Boston Consulting Group (BCG) conducted in autumn 2020 a study in 4 European countries (France, Spain, United Kingdom and Germany) among 4,000 professionals, with the aim of understanding which were the most valued characteristics in current leaders.
The study revealed that consideration, empathy and listening are the most appreciated qualities in a good leader cited by all respondents, regardless of nationality or age.
María López, Managing Director & Partner of Boston Consulting Group points out: “Emphasizing skills related to people management has been an upward trend in recent years. The pandemic has accelerated the transition into a new era in leadership and there is no turning back. The leader of the future will be characterized by the combination of a firm but flexible vision, strong practical leadership skills and deep empathy ”
Head, Heart and Hands: the qualities of a leader
There are three main types of leadership qualities in companies: strategic (head), humanistic / related to people management (heart) and execution / achievement of results (hands).
According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), transforming organizations traditionally focus on strategic qualities (69%), then on achieving results (44%), and finally on people-related factors (25%). However, today, strategy and vision are no longer enough to drive engagement and create value, employee expectations for leadership have changed.
The first conclusion of this research reveals that, for all respondents, skills oriented to people management are the most valued in this context. Consideration (37%), empathy (33%), the ability to listen (31%), attention to team member development (29%), and the ability to question oneself top the list of 16 characteristics mentioned in the questionnaire about the ideal leader. Strategic skills such as the ability to make sense (17%), the ability to set priorities (14%), and take customer needs into account (14%) were the least mentioned by the participants.
“Despite the need for an impeccable strategy (head) and to achieve results (hands), we must never forget the importance of the human element (heart). In a crisis, the third element will differentiate a good leader from an excellent one”, says Maria López Managing Director & Partner of BCG.
The need for a leader focused on people and close to the teams is also expressed almost identically by all nationalities and generations, and not just by the very young. According to 36% of those surveyed, strengthening team cohesion will be the main challenge for leaders in the coming years, ahead of long-term issues such as innovation and digital technology.
What form of leadership should we favor in times of crisis?
For 65% of the professionals surveyed, business leaders have risen to the challenge since the start of the pandemic. This is especially true in the UK (71%) and Germany (66%), while 63% of the French and 60% of the Spanish say they are satisfied.
However, in these circumstances, the study shows two additional qualities that are essential in a leader: adaptability and the ability to manage uncertainty, as well as the ability to actively and openly communicate the decisions made and the financial situation of the company.
Leadership is not necessarily an attractive responsibility
Only 13% of surveyed non-managers aspire to lead a team in 2021. This figure has not changed in several years, reflecting some discomfort in the business organizational model and leadership.
Are you born a leader or do you become one?
64% of workers think that the ability to become a leader can be partially acquired and 24% think that it can be fully acquired, with Germans showing the highest percentage. The English, on the other hand, are the most inclined to think that there is something innate in leadership (15% compared to 11% on average).
“There are three ways to respond to the new expectations of employees. First, leaders must demonstrate concern for team members and create an environment conducive to recovery. In addition, they must reflect on the purpose of their company, since the crisis is causing everyone to question the meaning of their work. Finally, leaders must promote a culture of responsibility and autonomy to foster team development, “concludes María López.
In this sense, higher education institutions also have a relevant role in transmitting to students that soft skills, such as the ability to listen, respect and empathy, are as valuable as hard skills. Companies would benefit from recognizing and promoting employees who demonstrate human qualities, rather than focusing solely on their strategic or technical performance.
Conducted through a BVA survey in October 2020 with a panel of 4,000 employees from four countries (Germany, Spain, France and the United Kingdom). The analysis of the results has been carried out by BCG and complemented by some thirty interviews with both professors and researchers who are experts in leadership, members of the Francophone Association for Human Resource Management.