations demand which skills. Successful businesses utilise people who inspire genuine emotion without burning through the talent they have nurtured. They are flexible enough to tailor their offering to their employees because ultimately, it is the workers who create value within the business. In summary, train your leaders to be flexible to limber up your business for success.
Written by Selina Foo, Coriolis Consulting Pty Ltd
Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky, Alexander Grashow, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2013, ISBN: 1422131025, 9781422131022