Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters


Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters

Each week “The Working Report” identifies the most interesting articles and research into leadership and high-performing organizations. Compiled by our team, “The Working Report” is free. (You can get it here.) One article that caught my eye recently was from McKinsey Consulting. McKinsey surveyed more than 180,00 people at 81 organizations around the world and found that, of many different leadership traits, four stood out as the most important to people.

Here they are:

  1. Solving problems effectively. This is all about how leaders make decisions. This is not a solo activity. Effective problem-solving means engaging the right people at the right time with the right framing of the problem – and then identifying potential solutions and engaging people in exploring solutions in such a way that you build support for the eventual decision. At its essence, this is change management, and it is hard to do.
  2. Operating with a strong results orientation. McKinsey says that leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work. But that’s only part of it. Effective leaders know that results are both short- and long-term in nature. They set long-term goals and communicate them repeatedly. At the same time, they engage people in a fluid process of identifying short-term actions that support the goals, continually adjusting priorities based on what’s working.
  3. Seeking different perspectives. According to McKinsey, this trait is all about identifying trends, encouraging employees to contribute ideas, and differentiating between important and unimportant ideas. In my experience, people who do this well keep an open mind and don’t allow themselves to be stampeded into a decision or stake out a position too early. Instead, effective leaders keep their options open, invite different points of view, and avoid confirmation bias.
  4. Supporting others. This is all about having the emotional intelligence to build trust with people and genuinely care about their well-being. Leaders who do this well understand the importance of appreciative feedback, of giving people opportunities to grow, and building relationships on a personal as well as professional level. The leaders who do this exceptionally well know how to make people feel safe and inspired to come to work. As McKinsey says, they allay unwarranted fears about external threats and prevent the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.

The workplace is ultimately a place where people make many decisions and choices each day. As I look at these four traits, I’m struck by their pragmatic quality. They align with the type of leader who understands that how decisions are made spells the difference between a workplace that is productive and happy, or one that is miserable. McKinsey’s research tells us that focusing on these four traits is key to higher productivity, higher levels of happiness, and ultimately greater success.

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