What kind of leader are you? It may be time to re-think your answer. Recent research strongly suggests that responsive leaders are much more effective than assertive leaders at engaging employees. As a paradigm, “leader as commander” is fast becoming obsolete.
In a Huffington Post article titled 10 Reasons Nice Bosses Finish First, author Travis Bradberry recaps compelling research in favor of “nice” bosses, with numerous positive effects proliferating throughout the organization. Consider this: one survey the article cites indicates most employees would gladly trade a $5,000 pay raise for a nicer boss. It proves the old management saying: people don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.
But effective leadership goes beyond simple niceness. Responsive leaders are deemed more effective than assertive ones. Research by the Institute of Public Relations (IPR) defines that difference: “Assertiveness focuses on the task dimension of relationships. … Responsiveness, by contrast, focuses on the relational dimension of relationships” (emphasis mine).
So how can you become a more responsive leader? Rita Linjuan Men, Assistant Professor of Public Relations at the University of Florida, has written a must-read post for anyone wrestling with this question: Chief Engagement Officer: Effective CEO Communication Styles and Channels. Her research findings highlight the importance of transparency and authenticity among leaders. They also underscore the value of communication channels like social media, which level the imbalance of power between leaders and employees.
IPR’s research findings resonated deeply with our experience supporting clients over the years on leadership development. It starts with a fundamental mindset shift: leaders must adopt a receiver POV. It’s about listening first, modeling the right behaviors, and developing trust by supporting your people. CEOs in particular must require and develop the role of “communicator” in every leader’s job description. And, as the old adage goes, actions must follow through on words, every time.
One of the ways we’ve supported leadership development is by providing a leadership assessment survey that gives leaders valuable, unbiased intelligence about their current effectiveness. After pinpointing strengths and weaknesses, the real work begins. I’ll share more about this in my next post on the series, "The Role of Leaders in Leading Through Change."