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Why is leadership so critical to success in the workplace?

Last updated

31 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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Leadership is the driving force behind any organization's growth. With a strong and passionate leader guiding the workforce and supporting business operations, any company can stand out from the crowd.

However, not all leadership styles are created equal, nor are the leaders who exercise them. Understanding how leadership works can help you choose the right leaders, hone their skills, and support your road to success.

Let's take a closer look at the importance of leadership in the workplace.

Why is leadership important?

Leadership involves evaluating and distributing resources to achieve business goals. In addition to streamlining resource allocation, great leaders can improve team motivation and performance. Some of the best leaders call on a mix of experience and intuition; making data-driven decisions and playing a critical role in shaping their organization’s long-term strategic vision.

1. Guidance

Most people need guidance to achieve their highest potential. Less experienced team members often prefer that someone more experienced make the business-critical decisions. Still, even experienced employees tend to work better under noticeably capable leadership that provides clear guidance.

2. Work culture

Successful leaders create an attractive company culture that emphasizes trust and respect. They also provide employee recognition, leading to higher engagement and productivity. By fostering a great environment and culture, the company can become a top employer, attracting top-tier talent and positioning the organization as an industry leader.

3. Motivation

Effective leadership plays a crucial role in motivating employees. A good leader guides employees to achieve their professional goals and sets an example for them to follow. An excellent leader is passionate about the organization's success and shares this passion with the workforce. They encourage employees to get involved in the company's operations, planning, and decision-making, increasing productivity by helping the team fully engage with the work process.

Based on a 2023 meta-analysis by Gallup, the difference in business outcomes between highly motivated and low-engaged teams (comparing top-performing companies with those in the bottom quartile) is significant:

4. Decision-making

A competent leader can make wise and important decisions even when operating under high-pressure circumstances. They understand how to gather relevant information, extract valuable insights, and use those insights to make the most effective choices. Democratic leaders rely on their teams to provide valuable information to aid decision-making and delegate some decision-making elements to their employees. This approach streamlines the decision-making process and boosts employee engagement and satisfaction.

5. Growth and development

Leadership plays a crucial role in a business's growth and development. It also helps to streamline the growth and development of the team. Experienced leaders offer mentorship and guidance to their team members, creating opportunities for learning and professional advancement. A strong leadership team nurtures talent and builds a capable workforce, contributing to the organization's overall success.

6. Direction

Leaders play a pivotal role in creating a compelling direction for business operations and future success. This vision is the guiding force that drives the team towards achieving the agreed goals. An experienced leader can effectively communicate this direction to the team in a motivational and engaging manner, boosting their productivity and engagement levels.

7. Focus

Effective leadership involves clear communication of goals and providing guidance to keep employees motivated and on track. A leader sets expectations, delegates tasks, gives feedback, and identifies and addresses potential roadblocks. By doing so, a leader helps their team stay focused, avoid careless mistakes, and achieve success with efficiency.

Qualities of a strong leader

Whether their style is authoritarian, democratic, or somewhere in between, great leaders tend to share certain core qualities or traits, including

  • Vision—A strong leader should have a clear vision of where the company needs to go, and they can communicate this vision to the team.

  • Integrity—A successful leader acts with integrity by demonstrating honesty and ethical behavior. They’re the type of professionals who follow through and are always accountable. 

  • Communication—Accomplished leaders are great communicators. They know how to listen actively, express themselves clearly, and adjust their tactics according to their audience's needs.

  • Emotional intelligence—Strong leaders empathize with their team members' emotions and perspectives. They can connect on a personal level and create a supportive work environment.

  • Decisiveness—A leader knows how to make a decision and see it through, even under serious pressure. They can gather data, analyze the situation, seek help, and take calculated risks.

  • Focus—Some of the best leaders are skilled at maintaining their focus on business goals regardless of distractions or pressure.

  • Resilience—Leaders exhibit resilience through all challenges and setbacks. They can stay calm, adapt to change, and inspire others through having a positive attitude.

  • Accountability—A successful leader takes responsibility for his or her decisions and holds his or her team accountable for their performance. They know how to set expectations, provide constructive feedback, and recognize achievements.

  • Delegating—An effective leader must know when and how to delegate tasks to their team members. (While democratic leaders empower their teams to make some of their own decisions, authoritarian leaders provide highly specific instructions that help teams execute).

  • Learning ability—Leaders must be lifelong learners. They seek out knowledge and teach their team members to do the same. These leaders are highly invested in their professional development and set an example for others.

