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As a futurist and performance coach and strategist, people often ask me what qualities make a great leader. I’m fortunate to work with hundreds of established and emerging leaders every day. They come from fields spanning tech to construction and everything in between. This work has given me a number of unique insights, which I’m happy to share.
Strong leaders need to have a number of personal qualities. Rather than touching lightly on an exhaustive list, let me dive more deeply into three that I believe allow leaders to reframe and reimagine what is possible.
With the recent pandemic, people face unprecedented change and turbulence in their jobs. So, now more than ever leaders focus on these three traits: embracing a growth mindset. tapping into a sense of learned optimism, and coaching their teams to adapt change and build resilience.
“We agree that the world is changing rapidly. The future is not like the past. The way we do business today will not be the way we do it in the future.” – Idris Motee, CEO, Idea Couture
In a world where variables change by the minute, solutions to problems are not always linear and, in many cases, can be ambiguous. There has never been a greater need for leaders to embrace a growth mindset than right now, especially when leaders are having to contend with a never-ending list of new challenges.
Leaders with a growth mindset lean into challenges, strive to learn and consistently see the potential to grow their skills. These leaders embrace new challenges, are willing to learn, and run mini experiments to try out new ways of doing things.
“I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed,” Michael Jordan once described what a growth mindset truly looks like. “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Working with leaders over the years, I have found five keys to helping cultivate a growth mindset:
- View challenges as opportunities.
- Seek out stretch assignments.
- Reframe the ‘failing’ to ‘learning’
- Allow time for reflection.
- Seek feedback around what is working and what is not.
- Embrace an iterative approach that allows for experimentation and prototyping.
Optimism and the ability to maintain a glass-half-full perspective enables leaders to tap into improved levels of wellbeing and higher levels of motivation. It also makes them better able to recover from setbacks. One of my favourite models for learned optimism is the Seligman “ABCDE” model:
- Adversity: The situation that calls for a response
- Belief: How we interpret the event
- Consequence: The way that we behave, respond, or feel
- Disputation: The effort we expend to argue or dispute the belief
- Energization: The outcome that emerges from trying to challenge our beliefs
In a sense optimism allows leaders to reframe what is in front of them, and then with that new perspective seek new ways of doing things.
Working with matrixed teams across time zones and geographies in office and virtual settings brings with it many challenges. The days of command-and-control leadership hierarchies are long gone. Today’s work environment requires nimble, creative thinkers who can effectively solve novel problems rather than complete repetitive tasks. The issues at hand have become more nuanced and layered, which means leaders must expand the lens through which to effectively problem-solve and tap into the brain trust of their employees. I have seen firsthand how coaching comprises the new “super power” possessed by effective leaders. It allows them to tap into the intelligence of many.
Great leaders also make a compelling case for the “why” and use coaching to facilitate the “how.” They do this by actively listening and asking open-ended questions according to the GROW Model. In fact, a study by the World Economic Forum1 found that employees who sense their voices are heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to report feeling empowered to do their best work.
All of this points to a growing need for leaders to hone skills such critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving. Coaching provides a great way to tap into new and innovative ways of getting things done and making change a positive in the work environment.
1Peak Coaching: Level up Your Leaders to Drive Performance. The 2020 Report on the Future of Jobs, World Economic Forum, 2020.
BetterUp Fellow Coach, MBA, MDes, PCC