What can we do to become better leaders?

Today, the topic of leadership is heavily debated and there seems to be opposing views on whether a leader is born or made, and what qualities are essential to be a good leader. In this blog piece I want to elaborate on and discuss the topic of leadership linking it to research as well as my personal views.

Perhaps the most important question when it comes to the topic of leadership is whether a good leader is a result of inborn qualities or abilities that are developed throughout his or her lifetime. Research referred to in class has shown that the spilt of what is inborn and what is developed is on average 40%/60% respectively. The degree to which this distribution varies do I not know, but there must be a certain extent of variation depending on who you are and the external environment you are  exposed to. An interesting article in the Forbes written by Erika Andersen supports the claim that some are born leaders and that others, no matter how hard they try are not able to be good leaders. What is interesting according to this article is that people in terms of their quality of leadership are distributed on a bell curve, where the vast majority of people are located on the mean, and therefore have the opportunity to become great leaders. As a result, we can agree on the fact that a good leader is a result of both inborn qualities as well as qualities that are developed.

Once the idea that leaders are a result of a mix of inborn qualities and developed abilities, then the focus can be shifted to how great leaders are developed. Given the assumption that we are not perfectly born leaders, what should we then focus on to become better leaders?

First, for you to be able to get people to follow you and to support your ideas you need many qualities, but my opinion among the most important qualities are being enthusiastic. It does not matter how great a leader you are if you are not able to get people excited about your ideas and inspire them to perform at their very best. Research has shown that for a speaker’s impact, what is being said only has 7% of an impact compared to how we say it which is 38% (body language 55%). Most of us are extremely concerned with the content of what we are going to say, and that is important, but truth be told, how you say it is on average more than 5 times as important. I am sure we all can relate to personal experiences where we have been part of a group with an enthusiastic leader that really has managed to get us engaged, and on the flip side also have been part of groups where the leader lacked enthusiasm. So next time you are in a leader role, try to be ten times more enthusiastic, and be astonished by the results.

Second, I would like to draw the attention to a visionary of his time who was mentioned during one of our class discussions. Dale Carnegie can be seen as a guru within the field of human relations and leadership. In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People he presents his ideas in the form of principles that will make you a more efficient leader if they are applied right. The principles are simple and easy to apply, if applied enough times, they will eventually become a habit. Among the principles are: “Begin with praise and honest appreciation”, “Ask questions instead of giving orders” and “Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct”. Personally, I find his work very intriguing. Let us say that you instead of giving somebody direct orders try to ask them questions and try to steer them onto the path that you think leads to the right solution or process of solving a problem. The employee will then feel that the idea is his or hers and you get your desired results without giving direct orders. If you manage to apply some of these principles, you will most likely become a better leader. (I have attached a link for those of you interested)

In conclusion, it can be said that good leaders are a result of both inborn qualities and attributes that are developed through his or her lifetime. Nevertheless, since none of us are born perfect leaders, we can make efforts to develop as leaders through for example make use of enthusiasm as well as guiding leadership principles from Dale Carnegie.

Link to Dale Carnegie Principles



Companies and teamwork, a love saga?

In this blog piece, I would like to reflect on the question: why do companies organize their employees to work in teams? Today, teamwork is part of our day-to-day lives and most of us feel that it is normal to work in teams. Almost all companies use teams these days, but a couple a decades ago it was not very common. Despite this development I feel that the arguments as to why companies organize their employees into teams are not common knowledge, and I therefore want to discuss the different advantages of using teams.

Research has repeatedly showed that the quality of a group’s effort is higher when working together, then when working individually. (Harvard Management Update, 2006) Problem solving is especially one process that is more efficient when working in teams. When a team works to solve a problem, the team members are able to get input on their ideas, as well as arguments for why somebody else may have a different opinion on a certain matter. This type of interaction makes it possible for team members to build on each other’s ideas, as well as to get feedback on their own ideas. The final proposed solution or strategy is often a hybrid of several different ideas that team members have come up with and discussed.

The relationship between efficiency and performance should also be mentioned. When working in a team, employees are able to focus more on the tasks they do best. Most of us can closely relate to the idea that we enjoy doing some tasks more than others. The 80/20 rule is often used when describing the relationship between the fun and not so fun work we do at school or in our jobs. There is in most cases a link between what you enjoy doing and what you are good at doing. Working in a team enables employees to do more of the work they enjoy thereby boosting their performance.

Another argument favoring teams is the synergy that is created through the interaction between team members. Individually, synergies are neutral or sometimes even negative, but when individuals work in teams they create a synergy which is higher than if you take the sum of the individual parts. For an organization, this means more output or higher quality of the work when the employees are working in teams rather than individually.

Workers get a motivational boost from working in teams. It is not easy to define what exactly what is the reason this motivational boost. One explanation can be that individuals feel more motivated to work when they are working with other individuals because they feel that they are part of something bigger and working towards a common goal that they share with their fellow team members. Each team member wants to contribute and do their best, but do at the same time want recognition for their efforts and results. Exactly what boosts motivation when working in teams varies, but it normally leads to a motivational boost among employees.

According to a report on teamwork by EY, 9 out of 10 companies agree that the problems they are facing today are too complex to be solved by employees individually. The increasing use of technology as well as globalization are certainly important factors contributing to the growing complexity of problems. Creative thinking is needed to solve such problems and the idea is that the level of creativity is higher when individuals are working together compared to when they are working individually.

In conclusion, teamwork can be said to be a very good way of organizing employees into effective units. Working in teams also boost employee motivation, as well as improve their performance. Teamwork can also create synergies and is an effective way of tackling complex problems that corporations are facing today. Teamwork is simply a win-win situation for both companies and employees since it benefits both parties in different ways.