The role of technology in leadership

Imagine your leadership team consistently being on their A-game. The type of people who know how to leverage technology to manage their team efficiently, streamline communication, and ensure transparent, timely exchange of information. How wonderful would that be? 

But it's not just about efficiency. Technology can also help create a more inclusive workplace. Remote work options, accessibility tools, and diversity training can make your organization more well-rounded and inclusive. For instance, leaders can track diversity metrics and open an ongoing dialogue using anonymous feedback surveys and data analysis tools. 

And that's not all. Technology can also help leaders make informed decisions by providing valuable insights for strategic planning. 

By championing the integration of cutting-edge technologies, your leadership team can foster a culture of innovation and digital transformation that will keep your organization ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving business landscape. 

The leaders who inspire their team, drive innovation, and propel their organization towards sustained success embrace technology and use it to their advantage.

Earning trust

Many experts predict building trust will be a significant business leadership theme in 2024.

According to a Gallup Poll measuring U.S. employees' perceptions of leaders and managers, trust in organizational leadership took a nosedive in 2022, though it did start to recover somewhat in 2023. Still, only 23% strongly agreed with the statement “I trust the leadership of this organization.”

Emphasis on empathy and well-being

The surge in remote work has also prompted leaders to adopt more flexible and empathetic approaches, recognizing the importance of accommodating diverse work arrangements. Another notable shift will be the heightened emphasis on mental health, with leaders prioritizing employee well-being and implementing strategies to mitigate stress and burnout.

Leadership diversity

Simultaneously, there is a growing acknowledgment of diversity, equity, and inclusion's pivotal role in leadership effectiveness.

While mandatory DEI is often a polarizing topic in the U.S., the data speaks for itself. 

Teams with diverse leadership consistently win when you’re looking at their revenue growth and innovation:

Looking ahead, forward-thinking leaders will actively promote diverse perspectives, fostering an inclusive workplace that harnesses the collective strength of varied experiences and backgrounds.

How to develop effective leaders

Did you know that 83% of organizations consider leadership development at all company levels important, but only 5% have implemented it? This is according to research by career experts at Zippia. 

Here are a few ways to change the status quo:

Look internally

While some organizations use significant resources sourcing leaders outside the company, many do best by looking at their existing talent. Top internal candidates generally demonstrate strong communication and decision-making skills while appearing engaged, confident, and resilient. Those who work well with others, adapt easily to change and show initiative can become extremely effective leaders. In addition, these workers may already trust and positively regard their existing team members. A potential newcomer must take time to build rapport and establish their competence.

Create an encouraging environment

It's up to the C-suite (upper management) to give leaders appropriate freedom to make decisions that lend momentum and accomplish goals. However, giving leaders a sense of urgency is often considered the most challenging part of leadership development.

To help an inexperienced manager step into their power, you can offer support from above in a few ways. Some of these include:

  • Setting clear expectations and meeting regularly, especially in the early stages of their role.

  • Letting them know that seeking guidance to resolve a mistake won't make them appear less competent (or make you question promoting them).

  • Encourage your newly minted manager to view themselves as your business partner rather than a subordinate, "second in command."  

Provide development opportunities

It’s up to the organization to give leaders a chance to hone their skills, learn new tactics, and streamline their professional development. After all, even the best leaders require support to prevent burnout, learn from mistakes, and get fresh perspectives on improving workplace culture.

Types of development opportunities that are becoming increasingly common include:

  • Leadership training workshops

  • Executive coaching

  • Mentorship programs

  • Leadership retreats and conferences

  • Online leadership courses

  • Succession planning programs

  • 360° feedback assessments

  • Leadership workbooks and resources

  • Cross-functional project assignments

  • Team-building activities

  • Innovation labs and hackathons

  • Cultural sensitivity and diversity training

  • Emotional intelligence training

  • Community involvement and social responsibility initiatives

Creating a culture of leadership

Leadership development programs alone may not be enough to achieve the desired outcomes. Establishing a leadership culture within the organization that can identify and foster new and competent leaders is crucial. 

This culture should empower all employees to take ownership and responsibility at all levels, encouraging continuous learning and development to acquire the necessary leadership skills

A leadership culture also fosters collaboration and enhances decision-making, creating a strong foundation for innovation, adaptability, and long-term sustainability. 

The organization should provide sufficient HR support to foster a culture of leadership and support leaders, regardless of their background. This will help their current talent and generate a favorable environment for emerging leaders to develop.

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