What Makes an Effective Leader, Now and In the Future?

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“If no one would ever find out about my accomplishments, how would I lead differently?”

—Adam Grant

Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” poses a great question.

How do others see us, and our how do our accomplishments influence how we lead? How do our intentions affect how we lead? According to Grant, people who are more “giving” make better leaders than those who tend to be takers. But what is the difference and how does that affect leadership in the 21st century? Let’s take a look.

The difference between givers and takers

When it comes to management and leadership, what does it mean to be a giver as opposed to a taker? Business.com poses this in terms of how we once viewed leadership, the traditional or stereotypical view of leadership that has hung on for the last few decades.

Essentially, each person in an organization was looking out for #1. Climbing the corporate ladder was all that truly mattered and their leadership style was one that allowed them to climb over their coworkers to get to the top.

What takers tend to do:

  • Take credit for achievements, even when they didn’t pull their weight
  • Be inflexible when it comes to rules
  • Dislike sharing or working with others
  • Not help others if they cannot benefit in some way
  • Be competitive
  • Blame others when things go wrong

Givers have a different mindset. They understand that working together and supporting one another is a better way to get things done.

Attributes of givers:

  • Really care about the needs of others
  • Give of themselves and their time
  • Flexible when it comes to rules
  • Not competitive
  • Share credit and blame as achievements and situations dictate
  • Genuinely want to see people in addition to themselves succeed

Can leaders be completely selfless?

In 2014, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of the public to determine what the average adult thought were the most important traits in a leader. The top trait (84 percent) was honesty, followed by intelligence at 80 percent. However, compassion was also on the list at 57 percent. Honesty and compassion both imply a giver style of leadership. In addition, ambition was at the bottom of the list at 53 percent, indicating that a taker style of leadership is the least popular.

But is it good to be a giver all the time? Apparently not. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Grant himself says leaders need to choose on a daily basis whether to be a giver or a taker. In fact, mixed messages are often sent to employees. Organizations want a “giver atmosphere,” but still tend to reward those who are takers, meaning takers are more likely to get promotions. In addition, givers tend to be the least productive because they are putting so much effort into helping others.

The leadership solution

How can leaders find a balance between being a giver and a taker and promoting those traits in their employees? Takers need to be encouraged to collaborate with others. At the same time, givers need to overcome being timid, be able to say no to requests that impede their own performance, and not allow empathy to cause them to help others at the risk of taking them away from their own responsibilities.

But, being a giver does not require a person to be timid, to be available to others all the time, or to let empathy control their decisions. An effective giver is one who can overcome these shortcomings, look out for their own self-interests, and still be there for others when needed. The key is finding a balance between your own needs and the needs of others without letting one set of needs triumph at the expense of the other.

The modern approach

So, what do the CEOs in business today think? Entrepreneur presents the opinions of some of the top leaders in business today and it seems they are in line with the giver approach.

Ted Devine, CEO of Insureon, doesn’t even have a separate office. The company office is an open concept where everyone works in the same large office space together and anyone can talk with anyone else at any time. This cuts out the feeling of hierarchy and allows a leader to lead by working directly with the team.

Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET cable network and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, shares the idea of leading with the greater good in mind. Collaboration is important to Johnson and failure is acceptable, provided it serves as a learning experience for moving forward.

A giver mentality shines through Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who prefers a hands-off approach that allows team members to run with an idea and work together in a collaborative and fun atmosphere to make it happen. This level of autonomy is highly effective and productive.

Why the change?

Clearly, the modern approach is one that stems from a giver mentality, but what precipitated this change in leadership styles?

In one word—millennials. The millennial generation view their careers differently than previous generations.

As the Ivey Business Journal reports, while baby boomers prefer the hierarchical structure that honors the individual approach to work, millennials tend to prefer the team approach.

Technology is a major tool in how work is done, and millennials are loyal to the work they do, rather than the company for which they work. In addition, giving is a core value amongst the millennial generation, with nearly 70 percent of them saying that their highest priorities in life are giving back and being engaged at a civic level. This is something that is easily and readily transferable to the workplace.

The global environment

How does this giver approach to leadership hold up on a global scale? This question is incredibly important when you consider that many companies operate in a global market. Can the leadership approach in a company that has corporate offices spread across the globe be the same in every country in which they have a presence? Perhaps not.

Forbes discusses this issue of leadership on a global scale—what is acceptable and effective in terms of leadership varies between countries. Developing countries and those with emerging markets tend to have a more hierarchical approach, with a management focus on individual and operational performance. This is a short-term approach that does not value the giver leadership style.

The Nordic and Benelux countries have traditionally focused on the greater good and a shared vision and set of values, which puts them in a good position to transition to the new giver leadership style that is emerging. As we have discussed, the hierarchical structure of leadership in the U.S. is changing, but it still hangs on in many companies.

The big question is, what happens when it comes to global leadership? Can you take a leader that uses a giver leadership style from a U.S. company and put them in charge of a company in China? It turns out that isn’t easy, nor is it the best strategy.

In essence, even though the millennial generation is driving change in management styles and how leadership is approached, this cannot always be taken to the corporate offices located in other countries. Cultural differences and differences in values mean that sometimes it is best to promote leadership from within corporate offices in foreign countries and allow them to lead in a manner that is most appropriate in that setting.

The future of leadership

Despite cultural differences in leadership styles and the lagging behind of old-school organizations, leadership is heading in a different direction for the future.

PricewaterhouseCoopers discusses the future of leadership and how leaders will have to become more agile, creating a workforce that is empowered to make their own decisions and take risks that will lead to increased innovation. This will require them to attract workers not only with tangible compensation, such as salary and benefits, but with more intangible measures of a workplace, such as flexibility on where and when employees work, increased autonomy, and increased diversity and opportunity. Again, this requires a change in mentality from a taker leadership style to a giver leadership style.

In short, the giver leadership style is moving to the forefront as the preferred choice, and the global community will eventually have to follow suit in order to tap into the shrinking talent pool so they can attract the best talent.

Millennials prefer the giver approach, but also have a high level of self-confidence and are well-educated, meaning they know what they want, can go after it, and are more likely able to balance the giver-taker approach to leadership. It is this approach that will propel companies forward into the future, allowing them to compete on a global scale, ensuring top talent is within reach and that innovation is at the forefront of the business model.

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Harriet Genever
Harriet Genever
Harriet Genever is a freelance writer and copyeditor, specializing in blog posts, research articles and customer case studies. As the founder of her Australian-based business, Write Beyond, she works with B2B companies and small business, developing compelling content to attract customers and keep them engaged. With a background in Human Resource Management, Harriet enjoys the personal interaction with clients and their customers when working on writing projects. She is also a true believer that the key to success in any business is its people.
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