Leaders should remember to be human beings - Business Works
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Leaders should remember to be human beings

Adi Gaskell T here is almost an unwritten rule that our leaders should be infallible people that know everything and never make mistakes. This belief can often lead our managers down the path to hubris where seeking help or advice is regarded as a sign of weakness.

New research from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee underlines the fallibility in this approach to leadership.

They wanted to investigate the qualities that go into an effective leader. They asked 16 CEOs, 20 mid-level leaders, and 19 front-line leaders to describe in detail how humble leaders operate in the workplace and how a humble leader behaves differently than a non-humble leader.

"Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing," says Bradley Owens, lead researcher. "But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favourably by their followers. They also will legitimise their followers' own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations."

The key for effective leadership is to remember to be human beings rather than attempting to be superhuman. It suggests finding a level of comfort in who you are rather than pretending to be someone you’re not goes a long way towards being an effective, not to mention likeable, leader.

The researchers found that humble behaviour was especially valued when displayed by experienced, white, male managers, as such behaviour is so uncommon. So owning up to mistakes, praising team members and admitting that there is much you still need to learn can go an awfully long way.

Female managers however were shown to have a tough time. On one hand, they were expected to show more humility as standard, whilst on the other hand, when they did show humility their competence was called into question.

"Our results suggest that female leaders often experience a 'double bind,'" Owens says. "They are expected to be strong leaders and humble females at the same time."

Leaders who want to grow are able to signal to followers that learning, growth, mistakes, uncertainty and false starts are normal and expected in the workplace and this produces followers and entire organizations that constantly keep growing and improving.

Adi Gaskell is a manager at Oil and Gas IQ and a management writer for Professional Manager magazine.

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