The Four Pillars of Effective Leadership
2021 was a watershed moment for leadership. Faced with unforeseen challenges impacting every industry, every company, in every corner of the globe, leaders learned to adapt, and found new ways of managing, while also relying upon the core principles that guided them throughout their careers. During this challenging time, I had the privilege of interviewing some incredible professionals who shared with me how they lead and how they’ve even thrived during this time. Today, I’m excited to pass along the key lessons I learned about how we can define leadership and the core pillars that make it exceptional.
Through my Negotiation Unleashed Leadership Series (launched in January 2021), I sat down with various industry experts to discuss the intricacies of their businesses and leadership styles to provide insights for emerging and seasoned professionals alike.
Oftentimes we view leadership as an innate skill — something some people naturally have and that others are destined to struggle with. Far too often “leadership” is used as a buzzword, tossed around without any real substance. Leadership can therefore be difficult to define, and even harder to practice. This, however, is not the case for the leaders I had the pleasure of interviewing. And, fortunately for us, they shared with us what actual leadership looks like under the hood, and described for us the core principles that enable them to succeed. Despite hailing from different industries, from talent acquisition to energy, matchmaking to marketing, these leaders provide lessons that not only overlap, but can be distilled and applied to any leadership role or field.
I am excited to share with you the core pillars that emerged from these interviews, including some valuable lessons I learned that you can apply to your career and your life:
As I spoke with the leaders who participated in this project, a common thread began to appear: empowerment. It’s one thing to inspire people (a difficult task in its own right), but it’s another thing entirely to actually empower them. While it may seem obvious, leaders can often make the mistake of hiring the best talent, only to forget to do the work it takes to enable their success. Whether this means providing the necessary resources, offering flexible work schedules, or removing obstacles that stifle progress, great leaders go the extra mile to ensure their team has what they need in order to perform at their best.
By recognizing this, we as leaders can begin to tap into the “people power” that fuels the most successful companies today. As Chris Burke, Vice President of Transmission Operations at Entergy Corporation, shared, “Everything that you do either needs people or has an impact on people or both, so that’s the number one aspect of leadership from my perspective… To me, leadership is the ability to effectively lever all the resources at one’s disposal towards the accomplishment of objectives.” In other words, once the team is set and the talent takes the field, it is truly up to a leader to enable the success and optimize the skill sets of each member of the team.
Inclusivity has been a key topic of late and it’s no surprise it emerged as a main theme in the Leadership Series. With the renewed emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion redefining today’s workplace, it’s clear that inclusivity is prompting a new look at leadership. But what does it really mean and how do we ensure that we’re leading in a way that promotes true inclusion?
Perhaps the answer lies in how we approach the issue of inclusion in the first place. Every leader I spoke with described inclusion as a chief reason their teams are successful. As Ted Rubin, Chief Marketing Officer of Photofy stated, “I think diversity and inclusion are two sides of a coin.” Rather than perceiving inclusion and diversity as a hindrance or compliance item, effective leaders treat them as a benefit, as complementary ingredients that are keys to success in today’s business environment. In this way, much like empowerment, it’s not enough just to build diversity, leaders must also promote inclusion to leverage the talent, ideas, and perspectives that team diversity brings.
Violet Lim, CEO of Lunch Actually reflected this sentiment, stating that, “I think as a leader my overarching principle is that everybody should be heard and respected, it is my responsibility to align everybody’s interest and really help everyone see each other’s points of view.” In today’s business world, it is imperative that our colleagues feel free to be themselves, to voice their genuine opinions, and to value their role as part of the wider mission. As our teams, communities and customers become more and more diverse, a leader’s ability to make people feel included and valued is more important than ever.
As a leadership and negotiation strategist, I wasn’t surprised to uncover the next pillar of leadership: communication. Whether between employees, stakeholders, or clients, communication is an essential ability of any successful leader. Never has this been more apparent than during the pandemic, which forced the world to work in new ways. For some, this meant working entirely remotely for the first time ever. As we witnessed an unprecedented reliance on virtual communication to maintain our ways of life, both personally and professionally, effective leaders found new mediums and styles of communication in order to remain connected.
The pandemic not only brought on a new sense of remoteness, but with it new pressures that directly impacted the physical and mental health of employees, placing well-being at the top of the priority list. In response, effective leaders need to be able to manage productivity while keeping the well-being of their team members front and center.
According to Jean Patrick, CEO of ScaleUp Edge, “A leader must be clear on what the goal is and celebrate success, not necessarily just the final success, but to celebrate and acknowledge those successes along the way.” In this sense, communication is an active process, core to mission success, and one that is maintained thoughtfully in order to encourage and recognize success, however incremental.
Last, but surely not least, the fourth pillar is adaptability. Traditionally, adaptability is at the heart of any successful business or skillful leader. Sink or swim, evolve or perish, innovate or lag, all reminders of this vital quality in our competitive world. However, rarely does the world of business experience such a rapid change as with the pandemic, prompting leaders to adapt quicker than before to meet new challenges. No matter the industry, each of the leaders I interviewed expressed the need to remain adaptive in order to achieve their team goals.
There’s no doubt that the changes we witnessed this past year will continue to impact our work systems and cultures. We as leaders must continue to be adaptive and anticipate the changes that tomorrow may bring, while inspiring and enabling our teams to be drivers of that change. As Mike Stevenson, Founder of Thinktastic put it, “Leaders need to give people the sense that the world is going to change because we are going to change it.”
Over the course of this year I learned a tremendous amount from my discussions with these dynamic leaders. As leadership continues to be the key skill that means the difference between success or failure, these conversations provide us with valuable insights that are applicable across industries and contexts. We’ve learned that as leaders it is not enough to simply inspire others, but we must also empower our team members to succeed. We’ve learned that diversity is an advantage in business, and that inclusivity is the key that enables us to leverage that diversity in order to achieve our goals.
In order to facilitate empowerment and inclusion, we’ve discovered that communication is crucial. Given our ever evolving business landscape, we must ensure that we communicate clearly and compassionately, allowing our teams to understand the collective mission and to feel connected whatever the circumstances may be.
Lastly, we learned that leadership is an evolving skill, and adaptability enables leaders to drive success regardless of the challenges affecting your business.
I hope you can gain as much insight as I have from these interviews. As shared by Daniella Kahane, Executive Director and CEO of Women in Negotiation (WIN),”Great leaders create leaders.” May these insights inspire you to become a better leader and make leaders of those around you in the process.
You can check out all of the Negotiation Unleashed Leadership Series interviews in their entirety here. A special thank you to all of the amazing individuals I had the privilege of interviewing for this series!
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