Leadership has always been about inspiring and guiding a group of people toward a common goal. While leaders throughout human history have acted on this basic principle, the specific actions and behaviors that motivate their teams have changed.
Shifting social norms and workplace dynamics in recent years mean that "tried-and-true" management tactics of decades ago aren't necessarily the most effective anymore. Whether you're a brand-new leader or simply looking to modernize your existing leadership strategies, here are a few pointers about managing today's workforce. [What does it mean to be a leader? Experts share their definitions of leadership.]
1. Be the coach, not the expert.
Leaders, especially at the executive level, have traditionally been regarded as the people with final say over all decisions – regardless of what their team may think.
In recent years, however, leaders have stopped taking on the role of ultimate "expert" by virtue of their titles, said Demetra Anagnostopoulos, EVP of business development and strategy at SurePeople. Instead, leaders now embrace being coaches, conveners and hubs of knowledge-sharing, bringing together expertise and talent from their peers, superiors and direct reports, she said.
"Leadership today is more about … [inspiration], transformation, authenticity and creativity, rather than the former authoritarian styles," added Carolyn G. Anderson, a leadership consultant and keynote speaker. "Those days are over. If you want to retain the millennials and centennials in the workplace, the behavior of leadership must change."
Anagnostopoulos said there has been a related shift from managing in hierarchies, where decision-making was clear, to managing in flat, matrixed organizations.
"[This] requires not only a collaborative mindset, but also decision-making practices that are more inclusive of multiple stakeholders and lend themselves to sharing power versus holding power," she said.
2. Adapt to the needs and personalities of your team.
There are certain personality traits – extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, etc. – that have long been associated with being a good leader. Based on her team's research, Jasmine Hu, Ph.D. and assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, argues that effective leadership is more dependent on how well a leader's personality fits the needs of the team they lead, particularly when it comes to the team's preferences and views on power distance.
"Our research suggests that team members who believe they should submit to the leader's authority will respond best to dominant leaders who are highly extroverted, conscientious and less agreeable, while teams that prefer having control will respond best to egalitarian or power-sharing leadership styles featuring high agreeableness, or low extroversion and conscientiousness," Hu told Business News Daily.
Hu noted that managers can make better decisions and build more effective teams by adapting their behaviors to complement their teams' power distance preferences. For instance, when highly extroverted or highly conscientious leaders work with low power distance teams, they should avoid taking full control and instead involve the team in decision-making. Similarly, highly agreeable leaders of high power distance teams should avoid being viewed as weak or ineffectual, said Hu.
Even from a more general perspective, it's a good idea to build good relationships with each of your team members, and personalize your leadership approach accordingly.
"I learned a lot from [my business-owner parents] about engaging with employees and connecting on both a personal and professional level," said Sloan Kamenstein, CEO of the Sloan's Ice Cream franchise. "I always try to put myself in the shoes of the employee to see it from their perspective and lead on a one-on-one basis."
3. Humanize yourself.
Today's employees look for leaders who are genuine, authentic, informed and accessible, said Anderson. Rather than staying locked in their corner offices, managers should foster a more human approach to their relationships with their teams.
"Leaders need to humanize themselves because of the virtual nature of relationships and how work is done in today’s digital and global economy," Anagnostopoulos said.
She noted that humanizing yourself builds relationships and trust, and the following behaviors and actions can help you accomplish that:
- A good track record. Based on your past behavior, the team knows what you're about and how you'll operate under different scenarios and circumstances.
- Transparency in decision-making. Your team knows why you make certain decisions and the logic behind them.
- Credentials. Your team is confident in your experience, training or education.
- Shared purpose. Your team understands and is invested in the vision, mission and values of the organization.
This last point is important, said Anagnostopoulos: It's important to be clear about your personal vision as a leader and how it aligns with that of the company. From there, ask others to align their personal visions to yours and the organization’s, and to share it with their peers and colleagues, she said.
You can also build trust with your team through your social media presence. While it's not an absolute necessity, it's a good way for employees to get to know you a little better and show that you're engaged with and aware of what's happening within your company and industry.
"It's not only an opportunity … to share [your] insights and advice, but it's a way to humanize a relationship," Anderson said. "Facebook, Instagram … and the like are simply the vehicles to deliver information, but ensuring that your voice and personality comes through is what fosters trust. Proof and reread anything you post, be consistent in your point of view, and believe wholeheartedly in the content you put out into the world."
4. View your tenure as a temporary stewardship.
As much as you may love your current role, the reality is that one day you will move on, whether you get another promotion, find a new job or retire. Bryan Miles, co-CEO of BELAY, reminded leaders to view themselves as "stewards to their employees, their customers, the environment and their community." Stewardship has a time-bound element to it, he said, so you must lead well for the time you're in that seat as the leader.
"You are accountable and replaceable. One day you won't be the boss," Miles added. "So, with this mindset, see your role as a steward … serving others. Show me a leader who sees their leadership as a stewardship, and I will show you a successful organization producing amazing results."