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The importance of leadership and the role of a leader

Posted on: May 16, 2023
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In many ways, traditional leadership is at a crossroads. A combination of large-scale global uncertainties – economic recession, a pandemic, political turmoil and workplace injustice, to name a few – and changing attitudes to what we expect from modern leaders, has caused many to re-evaluate their roles. More and more, particularly among younger demographics, employees want their work to matter – and for the organisations they work for to care about social, political and environmental causes that extend beyond the workplace. By extension, this naturally also includes leaders themselves.

Of course, many effective leadership cornerstones remain essential, from communication to analytical thinking to problem-solving, but leadership is still evolving. Great leaders take many forms, but aspiring future leaders must nonetheless develop the requisite skills, abilities and know-how to navigate organisations – and their workforces – through all manner of challenging and changeable events.

Why is the role of a leader important?

Great leaders are strategists and role models for their businesses and brands, acting as solid, dependable and inspirational figureheads that guide organisations towards high-level goals and ambitions. Their responsibilities are far-reaching, from developing and ‘living’ company values, to aligning business operations to the ‘big picture’, to supporting and empowering teams to thrive.

Those in leadership roles act as the ultimate team leaders – whether an individual works for a small business or a global organisation. As such, today’s best leaders embrace and support diversity, equality and inclusion within their organisations, seek to communicate transparently, and innovate to bring about positive change for their business and employees.

Organisations and employees alike depend on leaders for guidance and inspiration, which they must balance alongside numerous other leadership roles such as:

  • Providing an overall vision and direction for the company
  • Motivating employees and offering an overarching clarity of purpose
  • Solving problems and remaining aware of both opportunities and threats
  • Facilitating progress towards business objectives
  • Using available resources to achieve optimal efficiency
  • Managing stakeholders and gaining support and buy-in from business contributors
  • Empathising with, and listening to, team members
  • Placing the best people in the best jobs and developing teams
  • Upholding company ethos, values and attitudes.

Of course, there are certain periods when the role of the leader, and how essential it is to the functioning of a business, is thrown into the spotlight; for example, when a market, industry or work environment a company operates in is experiencing change, adversity or instability. In such times, an effective leader will step up, take charge and manage transitional periods, drawing on organisational resilience and capitalising on opportunities for creativity and innovation.

While some leaders will naturally, and possibly even unconsciously, know what is required to support employees during volatile times, others will not. In these instances, relying on a honed toolkit of leadership strategies is essential.

What are leadership qualities?

Leadership skills focus on the power and ability to lead other people: a leader’s focus is on motivating a group of people to achieve a common goal, rather than monitoring the smaller tasks that contribute to it.

Leadership styles may vary significantly, however there are fundamental qualities that leaders, and those in management roles, should possess:

  • Vision – what is the company capable of achieving, what should it focus on, and how should it get there? Leaders work to establish roadmaps to help businesses achieve their ambitions and motivate others into participative action.
  • Communication – this quality is one of the most integral for a leader as it helps to convey organisational vision, facilitate daily business activities, keep teams aligned, and motivate others to achieve better job performance and productivity.
  •  Decision-making – decisions arise in all situations and some are easier to make than others; leaders must act decisively, make reasoned judgements, know who to call on for advice, and act in the best interests of the business.
  • Passion – a good leader will be passionate about the cause and inspire others in the pursuit of shared goals and objectives.
  • Guidance – leaders should provide clear, transparent guidance to their teams, including communicating effectively, listening to feedback and addressing concerns. Many leaders offer unlimited access for employees to ask questions and raise issues.
  • Commitment – a leader’s focus on long-term goals and business success should be clear, otherwise employees and customers will likely struggle to make similar commitments to the business.
  • Integrity – while communication skills are regularly employed to convey company values, leaders must ensure that their own actions – as well as those of the business and their team members – match up with their words.
  • Confidence – this aspect of leadership is overarching, applying to leaders’ confidence in the business, in their own abilities, and in that of their employees.
  • Morale – effective management and leadership recognises the importance of employees’ roles, efforts and successes; in turn, this keeps teamwork on track and helps to increase employee satisfaction and performance.
  • Growth – research indicates that 83% of businesses agree that leadership development is important at every level. Alongside business growth, all employees should receive equal opportunities, initiatives and guidance to develop in their own roles – both personally and professionally – perhaps one day becoming leaders themselves.
  • Coordination – balancing personal interests with broader business objectives, and fostering an environment that prioritises employee welfare alongside organisational success, is essential.

Self-aware individuals make for better leaders. After all, a leader operates in one of the most important roles for their team and company, and someone who is blinkered, unaware or uninterested in self-development is likely ill-equipped to support others. A leader may be aware that gaps exist in their knowledge or skill-set, that they’re not approaching a situation in the best way they could, or that a colleague is better-placed to advise on a certain aspect of the business then they are. They are able to identify personal leadership development opportunities, alongside guiding and supporting those around them to succeed.

Of course, leadership qualities are not only valuable in individuals in top-level, senior roles. Any employee, in any area or level or an organisation, can possess the skills of a leader.

Decision-making in leadership

Decisions made by those in senior leadership positions can ultimately spell the success or failure of business ventures – often with far-reaching consequences.

Leaders who are skilled in strategic, considered and, where possible, evidence-based decision-making are more likely to achieve both short-term and long-term organisational goals. While a good leader will know when to draw on the consultancy and expertise of colleagues and other experts – who can provide valuable suggestions, information, data and opinions – the final call often sits with them. As such, the ability to shoulder responsibility, and work to accept and counteract poor decision-making, is key. Day-to-day business dealings require decisions to be made quickly and effectively; it’s no use for a leader to endlessly ruminate on options as they may miss business opportunities, lose momentum and sacrifice competitiveness.

Set the standard for transformational leadership in your workplace

Are you preparing for your next big career move? Want to develop great leadership skills to support and empower teams?

Gain in-depth understanding of the operational realities of business management – with a wider focus on long-term performance and efficiency – with Keele University’s online MSc Management with Sustainability programme. Through flexible study that fits around your lifestyle, you’ll develop as an inspirational, capable leader with critical understanding of the global, environmental and social implications of managing a business. Our modules are wide-ranging, encompassing organisational behaviour, leadership and management skills, strategy, green finance, sustainable supply chain management, human resources management, and more.

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