The characteristics of great leadership

In our work across a range of businesses, we’ve seen the powerful effect of great leadership. When leaders create a positive culture of trust and empowerment, employees are more likely to be invested in the organisation’s strategy, future and values.

We’ve also seen what happens when employees aren’t convinced by their leaders. They can become frustrated, disengaged and lack confidence in the business.

Usually, issues start to take root when leaders are disconnected from front-line colleagues. This disconnect can either be through a lack of visibility or, conversely, through leadership communications which aren’t positioned well. Communications that miss the mark can be as damaging as no communications at all.

While they don’t always come into regular contact with employees, senior leaders set the tone for the rest of the organisation, and the key to being a great leader is having empathy and trust.

New research shows that when employees work in organisations with a high-trust culture, they are significantly more engaged and productive. They also take fewer sick days, experience less stress and are less likely to burn out from stress or exhaustion.

The scientific explanation for this is the release of oxytocin in the bloodstream. Known as the ‘trust hormone’, oxytocin promotes bonding between humans. It makes us more likely to show empathy and build a rapport with others, which is key for strong working relationships and successful collaboration.

Empathy and trust go hand in hand, and in an age of increasing automation, we need these uniquely human characteristics more than ever.

So, what can leaders do to start creating a high-trust, high-empathy culture in their organisation?

Be honest

Open and direct communication with employees helps to build trust and confidence in the future of the business. Giving employees the chance to feed back also shows that leaders care about what their employees think and helps people make a tangible difference in the company.

Empower managers and employees

Make sure that your people have enough resources and aren’t continually working under too much pressure. High stress inhibits oxytocin production and isn’t conducive to a healthy working environment.

Encourage collective action

When people come together to work on a common goal, collective action strengthens social connections. Enable managers to set achievable but challenging tasks for their teams, without micromanaging.

Create a culture of psychological safety

Defined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking“, psychological safety gives people a safe space in which they can share ideas and disagree, while knowing that other people have their back.

This also means that people will feel confident about speaking up if they see wrongdoing. Trust is the building block. Without trust, people will not feel safe, and a lack of psychological safety contributes to an environment where rivalry, conflict and backbiting are endemic.

Posted on 5th May 2017 in Leadership
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