What makes a good leader?

What makes a good leader?

Every day it seems a new business book appears offering advice on leadership in the modern workplace. But what actually makes a good leader? The answer is different for everyone.

Leadership is about many things - vision, performance, motivation and insight as well as functional or technical ability. Often leadership is also about what 'works'. Employers have an innate understanding about what works and what doesn't when it comes to management, after all they observe it every day.

What is clear from the latest Kelly Global Workforce Index, a survey of 170,000 people across the world, is that there is a serious disconnect between what employees want from their leaders and what they actually get. Not only are workers failing to grasp their management's vision, they are questioning the core principles that underpin their organisations. Our survey explored the way that workers think about the quality and style of leadership in their organisation, and to what degree they share the goals of their leaders.

Just one third of workers reported satisfaction with their management's leadership style. So what's going wrong? Are the messages from the top not clear enough, or are the leaders themselves not right for the job? When workers are asked about their chosen leadership style, there is a clear preference. Together, the 'democratic', 'empowering', 'empathetic' and 'visionary' modes of leadership make up an overwhelming 81% of the favoured styles. Workers clearly opt for a leadership style that emphasises the "soft" skills--communication, vision, empathy, team building, and individual empowerment.

But what they actually get at work is entirely different.

The many common style of leadership is "authoritative". And it's also the least preferred. In fact, just 43% of workers are getting the style of leadership they actually want. Effective leaders should motivate staff to achieve higher performance. Yet, something is amiss as only half of the people we surveyed say that they are inspired by their current manager to perform their best.  In many instances, the way that workers feel towards their employer rests on how much they "buy-in" to their manager's goals and vision.

Workers who understand and embrace the goals of management have a shared purpose, which means that everyone is clear about the business's direction and how to implement it. But again, our findings paint a disturbing picture for many companies. Nearly four in 10 workers do not believe in or share the vision for their organisation mapped out by its leaders, or they are unsure what it even is. By any measure, this represents a huge deadweight of workers who are disengaged and surely working well below their best potential. Of course, it is entirely possible that this "lost one-third" is right. Their management may be on the wrong track, but can't see it. Businesses fail every day because of poor management. Meanwhile high performing enterprises go to great lengths to ensure there is a shared vision for the company, from top to bottom.

Workers who are isolated from the core mission of their organisation may be the victims of leadership failure; whether that is down to the failure of managers to even have a strategic goal, or their failure to communicate that goal. Either way, it's a major vacuum that is impacting significantly on productivity and staff morale.