The question of what makes a good leader is something that we have all asked ourselves at one point or another.
Whether that is in assessing ourselves as leaders or appraising those above us on the totem pole, the answer is rarely a straightforward one. Starting with the fact that different qualities are often needed for different types of leadership roles (an army general and the head of a kindergarten may have limited transferable skills for example), there is the added complication that these skills and qualities are constantly evolving. You could perhaps argue that the one constant in what makes a good leader, is the ability to adapt and keep dynamic.
What shapes these changing qualities could be anything from new workplace trends, to technological advances, or just general societal adjustments. We’re in a fascinating situation now where all three of these factors are currently strongly in-play.
There are ongoing recent trends in the workplace around reducing hierarchical structures and making employees feel more autonomous and empowered. Technological advancements around high speed internet, video conferencing software and a host of online workplace tools are all both allowing and encouraging us to have increased levels of remote working. It’s also been a big few years for general changes in society that are both positive (a higher focus on diversity and inclusion), and negative (Covid-19).
All of these added together have meant it is more important than ever for leaders to stay agile and willing to adjust their leadership style to the prevailing climate.
So what is it that makes a good leader in 2021? There are of course a thousand different answers to this question, but one common theme that is being talked about again and again is the importance of connected leadership.
A recent survey from Brunswick found that employees prefer to work for connected leaders by a ratio of 5:1. They also found employees trust connected leaders by the exact same ratio, which is of course by no means coincidental.
Why is connected leadership important? Before we delve more into the details, we can start by broadly defining the importance of connected leadership into two categories; From the outside looking in, and from the inside looking up.
Let’s start with the outside looking in.
Whilst not every CEO needs to position themselves as a wannabe celebrity chief exec (not naming any names here), having transparency and openness from a leader is seen as an increasingly important trait. Having a leader directly connected to the world outside the boardroom is essential in today’s world, whether it be for the benefit of current investors or current customers, or those who could be one at some point in the future.
There are different ways to convey this, although arguably the most effective right now is through social media. Despite the explosion of various social media platforms over the past decade or so, many people still view its business use as being limited to somewhere to market consumer goods and services. Needless to say, there is more to social media than this.
An excellent example of this would be the recently departed President of the United States. Whatever you may think about his politics, ethics, morality or choice of hair style, it is difficult to argue against the fact that he was an effective user of social media.
At the risk of over-simplifying an extremely complex paradigmatic shift in US politics, you could almost state the case that the entirety of his political success was built upon strong social media and outward connectedness.
Obviously the worlds of politics and business are different places, and their leaders require different skill sets, but if we are looking for proof of concept that social media can be an effective tool for leaders to connect with those around them, I’m afraid to say Mr. Trump is it.
The same study from Brunswick surveyed over 5000 readers of financial publications, 74% reported they would trust a Connected Leader more than a CEO who does not use social media as part of their work.
Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily advocate having social media as your primary method of communication, when it forms part of a broader multi-channel communication strategy it can be a highly effective way to connect with those outside the inner sanctum of your organisation.
The other side to this story, is the importance of having a connected leader to those within your organisation.
Of the 6500 employees surveyed by Brunswick, having leaders who communicate directly and transparently with employees was the most important factor they gave for why they would stay in a current role, after compensation and benefits.
We all know the importance of employee retention, with estimates for the true cost of hiring and training a new employee being in the range of six to nine month’s salary. This is before you even take into account the disruption and reduction in productivity caused by high employee turnover.
The good news for the leaders of you out there, is that there are an increasingly large number of ways to communicate and, more importantly, connect effectively with your employees. I differentiate between the two verbs here, as I see communication alone as a one way broadcast, whereas connecting necessitates some form of dialogue.
Communication without connection is the old school way. Email broadcasts, long speeches, or even notices on a messageboard. This is not to say that these methods do not sometimes have their uses, but something else is needed to help employees feel connected with their leaders, as opposed to just working for them.
I’m sure there are many leaders out there who will say that their door is always open, or they would always respond to emails or messages from team members. However just saying those words doesn’t mean it will happen.
Despite their best intentions, it can be extremely unnerving and intimidating for an employee to approach a senior manager outside of a recognised forum. Further to this, it may not be an efficient use of a CEO’s time to have to be constantly fielding ad-hoc calls and meetings from their employees in an unstructured fashion.
Social media can play a part here also. As with the reasons already discussed, it can be an extremely effective tool for communicating messaging outwards, and it also comes with the added benefit of allowing two way interaction. Further advantages include that it is cheap to use, and it can be easy for all employees to view both posts and responses.
However, that positive can quickly turn into a negative, when you realise that as well as your employees, the rest of the world can also see everything you are posting. This could be business sensitive information, or even some form of negativity, which is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence when this level of openness is encouraged.
Another method being used successfully by more and more businesses is the virtual town hall. In-person town halls have been happening since the days when Apple was just a fruit, but they can be costly and time-consuming exercises, requiring the entire team to get together at the same place and same time.
Making these events virtual, even before the days of Coronavirus, meant that employees could attend from wherever they were working that day. Using communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Workplace from Facebook, you can utilise their chat functionality to allow employees to comment and ask questions to whoever is presenting via the video link at the time.
Alternatively you can gather questions in advance, which has the advantage of being able to filter out any potentially inappropriate questions, as well as giving the speaker a chance to properly prepare their answer. These questions can be gathered in advance via email, but this can be time consuming and resource draining.
If you are already using Teams or Workplace, you could utilise a simple Q&A bot, which could send a broadcast out to all employees ahead of the town hall meeting asking which questions they would like to submit. These could then be compiled ahead of time, either anonymously or openly, ready for the town hall speakers to answer.
This is a great win-win for all involved, by enabling the employees to feel like they have a direct line to the boss, but at the same time allowing your CEO the opportunity to see questions in advance, and gather any relevant information or data to be able to properly answer the employee.
It is also possible to keep a Q&A bot live even after the Town Hall has finished. This could turn it into a sort of virtual suggestion box, giving employees the opportunity to submit questions at any time of their choosing, and retaining a constant connection between themselves and their leaders.
One of our customers, French soccer giants Olympique de Marseille have used both Workplace from Facebook and bots to better connect staff with their leadership and C-Suite teams.
Their Ask The Boss bot allows staff to ask questions and have these directed to the relevant leadership team members ahead of the next all company Town Hall.
Staff also have the option to submit questions anonymously or openly. By utilising bots and Workplace from Facebook, they saw a 15X increase in questions being asked by staff, and a far more transparent culture between employees and C-Suite.
The importance and value of connected leadership is likely to only increase over the coming months and years.
CEOs and other leaders will need to be more visible to those outside the boardroom, whilst investors, customers and (most importantly) employees will want to feel like they have a connection to them. As with most things, there isn’t a one size fits all solution, but utilising some of the technological tools available (such as Teams, Workplaces or bots), to help in opening up some form of dialogue is a good place to start.
If you’d like to see how bots on Workplace and Microsoft Teams can create a more connected leadership team at your company or organization, then click below to check out our Employee Amplification promotion and apply for a free two month trial of our platform!