Capable leadership can change an organisation's fortunes, but it is also undeniable that subpar leaders/managers can have a negative impact on the organisation. However, when you realise how significant the cost of poor leadership really is, it is then the importance of leadership within the company is recognised.
Poor leadership is also one of the most potential stressors in the workplace. Bad managers cause huge losses each year and having too many of them can bring down a company. “The only defence against this problem is a good offence, because when companies get these decisions wrong, nothing fixes it,” says leadership coach and mentor Ramesh Kumar, who has over two decades of leadership experience and is an expert on organisational leadership.
Quoting Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, he adds: “The single biggest decision you make in your job - bigger than all the rest - is who you name the manager. When you name the wrong person the manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits, nothing.”
Kumar, who is on the board of a couple of customer experience impact organisations, and a visiting faculty at edtechs and multiple universities, has in his recent book titled, "Cost of Poor Leadership", presented a step-by-step guide on improving leadership skills.
He says there are two primary reasons behind poor leadership -- the fact that leaders have behavioural issues, or leaders may simply lack appropriate leadership skills. “The best part is both are addressable, provided organisations sit up and take notice,” he says.
Learning from poor leadership
Observing your leaders can offer a significant amount of learning, says Kumar.
The intent is not to copy or be a clone, but to learn the best practices that make a leader successful, he adds.
“Similarly, there is learning to be had by observing bad leaders. Learning lessons from bad leaders is a sure shot way to eliminate bad skills. Everyone wants to work with good leaders, bad leaders don’t come with a tag that they are bad leaders, it is about identifying key behaviours and results coming from teams and their leaders and then determining if these are the values, behaviours, and culture that benefits the organisation and the people. Realising and learning what 'Not to do' in a position of power can be truly enlightening for a leader,” he contends.
Kumar says empathy, compassion, values, ethics, passion, social skills and so on are all the key ingredients needed to be a successful leader. Further, the organisation needs to support these with an environment of empowerment, learning, culture, and purpose.
A combination of these can prove to be the differentiator between poor leaders and good leaders.
Leadership styles and their organisational impact
Leadership styles are now under scrutiny and debated much more than ever before.
While there are several styles of leadership, Kumar first highlights a couple of trending styles.
“Transformational leadership style is widely believed to cause change in individuals, systems, processes and eventually resulting in innovation and change. However the challenge is the leader entrusted with driving this transformational change is someone with a lot of charisma, centre of attraction, and this may result in self-promotion... the assumption is that everyone in the team is already a follower. The fear is this may not be a scalable model and there is always a risk of followers losing more than they gain from this model,” he contends.
The other is the Servant leadership style, which is a more democratic way of leading, he says.
This focuses on the key aspects such as listening, empathy, awareness, persuasion, healing, growth of people and so on.
“The primary difference between transformational leadership and servant leadership is that servant leaders develop people whereas transformational leaders inspire people. In servant leadership environments, it is generally noticed that teams have higher morale, collaboration, and highly ethical behaviour. However the challenges or disadvantages of servant leadership is that it takes time, both the leader and the team members have to remain engaged... understanding needs and creating workable plans can take time,” he says.
The question remains of how scalable these styles are, are they replicable and repeatable, while predicting a time-bound outcome and sustenance could be a challenge in these styles.
“This leads us to the concept or style of leadership called ‘Leader as a Coach’,” says Kumar.
In this, he stresses that the fundamental principle is that a leader wearing the hat of a coach creates an environment of psychological safety.
“Trust is mandatory in all of the new age leadership styles, however coaching leadership style attempts to bring psychological safety which takes trust to the next level. Trust is interpersonal... However, an environment of psychological safety nurtures happy, high-performing people and teams. In this environment there is an assurance or safety feeling that people can speak up and they will not be punished, embarrassed or side-lined for speaking up. An outcome of this environment is higher engagement, constant learning, improved performance and development,” he adds.
As per Kumar, in the leader as a coach style, the approach itself encourages independent problem solving and ultimately leads to improved performance and creates future leaders out of the team members.
“The increasing appeal and interest to be a coaching leader among aspiring leaders is that apart from the consistency of results and overall benefits, the leader doesn’t have to go to the extreme of self-sacrificing behaviour needed for a servant leadership style nor get into the mentoring/directional mode of some of the other leadership style. This is more of a balanced approach to leading,” he adds.
Each leadership style has its own merits and challenges. However, Kumar says that organisations with leaders who embrace and exhibit a coaching style of leadership will continue to be consistently successful, a visible transformation will happen, and a steady pipeline of capable leaders emerge from such teams.
Leadership development and succession planning
Leaders deal with changes at work on a continuous basis. While some changes are brought in by evolving customer needs, internal changes, new technologies, environmental changes, political and others, some are controllable and some uncontrollable. Irrespective of these, the leader is expected to steer the organisation forward and the leadership development strategy has to bear in mind all of these factors, says Kumar.
“Challenges organisations face are that their leaders are not capable, the leadership bench is not diverse, not able to scale, they do not have an effective succession planning process or the process does not yield the right leaders at the required timeline. A combination of all these factors result in a weak pipeline of leadership talent right across the leadership chain,” he says.
Succession planning ensures that leaders with high potential are ready, when needed. The purpose and objective of succession planning is complex. It is not about managing or controlling damage or to replacing a leader quickly, but instead, about having a ready leader who has been prepared to take over the job and comes with a high potential to succeed.