Cultivating leaders to rise the occasion

28 Oct 2020

Cultivating leaders to rise the occasion

Times of turbulence and rapid change help to redefine the meaning of true leadership. So how are the challenges of the past few years, which have been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, shifting the mindset and traits shown by strong leaders?

According to the Odgers Berndtson Leadership Confidence Index 2020, which surveyed nearly 1,900 senior executives from companies in a variety of industries around the world, boards and their executive leadership teams need curious leaders with real courage and vision to help them navigate through the challenges of disruption. It requires people who can lead with authenticity, vulnerability and empathy.

These results reflect what we are seeing in the German executive leadership talent market.

Top leadership traits for disruptive times

In the current environment, success requires an ability to innovate continuously and the courage to try out new business models. As a result, organisations are making an effort to encourage and reward risk-taking, cultivate a tolerance of failure and demonstrate an openness to reinvention.

Organisations are making an effort to encourage and reward risk-taking, cultivate a tolerance of failure and demonstrate an openness to reinvention.

The kinds of leaders that organisations want to attract, retain and develop, therefore, are people with the courage and resilience to thrive despite increasing uncertainty. To meet this need, according to analysis of Leadership Confidence Index, the leadership qualities most needed now are drive and determination, courage, strategic and contextual thinking and resilience.

The survey results show a large gap in how respondents from confident organisations ranked the characteristics needed to thrive in a world of complexity and uncertainty, compared to those who were less confident about their corporation’s ability to succeed through disruptive times. At least 90% of executives from confident organisations said drive and determination and courage were necessary characteristics.

Confidence in more conventional leadership traits such as digital acumen, analytical skills and an ability to operationalise transformation were ranked lower on the list of characteristics by executives from most organisations.

Cultivating and demonstrating a leadership mindset

In addition to their leadership skills, today’s leaders are being judged against a wide range of values and mindsets. The most successful candidates score highly for their curiosity, courage and emotional intelligence, personality traits that did not matter quite as much a decade ago. Displaying traits like authenticity, vulnerability and empathy is encouraged.

Successful candidates score highly for their curiosity, courage and emotional intelligence, personality traits that did not matter quite as much a decade ago.

According to Dagmar-Elena Markworth, a Partner in Odgers Berndtson’s Frankfurt office, “This makes sense because organisations recognise that leaders who are authentic, vulnerable and empathetic have the potential to really grow and evolve an organisation.”

A leader with these traits is better equipped to thrive despite uncertainty and to communicate a vision that soothes external stakeholders and motivates a team. Let’s look at these leadership characteristics one by one.

Authentic leaders are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to bring their whole self to their work. Someone who leads with authenticity will prioritise their team’s success over their own and will have a strong rapport with their colleagues. They will communicate clearly and directly with kindness and tact.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but vulnerability is actually a hallmark of courageous and self-confident leaders. No one has all the answers, and no one is right 100% of the time. By admitting this, an effective leader opens up the space for their team to contribute and be heard. A leader who displays vulnerability can also display learning from one’s mistakes and have the confidence to take risks. This can lead to a more creative, dynamic and productive organisation.

Finally, a leader who is emphatic listens attentively to and appreciates the views of others. This goes hand-in-hand with patience, understanding and curiosity. Displaying empathy is fundamental to being able to connect with colleagues and team members and to lead and inspire an organisation.

Putting your best foot forward

"The bottom line for organisations grappling with disruption and wanting to become more resilient and inclusive is that great leadership is being redefined. Organisations are seeking to hire and develop leaders who are adaptable, curious and have the courage required to lead through times of continuous change." says Nicola Müllerschön, Principal in Odgers Berndtson’s Frankfurt office.

To put your best foot forward, we advise that candidates demonstrate their ability to connect with and inspire others. And those who are not be afraid to display traits such as authenticity and vulnerability.

If you can demonstrate that you are a new kind of leader that can meet this moment, confident and successful organisations will recognise and value your potential.

Odgers Berndtson has advised numerous senior leaders looking for their next challenge and can guide candidates in presenting their profile and leadership skills in the most effective way. Please get in touch.