Leaders play pivotal roles in the success of their organisations and have the power to affect significant change in the communities they serve. There are a lot of skills, knowledge and attitudes wrapped up in successful leadership. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the right people with proper training and favourable personality characteristics are stepping into those roles.
Affirmative leaders who:
• Are supportive and encouraging.
• Who increase their followers’ competences and self-confidence.
• Have situational awareness.
• Are able to understand their followers’ strengths and weaknesses.
• Can adapt and change their approach to fulfil needs.
• Can prioritise strategies that benefit internal and external stakeholders, such as employees and investors.
• Are able to exert a positive influence through encouragement rather than manipulating people.
• Keep the organisation’s vision, policies and politics in focus, whilst dealing with the daily tasks at hand.
Can build trust by treating everyone fairly and encouraging team work to benefit the entire organisation.
In contrast, disempowering leaders, who often reduce the organisation’s effectiveness by stunting followers’ personal and professional growth, frequently:
- asking or encouraging them.
- Lose sight of the overall purpose by getting caught up in office politics and interpersonal drama.
- Express negative emotions, like anger and stress, that translate into unproductive behaviour.
- Foster a blame culture that thrives on punishing mistakes, instead of encouraging innovation.
- Create a toxic culture.
Unfortunately, these behaviours are endemic in some organisations.
Previous research looking at the results of effective and ineffective leadership have found that:
• Leadership is a process that occurs in unique environments between leaders and followers.
• Affirmative leadership tend to win the hearts and minds of followers, whilst rewarding them and encouraging teamwork .
• Disempowering leadership, on the other hand, frequently creates mistrust and develops a blame culture where constructive feedback is not present.
• Positive leadership tends to increase an employee’s willingness to change when organisations are going through a period of transformation .
• Leaders who are willing to take risks and pursue new business opportunities often inspire better performance in followers .
A new study
A new study by researchers from the University of Worcester in the UK and the University of Sargodha in Pakistan has looked at the differences between ineffective, disempowering leaders and what are known as affirmational leaders, who build followers’ self-confidence and competence.
The study found that most people believe that their leaders tend to fall somewhere between power hungry overlords to friendly dictators capable of building positive working relationships. Most leaders, in the eyes of their followers, are not perceived to demonstrate the characteristics of affirmative leadership.
The study found that the most common characteristics of disempowering leaders include:
• A lack of empathy or friendship/connection with followers.
• An obsession with gaining and increasing personal power, rather than having a focus on making the organisation better.
• Bullying co-workers and followers with less power into doing things.
• Favouritism, that makes some feel valued and others feel excluded.
• Criticising colleagues and peers who are considered to be threats to their status or position.
• Using power and threats to get people to do things (threatening to fire them or rate them poorly, for example).
• Refusing to engage properly in teamwork or consult with others before making decisions.
• High levels of risk-aversion that causes the organisation to miss opportunities for growth, due to their fear of trying new ideas from followers.
• Lack of good trust in delegation, that causes work to backup and keeps the organisation from operating quickly and efficiently.
Characteristics of effective, affirmative leaders
The researchers were able to find the common characteristics of effective, affirmative leaders from the few inspirational leaders found in organisations. The main characteristics valued (by the employees) include:
• Being risk-open and pursuing new opportunities and ideas from followers, which promotes an enterprising work culture.
• Delegating tasks and spreading power downwards throughout the organisation.
• Making decisions with other leaders democratically and based on evidence as a team, combining strengths, whilst lessening the negative impacts of their weaknesses.
• Setting challenging goals for followers and expecting excellence to encourage improvement.
• Mentoring followers by providing social support and training them to become leaders, as well as helping them grow professionally and personally.
• Asking followers for their opinions and ideas before making decisions.
• Encouraging followers to assume more control over their work and to play a more active role in their own career development.
• A set of empowering personal beliefs and a vision that fits the organisation’s needs.
• Being proactive and taking the initiative to handle situations before they become larger problems.
There are many ways to be a good leader and embody affirmative characteristics that support employee well-being and growth, but, unfortunately, there are still too many ineffective leaders with disempowering characteristics. In order to effect change organisations need to go beyond training courses and theory and get into the day-to-day practices and characteristics of leaders.
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