I have worked with some leaders who were simply irresistible. Like magnets, they attracted and retained employees, customers and profits. They always got the best out of people. They respected and took great care of their people and we, in return, took great care of the organisation’s customers. They created “simply irresistible organisations” (Josh Bersin – Deloitte) which attracted the best talent in the market and work environments where people thrived and flourished.
One of my favourite Dilbert comic strips is Dilbert’s boss explaining to his senior management team the reason for the company’s low profits. In response to this, Dilbert asks sceptically, “So they’re saying that profits went up because of great leadership and down because of a weak economy?” To which Dilbert’s boss replies, “These meetings will go faster if you stop putting things in context.”
Great leadership is indeed a difficult thing to pin down and understand. There are many studies defining the key differences between management and leadership. According to leadership guru Warren Bennis;
- The manager administers; the leader innovates
- The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people
- The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust
- The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective
- The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why
- The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it
- The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing
But what are the elements that differentiate good leaders from great / simply irresistible leaders? Having studied leadership for over 15 years, I have come up with the following ten characteristics of simply irresistible leaders:
1.They are emotionally intelligent (EI)
EI is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we a) perceive and express ourselves b) develop and maintain social relationships c) cope with challenges, and d) use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way (H. Book & S. Stein). The Centre for Creative Leadership found that higher levels of EI are associated with better performance in the following Leadership areas:
- Self-awareness and self-control
- Achievement orientation
- Building and managing relationships
- Dealing with underperformance
- Focus, thinking skills and effectiveness
- Positive outlook, passion and inner motivation
2. They have a growth mindset
A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way. A fixed mindset avoids failure at all cost. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities (Carol Dweck). Leaders with growth mindsets (a) perceive feedback as chance to learn and stretch goals as helpful and necessary, (b) put in the effort and are motivated by mastery, and (c) remain empowered, not helpless, in the face of difficulty.
3. They empower people
According to management consultants, Bersin & Associates leaders who create empowering cultures and organisations follow the following practices:
- Value and reward employees who learn new knowledge and skills
- Values mistakes and failures as learning opportunities
- Promote, recognise and reward collaboration
- Create psychologically safe environments where people can be themselves
- Invest time and energy in developing the capabilities of their teams
4. They grow other leaders
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing other leaders” (Jack Welch – Former GE CEO). A star wants to see himself/herself rise to the top. A leader wants to see those around him/her become stars” (Simon Sinek).
5. They create strong emotional connections
Our lives are becoming so transactional; full of activity and stimulation; continuously going from A to B to C and then back to A and B and so on and on (autopilot) that we might not any longer be connecting with the people we love, our colleagues, our customers, at a meaningful, emotional level. Irresistible leaders create strong positive emotional connections/bonds with people. They make us feel valued and earn our confidence, loyalty, and trust.
6. They are agile
Agile leaders have the ability to take effective action in complex, rapidly changing conditions; are resilient and quickly bounce back from difficulties and stressful situations; work effectively with a wide diversity of people and viewpoints; are inquisitive, adventurous and curious about people and situations; seek new approaches to solving problems and view mistakes as an opportunity to learn; and challenge the status quo, constantly seeking opportunities to innovate and improve. B. Joiner & S. Josephs in their book “Leadership Agility – 5 levels of mastery” state that “Only 5-10% of today’s managers have mastered the level of agility needed for consistent effectiveness in the turbulent era of global competition.”
7. They build trust and great teams
They build trust by being authentic, demonstrating that they care about people, being accessible, dependable and reliable, sharing information and knowledge, telling it straight and being honest even when giving bad news: role modelling the organisation’s values and expected behaviours, and actively listening to people. “Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t, it is a learnable skill. Teams and organisations that operate with high trust significantly outperform teams and organisations with low trust” FranklinCovey.
8. They inspire others
The word “inspiration” comes from the Latin noun inspiratio and from the verb inspirare. Inspirare is a compound term resulting from the Latin prefix in (inside, into) and the verb spirare (to breathe). That is, leaders who inspire other are “breathing life into” them – they are motivating their people to become the best they can be.
The following behaviours were identified by Bain as being the most powerful in contributing to a leader’s inspiration:
- Holding a confident yet realistic assessment of their own abilities
- Maintaining the conviction to follow their own course of action
- Showing passion for their work and giving energy to others
- Showing integrity, humility and empathy
- Putting team needs above short-term personal benefits
9. They use a coaching style
They stimulate thinking, growth, and unleash people’s potential by challenging and supporting them to be at their best. They are courageous, compassionate, and curious. “The most effective leader coaches are deeply interested in the other person and how they see their circumstances – the staff member is not a problem to be solved, but a world to explore together. And they have the courage both to release control of the conversation and to ask those difficult and penetrating questions that access the “beneficially painful” aspects of the employee’s world” (David Clutterbuck)
10. They are mindful
Mindfulness can be defined as present-moment awareness with an observing, non-judging stance (Mikulas). Mindful leaders (a) find it easier to focus and remain focused. “I try to make every second count in my business and personal life” (R. Branson); (b) tend to make more rational business decisions (INSEAD Business School); (c) have better working memory; cope better with stress and stressful situations; are more creative (Leiden University); (d) have more highly engaged staff and higher engagement scores (J. Matthias, J. Narayanan & S. Chaturvedi); and (e) are more collaborative and stronger team players.
How irresistible are you as a leader? Why should anyone be led by you? What are your leadership strengths and area(s) for development? What can you start doing today to make you a simply irresistible leader? What can you start doing today that your future self will thank you for?
Pedro Angulo is the Programme Director of the IMI Diploma in Strategic HR Management. Pedro is an Organisational Effectiveness Business Partner in AIB and Chairperson of the Irish EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council). He is a motivational speaker and regular presenter at HR, coaching, change and business conferences/events.