Not too long ago, most organizations measured leadership effectiveness primarily in how a leader impacted the top and bottom lines of their ledger — essentially, was that leader good for business? This perspective often resulted in fostering command-and-control styles of leadership, where leaders were able to drive short-term financial success by being authoritative, directive and often intimidating or bullying. The approach holds leaders such as Jack Welch, Steve Ballmer and, for a current example, Elon Musk and his “nano-management” style, in high regard.
While some leaders may have short-term success with this model, it is not sustainable and can result in underperformance over a longer period. Effective leadership means not only positively impacting the business, but also positively impacting its people and culture. By this definition, Linkage research has found that the most effective leaders are purposeful and inclusive.
To help frame what a purposeful, inclusive leader is, we first need to consider who a leader is leading —reporting team members, peers, supervisors, and even customers and contractors. These people are a leader’s stakeholders, and to be truly effective, leaders need more than competencies, they need to make commitments to these stakeholders. Through our experience working with and analyzing the assessments of over 100,000 leaders, Linkage has identified five key commitments that effective leaders make to their stakeholders. The graphic below provides a description of each of these five commitments —Inspire, Innovate, Achieve, Engage and at the center, Become, the cornerstone commitment: to reflect, grow and become a better leader.
Throughout the commitments, we also see the critical role of inclusion. When leaders are inclusive, they create environments where stakeholders are engaged, are comfortable being their authentic selves and feel a sense of belonging within the organization. In this optimal state, employees bring their best to work every day — being more innovative and productive. In our research, we also looked at the correlation between the attributes of inclusive leaders (specific inclusive leadership behaviors within each of the five commitments) and found a significantly high correlation. In simple terms, purposeful leaders and inclusive leaders are one and the same.
The results speak for themselves. When we look at organizations with a high proportion of purposeful, inclusive leaders (as defined by the five commitments), we find that they significantly outperform organizations with a low proportion of these leaders.
To create a culture of purposeful leadership, one challenge that many organizations face is moving away from an embedded culture of command-and-control style leadership. By nature, command and control has the habit of permeating all levels of an organization as senior leaders set the example of how to lead for junior leaders, who adopt that same style and a vicious circle begins.
So, how can organizations evolve from the command-and-control style to an inclusive and purposeful style of leadership? Here are five ways organizations can create an inclusive, purposeful leadership culture:
1. Have Executives Lead by Example
Like many things, change needs to start at the top. Having executives who lead by example and prioritize inclusive, purposeful leadership will set the tone for the rest of the organization and provide a model for other leaders to emulate.
2. Align Performance Management, Promotion Practices and Other Individual Incentives
Make sure you have the right incentive structures and talent management practices in place to reward those who lead inclusively and with purpose — and not those who achieve business results by any means necessary.
3. Provide Leaders with Actionable Insights
Help leaders understand how they are perceived by their stakeholders through feedback and assessments. In an ideal world, employees would already feel safe sharing feedback directly with their managers, but this usually proves not to be the case; often subordinates feel unsafe or uncomfortable providing upward feedback. Here, the use of a 360-degree assessment may be needed to give stakeholders anonymity, allowing them to provide more accurate and actionable feedback. Additionally, some leaders might overrate (particularly true for low-performing leaders) and underrate (particularly true for high-performing leaders) their own performance. As such, an assessment can be very enlightening in helping leaders understand what they need to work on and what strengths they can leverage more.
4. Invest in Leadership Development
Provide leadership development and training to leaders to help them develop the tools, skills and behaviors to lead more inclusively and with purpose. Investing in the development of multiple levels of the organization can also create a common language around leadership and provide reinforcement to impact the overall leadership culture.
5. Supplement With Coaching
Provide an extra boost to all of the above with coaching to create more targeted and enduring development. We recommend at least three coaching sessions over the course of a development program (at the beginning to help interpret initial feedback, at a mid-point to check on progress and at the conclusion to finalize an action plan for how to lead going forward) with an experienced coach who is well versed in the principles of inclusive, purposeful leadership.
If we look at modern archetypes for an effective leader, we see many examples like Mary Barra at GM (praised as being a humble and collaborative leader) and Satya Nadella at Microsoft (lauded for his clear vision, passion to help customers and human style of leadership). Going a little further back, I think of Alan Mullaly — an early pioneer of inclusive and purpose-driven leadership. Mullaly led Ford through the toughest of times during the great recession of 2008. He helped Ford not only survive but thrive through his commitment to bring together talented people, united by a purpose, a plan and principles for working together. With a leadership style grounded in humility, love and service, Mullaly set a new standard of leadership for organizations and leaders everywhere to aspire to.
Start now by using leaders like Mary Barra, Satya Nadella and Alan Mullaly as role models for inclusive, purposeful leaders who are good for your business, culture and people.