The days are long gone when the requirements for successful leadership stopped at the technical skills needed to run a company. Today’s leaders need to be so much more – they are expected to be transformational leaders, not transactional managers. And for this, they need to be self-aware, highly emotionally intelligent, and authentic. In short, they have to be experts in self-management – they need to be able to lead themselves before they can lead others.

Leon Ayo, Odgers Berndtson report, leaders need to lead themselves first

This is easier said than done, when leaders are under pressure to ‘get on with the job’ and perform, especially in a listed company which has to deliver quarterly results. Time for introspection and reflection is limited and doing the hard yards with regards to self-examination and personal growth is often furthest from a busy executive’s mind. But company leaders set the tone for the rest of the organisation – demonstrating they are able to manage themselves will set an example for leadership throughout the organisation.

The highest performing leaders today are those that are self-aware – they are interested, listen, seek feedback and are able to change behaviour. Crucially, they have a developed sense of empathy and compassion. Up to 85% of the skills required by executives today are related to emotional and social intelligence, and the ability to put themselves in another’s shoes.

attributes of a leader, odgers berndtson

We recommend leaders consider the following:

  • Be truly open to self-exploration. This is difficult when you may have worked in a certain way for 20 years. But you need to be brutally honest in terms of your own strengths and weaknesses. You also need to assess your own personal values – are they aligned to those of the company? If not, you won’t come across as being an authentic leader.
  • Be open to 360° feedback. We tend to operate in a culture of fear, and it may be hard to hear criticism from your employees. Even if their feedback is 80% positive, that 20% may really hurt. But those around you may just tell you exactly what you need to hear – executives need people who will speak truth to power. You must be made aware of your impact on other people. It’s a good idea to see this feedback as the ‘data’ you need for continuous self-analysis.
  • Employ the services of a coach or mentor. Executive coaching is a great opportunity for leaders to become more self-aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, develop personal insight, and learn how they can remove barriers to better performance. Coaches can provide support through difficult change, particularly at the start of a new job or when an executive has been promoted.

engaging leadership

In our fast-changing world, it is no longer enough just to bring the required job skills to the table – today’s leaders are not judged only on their performance, but also on their behaviour and their values. Whether they are 25 or 50, all leaders are on a continuous journey of learning, improvement and growth. Learning how to self-manage and lead yourself is an important part of that journey.

Leon Ayo

Leon Ayo is the CEO of Odgers Berndtson South Africa based in Johannesburg. He works within all industries and sectors in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Previously he was a partner in Odgers Berndt...

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