It’s an age-old dilemma that we face in all aspects and stages of life, where we often have a bias towards one particular set of standards at the expense of another.
In school, we look to standardized test scores over personal qualities to determine entry into universities.
In sports, scouts have long made their living sizing up players based on intuition and intangibles that form the ‘eye test’ like confidence and technique. But in recent years, teams across various sporting codes have started to disrupt the way talent is evaluated by placing more emphasis on data analytics, as featured in Michael
Lewis’s best-selling book, “Moneyball”, where a major league baseball team was able to find success by picking players based on statistics that were previously overlooked.
In the workforce, we look at interview performance and psychometric test results to determine who gets the job.
And that leads us to the business leader. How do we identify them? The science hasn’t always been the most solid ranging from ‘you know it when you see it’ to equating leadership with certain traits like charisma. But charisma without competence leads to failure, and failure has us rethinking what it takes to be a great leader.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a notable psychologist and organisational consultant, is one such person. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, he says that “the qualities that seduce us in leaders” — overconfidence, charisma and even narcissism — have little to do with what’s needed for an effective leader. Instead, we should be developing qualities like humility, integrity and competence.
Then there’s Roselinde Torres who’s spent the past 25 years studying leaders from all over the world from Fortune 500 companies to non-profit organisations. In her TED talk, she reveals how the leadership gaps are actually widening despite more investment in leadership development.
For young tech professionals at the start of their leadership journey, Katherine at Telstra says, “your name is your brand, so you should treat it like a valuable commodity”.
She believes that in order to build your personal brand, you must network like your career depends on it: “Make trusted connections within and outside of your company by attending industry events and using social media platforms like LinkedIn”.
Despite the ease and convenience of social media, Katherine reminds us that trusted connections aren’t formed through emails but by meeting people in person or speaking with them over the phone. And when you do, make your first impressions count because “trust is easy to lose and hard to rebuild”.
Considering that there’s a significant female leadership gap in Australia and around the world, Katherine offers some advice to young women in tech. Seek out people who you’d like to meet and learn from. And take the time to remind yourself: “You are enough, enough of everything you need to be in order to achieve whatever your heart desires, so back yourself and dream big!”.
Developing the right skillset
We all know the importance of both soft and hard skills. The difference between the two is that there’s less opportunity to learn and hone soft skills.
Joanna from A Cloud Guru explains that hard skills are your technical knowledge and education, developed in a regimented and academic setting. Soft skills, on the other hand, “requires self-reflection, analysing your reactions, managing your emotions, and thinking from other people’s perspectives”. This, she points out, “can be confronting and ego-deflating, leading many to ignore improving their soft skills and instead focus on their hard skills”.
Joanna believes advanced soft skills are vital for someone in a product manager role. It’s a belief that’s echoed by Jason at ELMO, who also sees soft skills as the most valuable skills to have as a leader.
For Jason, being a good leader is about the ability to actively listen and understand people, to motivate the team when they are down, and to guide the team throughout the entire journey.
At the core of ELMO’s leadership development program is the idea of empowering people to take ownership of their work. This involves everything from defining the scope of work to experimenting with new products and new ways of working.
Mentorship is another important element. “We encourage people to share their knowledge with each other. Ideas breed ideas after all”, says Jason.
The importance of culture in supporting leadership development
Workplace culture affects everything from staff retention to developing future leaders. For Nick at EY, workplace culture is pervasive: “It’s reflected in the physical structures of the workplace, how employees communicate and interact with colleagues, through to the way employees do their work and leave in the evening”.
Since people spend a large portion of their day at work, “it’s critical that the workplace culture provides an environment that aligns to their expectations of the structures and people around them”.
For a young professional, choosing the right culture can make a significant impact on your ability to grow into a leadership role. For some workplaces like Cognizant, there is a strong emphasis on helping team members to develop their career paths and their leadership skills. According to James, regular connection sessions are held not just to cover operational issues but also to focus on development initiatives.
So what exactly does the right culture look like at Cognizant in order to produce great leaders? It’s a culture where employees are cared for as people and “not just a number”. Where there is “an open and collaborative communication style in use, meaning that managers and staff are able to engage with each other without fear of ‘getting it wrong’ or ‘saying the wrong thing’”.
All of this has been carefully created through a variety of methods including regular team meetings where participation is encouraged, team building events, regular performance feedback and meaningful development planning.