Leadership: A squishy, warm-and-fuzzy quality that makes a big difference
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Leadership: A squishy, warm-and-fuzzy quality that makes a big difference

The good folks at McKinsey have just made it easy for managers in your organization to do exactly the right things to lead effectively.

If you detect a touch of tongue in cheek in that statement, in cheek is indeed where mine is firmly planted. What a team of McKinsey consultants has actually done is to identify the four key leadership behaviors that, according to their real-world research, have the most impact on leadership effectiveness. Getting managers to deploy these behaviors is another kettle of fish.

That said, there’s always value in knowing what one ought to do. So here are the four leadership qualities McKinsey says are so important:

  1. Leaders solve problems effectively.
  2. Leaders are results-oriented.
  3. Leaders seek different perspectives.
  4. Leaders are supportive of their employees and teams.

Why being supportive matters
All of these are interesting, but I want to focus on #4. My reason: It may seem to you that “being supportive” is one of those squishy, warm-and-fuzzy attributes that is hard to pin down and impossible to quantify, thus not worth looking at.

But according to the McKinsey research, it does matter, a lot. Why? Well, leaders who are supportive of their subordinates actually do some pretty concrete things to facilitate the latter’s work.

Supportive leaders:

  • Protect their employees from useless anxieties. (Examples: Worry about reorganizations, layoffs, external market developments, etc.)
  • Address internal conflicts in a timely way. By doing this, managers prevent the team from dissipating its energy in bickering.
  • Step in to lend a hand in projects as and when necessary. People don’t want their manager to run everything, but they do appreciate it if he/she helps out when they’re stuck.

Managers who support their people in such ways build invaluable trust that helps keep employees motivated, engaged, and willing to follow the leader even when things get tough.

Source: “Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters,” by Feser, Mayol and Srinivasan, McKinsey Quarterly, January 2015.

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