Steve Jobs, Satya Nadella, Bill Gates. What do these three people have in common? Of course, they have all made their mark on the technology world, but they are also exceptional leaders. All three possess a clear vision, demonstrate the courage required to realize that vision, and display integrity, honesty, and humility even in the most challenging times.
As someone operating in a leadership position, I often look to these three for inspiration. Leading teams can be complex in our digital age, where remote working is commonplace and seldom do you get the opportunity to sit with colleagues or clients face-to-face.
There’s no doubt that in this new age of work, leaders need to adapt their strategies if they are to continue to engage their teams and inspire high performance. Taking some of the lessons I have learned from other leaders, I wanted to outline four vital qualities leaders need to succeed in modern times.
All the leaders I mentioned have one thing in common: their credibility. I believe it’s essential to start from a place of authenticity. How you manage people should sit comfortably with who you are. For less experienced leaders especially, who may still be growing in confidence, don’t attempt to be someone you are not. Not only will this be difficult to maintain, but it could also be transparent to others.
Authenticity is vital for another reason. Like your team, you will have tough days, you may feel exposed, and you will wish you had approached certain things differently. These things are what make us human. It may seem counterintuitive, but acknowledging our weaknesses takes strength and often earns more respect.
And it’s in times of adversity and through shared experiences that we can connect more deeply with our teams. Humor is also an excellent coping mechanism and a way to forge bonds.
Influential leaders are like magnets and draw people to them. Some tough and powerful personalities may be revered but, conversely, can also be feared. This fear can become a barrier that could inhibit your people from being open about their mistakes or seeking your advice. If you want to build a reputation for openness, greet everyone, make time to chat – even if virtually – and give them your full attention. And this applies to people you don’t work with directly, including catering and cleaning staff. Why? Because it says that everyone matters to you.
Innovation starts with having a vision, possessing an adaptive mindset, and being purpose-driven. It also demands collaborative leadership behavior to enable the exploration of ideas. Good leaders create and empower interdisciplinary teams and foster a culture of agile learning.
Also, creating a culture where everyone feels their contributions and ideas are valued and welcomed helps innovation. Often, some of the quietest or most introverted people have the most brilliant ideas. Unless they are encouraged and empowered to speak up, their contributions will be lost.
Empathy calls for compassion in communication and being an engaged and active listener. According to research referenced by Forbes, empathy is a critical leadership skill. It’s necessary because people are experiencing multiple layers of stress, including the impact of the pandemic. And when people are stressed, research also shows they find it harder to concentrate, take longer to finish tasks, and can compromise their physical and mental health.
How can you lead with empathy? You will be more successful when you not only consider how others might be feeling but when you reach out to them personally. For example, a simple inquiry can go a long way: “I’ve noticed you’ve not been yourself lately, is there anything you would like to talk about or that I can do to help?” You don’t need to be an expert in mental health – just pay attention and take your cues from your team members on how best to respond.
Creating opportunities for people to feel heard and understood makes a tremendous difference. But of course, strong leadership requires action too, and how this plays out will depend on the circumstances. At SAP, we believe a healthy business starts with healthy people. We promote a caring culture where our employees can stay healthy and balanced in a highly competitive environment. SAP’s global health and well-being programs are integral to our investment in our people.
Guido Schlief is senior vice president and head of Services for Middle & Eastern Europe at SAP.