Yesterday’s organizational leaders favored a top-down mentality in their leadership approach. Driven by a focus on metrics and the bottom line, they sought to have as much control over decision-making as they could get, paying little to no attention to the capacity of their employees for strategic thinking.
The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” comes to mind. I think for many companies today, this leadership style is best left to autocratic leaders of the past. Current leaders have a responsibility to meet the needs of their teams and to motivate them to help the business meet its goals.
What Does It Mean to Be a Responsible Leader?
Imagine having a boss that speaks directly to you, listens to you, and gives you the opportunity to flex your creativity. That’s a motivating leader to work for. As a motivated employee, you’re more inclined to bring your best self to work every day.
A responsible leader sees the bigger picture. They understand the role each team member plays in an organization and the skills they bring to a particular project. A leader may be ultimately accountable for a given outcome, but within that grander accountability are smaller accountabilities that are nonetheless critical to success.
A responsible leader knows how to share the load, and that means helping each team member understand, own, and successfully bear their part of that load. Thus, an effective leader should be highly “customizable”—people are different, so a great leader should approach coaching and mentorship differently for different team members.
Characteristics of a Responsible Leader
Someone who embodies responsible leadership is realistic abou the environment in which they operate. They put in the work to understand their team members on multiple levels.
Listen and Understand
It’s important to remember that people are still people—even when they’re at work. They can’t turn off their feelings: nor would a responsible leader want them to. Responsible leadership requires emotional intelligence, or their ability to perceive, use, and manage emotions.
If you have high emotional intelligence, you can read between the lines. If you’re sensitive to the way your team members think and feel, you can navigate through interactions with them more thoughtfully and carefully.
A favorite saying of mine is “Seek to understand, not to be understood.” This is key to being a good listener. Are you a good listener? An enormous part of effective communication skills is being able to receive and understand a message.
Be Passionate, Not Emotional
Passion is one of the qualities of responsible leadership that motivates people. However, there is a thin line between being passionate and being emotional. Passion is constant, chared with positivity, and goal oriented. Emotion is reactive, changeable, and often associated with negativity.
When passion and emotion are conflated, the passion becomes more of a liability. If you allow emotion to take over, it can cloud judgment. You may be too focused on the result that you disregard your team and how your emotions affect others.
Put Your Team First
You understand what the team must accomplish, but do you understand what each individual needs to succeed? Listening to your team and being passionate contribute to this, but you must also be flexible and adaptable to your team’s needs.
If you’ve listened, you know what they need. The next step is to put those needs ahead of your own. Make their obstacles your obstacles so you can move forward together.
And finally, a good team leader seeks glory for their team, not for themselves. Give credit where it is due, then watch pride and passion develop in your team members and fuel further successes.
Challenges of Responsible Leadership
Being a responsible servant leader is not always easy. External elements may make it seem as though you cannot be successful and responsible at the same time.
Leaders can be dragged down by what they think leadership should be. During the industrial revolution, executives often oversaw low-wage, low-skilled workers who required firm guidance to achieve specific outcomes.
Fast forward to today: odds are your team members are highly skilled and well educated. They’re more likely to engage in critical thinking and respect the bigger picture: if you give them the opportunity, they will surprise you—and that shouldn’t surprise you.
It’s odd that the sort of top-down autocratic leadership you might see in a nineteenth-century textile factory still influences modern leadership styles and workplace cultures. While executive decision-making and some degree of firmness may still be useful, it’s critical to treat your team members as peers.
When leadership mentality focuses foremost on metrics and business goals, corporate social responsibility and ethics take a back seat. Your employees are people—not numbers on a spreadsheet. Unreasonable goals and a lack of appreciation for the people create a push to hit numbers. When that happens, people might adopt questionable tactics just to meet those goals.
Practicing responsible leadership has a positive impact on your business by not allowing metrics to drive decision-making. Rather than having a single-minded focus on achieving business goals, a responsible and ethical leader has appreciation for the people involved in the business and makes sure they do the right thing in all situations.
How to Develop the Qualities of a Responsible Leader
A good leader doesn’t emerge from nothing: we all must learn from leaders we’ve worked with throughout our careers in both professional and nonprofessional settings. Find a mentor or role model who embodies responsible leadership and who you admire for their passion, listening skills, and team-first mentality. Look to them to support your leadership development.
You should also practice the characteristics of a responsible leader. Learn what makes a responsible leader from books, coaches, and mentors. Take the next steps and put what you are learning into practice. For further resources on responsible leadership, including my book, Leader Is Not a Title, visit my leadership website. If you’re interested in coaching, reach out to me directly.