This article is based on my research and an HBR article
What makes an effective leader?
This question focuses on my research and my experience as a leader, executive coach, and organizational health & development consultant.
I recently conducted research to consider the most critical leadership competencies for leaders and leadership development programs.
This quite aligns with a previous article titled Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic.
Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety.
This theme combines two of the three most highly rated attributes: “high ethical and moral standards” (67% selected it as one of the most important) and “communicating clear expectations” (56%).
These attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment.
A leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that they and their employees will honour the game’s rules.
Similarly, when leaders communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment, an employee can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.
Neuroscience confirms this point.
When the amygdala registers a threat to our safety, arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our limbs in preparation for a fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the limbic brain’s social engagement system and the prefrontal cortex’s executive function, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence. From a neuroscience perspective, making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.
Do you think fear is driving your leadership actions?
This competency is all about behaving in a way that is consistent with your values.
To increase feelings of safety, work on communicating with the specific intent of making people feel safe.
One way to accomplish this is to acknowledge and neutralize feared results or consequences from the outset.
For example, you might approach a conversation about a project gone wrong by saying, “I’m not trying to blame you. I want to understand what happened.”
This competency challenge leader due to the natural responses that are hardwired into us.
But with deep self-reflection and a shift in perspective (perhaps aided by a coach), there are also enormous opportunities for improving everyone’s performance by focusing on our own.