I recently had a chat with a client who was wondering how he could be a better manager and I was surprised by what he shared with me.
He said, “I think I should just be a Donald Trump-type of manager. His strongman leadership style brought him the Presidency of the United States! Maybe that would bring me a seat at the Board of my company?”
I suspect my client is not alone in his thinking. What does this new political era mean for leaders in business? To succeed in the current international climate, should business leaders follow the examples set by those who have claimed political power? In that world, a leader might use his (and it would be only men, right?) force of will, and financial and social might to snuff out his competitors by strong-arming his employees to ignore ethics, win at all costs, and leave a legacy none shall forget (sic)!
I do not think strongman leadership is what the business world needs (and I am starting to fear that this statement sounds almost politically incorrect in our tumultuous days). What business needs right now is leaders who use the proven tactics and strategies of great leadership to bring their companies the best results possible.
What I have seen working over my years partnering with a vast diversity of senior managers across Europe are the following:
Every generation of workers is different. Today’s young professionals want to know that what they are doing matters. Leaders can give their employees an essential sense of purpose by understanding what matters to those employees.
There are a few simple things that leaders can do to foster a sense of empathy in the corporate culture. One is listening. When employees feel heard, they are more committed to their employer and are likely to stay with that employer for a longer period of time.
It may sound cliché, but eye contact is another. Workers report a stronger sense of belonging in workplaces where managers regularly make eye contact.
If you want to go deeper, you can play with your furniture a bit. Leaders who do their one on ones without a big desk between them and their employees get higher empathy marks.
Empathetic leadership does positively impact the bottom line.
We operate in an increasingly global economy. Global - operations require strong multicultural understanding. Let me share a story.
There is a woman, Mei, who runs a small, street-side sock shop a few blocks from my house in Brussels. I visit her on occasion because she always has something interesting to tell me, and she sells great socks.
On my last visit to her sock shop, Mei guessed the colour of the socks I was going to buy. She was right, I had decided what colour I would choose even before I looked through her stock.
“The Italians and the Spanish like black and grey socks. They spend more time looking. Those socks are toward the back.” She told me.
“The French tend to buy grey, and dark purple. Although... it depends on whether they are Parisians or from the province” She continued.
“The men from northern Europe - they often choose light blue - or even yellow or light orange - and they make a quick decision. So those socks are closer to the front.” She concluded.
We want to buys socks from Mei, even though we can probably get those same socks at a better price elsewhere. Part of Mei’s curious sock allure is her street corner convenience, but I think Mei’s real secret to success is her multicultural understanding.
Business leaders of all types are more successful when they understand the needs and habits of those they serve - both internally and externally. This is true for stocking socks, and it is also true when leading your teams. Here are a few simple pieces of advice:
- Hire managers with a variety of backgrounds.
- Include high quality multicultural understanding training in your professional development mix.
- Make demonstrable multicultural experience a part of performance reviews.
Multicultural practice in the workplace is just good business.
The Bottom Line
While it may be true for now that some laws, borders, and alliances will shift by executive order or presidential decree, what happens in our towns and cities is governed by different dynamics. Business leadership is an empathetic and multicultural enterprise. And in case you were wondering - the socks I bought from Mei - they were purple. :)
Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates, a European Executive Search and Leadership Solutions boutique. Pierre is working out of Brussels, Stuttgart and Zurich. firstname.lastname@example.org