Leadership Concept - Red Paper Boat Followed by White Paper Boat on Blue Background

Leadership is something many people aspire to. To have the privilege to lead people or an organization and provide direction due to experience and expertise is not something we should take lightly. In recent articles, we have seen Away CEO, Steph Korey and Razer CEO, Tan Min Liang being featured in investigative pieces around their alleged treatment of their employees.

Being able to bring people together for a singular mission is not easy—and not something everyone can do. It is stressful, with common side-effects of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. However, it is a privilege and these are not appropriate excuses for toxic behaviors.

What are traditional leadership behaviors?

A leader is defined as “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country”. “Commands” is defined as “give an authoritative or peremptory order.” There are a number of issues with this. Command dictates a one-way mode of communication—telling versus sharing and hearing feedback openly. Leaders are expected to give direction with purpose, however commanding people to complete an action is not how we should be viewing leadership. Bringing people together whilst also including them in the mission is what we should be striving for.

There is a difference in “bossing” and “leading.” Do people work for you or with you? Do you understand the difference in how that nuance feels? If leaders command, and assume their view is the only correct or accurate one, then we create an echo chamber of what leadership truly is—and could be.

Traditional leadership behaviors come in many forms. 1 in 5 business leaders may have psychopathic tendencies and according a study dating back to 2010, there were at least three times as many psychopaths in executive or CEO roles than in the overall population.

We may consider traditional leadership behaviors to be directness, strength, high but delicate self-esteem, deserved or undeserved confidence and brashness. Let’s also consider who is afforded to exhibit these behaviors and who isn’t? White men make up the majority of senior leaders, and in many cases, are given leeway to behave this way. This is largely because if these are the attributes of a leader (which likely means some sort of success, therefore credibility) and the majority of leaders are white men, then white men in leadership can behave like this. Consider how assertiveness in a white man is viewed as strength whereas in a black woman it is viewed as aggression?

To create an inclusive path to leadership and form leadership with inclusion at its heart, we must challenge these behaviors.

What are inclusive leadership traits?

Leadership typically means providing direction to many different people with many different opinions. To do this in a way which maximises engagement, and has respect at it’s core, I believe our best leaders will be:

Empathetic. Having compassionate empathy in leadership means truly understanding different perspectives to your own, realizing the impact of decisions on others, even if you do not directly or indirectly identify with them and taking action. To have empathy, you must be ready to be uncomfortable and hear hard truths. Is what you did not having the positive effect you expected? Why? Are you ok with understanding that regardless of whether your intention was good or not, the outcome wasn’t and that you must do better?

Able to provide clarity. Providing clarity is incredibly important in leadership. To create a succinct and clean-cut mission, leaders must be able to easily contextualise this to allow people to get behind it in a consistent way.

Vulnerability and transparency. In my opinion, vulnerability is strength. Leaders are human, and will have had stumbles, mistakes or failures in their journeys. By being transparent and open about struggles or gaps in understanding, leaders create a human-to-human connection to their people, whilst also breaking the stereotype that leaders are strong through showing no emotion. The ultimate strength is being open about your entire journey and decision-making processes—not just the loud successes.

Humility. Being a leader is not common and undoubtedly important. However, if it creates a clouded sense of self-importance, there is an inability to see perspectives outside of your own. Leadership is another layer of privilege and this must be accepted. Showing humility can be as simple as giving credit to those around you, being honest about your own privilege or stop talking and actively listening more to those around you.

Egotistical leadership which hasn’t been challenged causes poor decision making, disengaged employees and a negative drip down effect of what “good leadership” looks like in that environment.

How can we change leadership values?

Leadership values are integral in an organization—they succinctly describe what people expect from current and new leaders, whilst also creating a consistent view of a leader in that organization. But how can we shift a culture and values?

  1. Ask your people what they think leadership values should be. Include your people in this process. Dictated leadership values will not have all the challenging viewpoints and ideas that you’ll get from the entire organization. Additionally, an organization is more likely to adapt values which they have helped form and been involved in.
  2. Incorporate leadership values into progression and promotion frameworks. Creating values are useless if they are not incorporated into the criteria an organization uses to determine who is promoted into middle-management or senior leadership. It’s important to be clear why these values are important to an organization and why the skills to embody them are just as important as the “technical” skills that are also being promoted on.
  3. Showcase leadership living these values. Current leaders should be open about how they have incorporated these values into their leadership styles and day-to-day. This creates a sense of vulnerability, transparency and humility, whilst also providing real-world examples of how aspiring leaders can make changes in their work. Likewise, if they are not living these values, a further conversation must be had.

Challenging traditional leadership behaviors is incredibly important to create an industry which embraces diversity and fosters environments of inclusion. If we do not openly and rigorously challenge the way things are or have been, it’s highly unlikely we will move to an industry which truly does value everyone—which is not just a business priority, but very much a priority for wider society.