Research on Effective Leadership Styles
Important research these days is revealing some significant trends in how people are thinking about leadership, the style they want to see in their leaders, and what style is proving to be the most effective in solving today’s complex global problems.
Gone are the days where the macho approach is looked up to as the savior of our problems. That current track record speaks for itself.
Qualities to Move Away From. “Everywhere, people are frustrated by a world long dominated by codes of male thinking and behavior: Codes of control, aggression and black- and-white thinking that have contributed to many of the problems we face today, from wars and income inequality to reckless risk-taking and scandal.”*
Qualities to Embody More of. Instead, says a growing body of academic and industry research, “senior executives around the world and across industries put qualities such as collaboration, creativity, flexibility, empathy, patience, humility and balance right at the top of the list of crucial leadership characteristics for the future.”**
Soft Vs. Hard. There are those in our culture who still choose to see these qualities as “soft” versus “hard” – they can’t embrace them as truly significant to the bottom line of productivity and financial sustainability and growth – they see these qualities as luxuries at best, and perhaps curriculum to be relegated to Human Resources department if at all.
This leads to a tragic sidelining of what is increasingly showing to be more effective in the long run in addressing the fundamental needs of our organizations and markets with their complex, global, and interconnected challenges. This short-sighted and biased view continues to do damage on multiple layers of our human systems and organizations. Productivity and engagement are at all-time lows in our country.
In contrast, natural biologists are providing us with powerful examples of how the more relational and collaborative qualities are in fact hard-wired in the natural world to powerful effect. My last blog post described birch trees and rhododendrons in a symbiotic relationship.
Here’s another: take the barheaded geese, for example.
Learning From Barheaded Geese
It’s estimated that at least 50,000 of them winter in India. And when summer nears, they undertake the two month 5000 mile migration back to their home in Central Asia. What makes this trip remarkable is that the route they choose to take every year is the world’s steepest migratory flight—they fly over the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.
Amazingly, this route is where the air is thinnest and oxygen level lowest. What’s more, the thinner air means that less lift is generated when the birds flap their wings, thereby increasing the energy costs of flying by around 30 per cent. And yet they still fly the same route over the highest place on earth. Imagine it!
Scientists now find that these geese do not make use of tailwinds or updrafts that could give them a boost up the mountain. One of the remarkable resources they choose instead to rely upon is teamwork—collaboration.
Drafting. Geese are famous for utilizing in flight the V-formation which helps reduce individual energy consumption by up to 30%. Professional cyclists use the same principle that empowers them to sustain high energy and power for endurance races like the Tour de France (over 2000 miles in 21 days). Drafting.
The whole flock of geese gets over 70% better mileage than if each bird flew solo. When the lead bird gets weary, it drops back and a new one takes the lead. As the birds vigorously flap their wings, it creates lift for the bird behind. These geese actually choose to fly over Mt. Everest at one time rather than breaking up the trip, typically a grueling eight hour marathon.
And in addition, if one of the geese gets too tired or gets injured or sick, two of the other geese shepherd the weaker one back down to the ground and stay with it until it either gets stronger or dies. Then they rejoin the group or find another group to fly with to complete their migration.
Clearly, there is no physical way these birds could soar over Mt. Everest without this kind of drafting, teamwork, and collaboration. Forget it!
And yet so many of us individuals, including many organizations that insist on a few at the top within hierarchical structures possessing all the power, continue to assault our Everests ineffectively.
The Qualities That Make A Difference
What social science and organizational effectiveness research is telling us these days is that similarly there is no way we can scale the Mt. Everest-sized global challenges we face without prioritizing and valuing these same qualities: teamwork, collaboration, empathy, nurturing, loyalty.
The days of the solo leader (or small group of men who conduct the business war games and deals in the backroom), projecting an omnicompetent ability, standing at the top of the hierarchy of power, position, and status, omniscient in wisdom, who has only to speak and command the vision, strategy, and way forward, are gone (or should be gone).
“In the new economy ‘winning’ is becoming a group construct: Masculine traits like aggression and independent trail the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit. And being loyal (which is feminine) is more valued than being proud (which is masculine), which points to being devoted to the cause rather than one’s self. And that we want our leaders to be more intuitive—(also feminine)—speaks to the lack of many leaders to have the capacity to relate to ordinary people and their points of view.”*
We have to intentionalize systems and structures that help us rely on each other, where everyone is empowered to contribute their best strengths, where organizational and team health is seen to be as important as ROI and the financial bottomline, where we mentor others and stand beside them to support their growing development, where we manifest patience and empathy instead of “get it or leave here” attitude, where we employ technicolor instead of black-or-white thinking to our problems.
If we want to soar over our Mt. Everests, we will choose to be more like the barheaded geese.
* The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, Michael D’Antonio & John Gerzema.
** Gayle Peterson, associate fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-director of its Women Transforming Leadership program, “We Don’t Need A Hero, We Just Need More Women At the Top” (The Guardian, Nov. 13, 2013)
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.