We’ve all heard the axiom “people don’t leave organisations – they leave bad bosses.” It’s perhaps an overused saying but it reveals the onus that lies on the quality of leadership and shows that leaders can play an essential role defending the organisation against attrition. That’s because a leader’s behaviour is the single biggest factor influencing what it is like to work in a team. Good leaders have the power to energise, engage and motivate staff to go the extra mile for their organisation. Poor leaders have the opposite effect, they create a demotivating atmosphere marked by high turnover and frequent absences.

Leaders create what we call a ‘climate’. This climate affects the amount of effort that people in your team will contribute. Our research shows that up to 70 percent of the variance in climate can be explained by leadership behaviour. And when it comes to regulating behaviours, emotional intelligence (EI) goes a long way. That’s because by using self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness and relationship management – the four components of EI – leaders can adjust their behaviours and change their style to fit their teams. Effective leaders have multiple leadership styles in their toolkits, equipping them to respond flexibly to changing demands.

At Korn Ferry, we have identified the six styles of leadership that have the biggest impact on climate. Visionary leaders articulate a shared mission and give long-term direction. Participative leaders get consensus to generate new ideas and build commitment. Coaching leaders foster personal and career development. Affiliative leaders create trust and harmony. Pacesetting leaders accomplish tasks by setting high standards. Finally, directive leaders are straightforward, pushing results with exact commands and being clear about the consequences of not meeting those results.

The problem, of course, is that not all teams respond to the same style of leadership. Some teams will respond well only to leaders who build consensus, while others would rather be coached. Then there are teams that respond well to one style for a long time but then start losing focus. The onus is on the leader to find a way to motivate the team. According to the Korn Ferry study, The power of EI: The ‘soft’ skills the sharpest leaders use, leaders with more emotional intelligence skills have a better chance at finding the right tone to set. Leaders with three or fewer emotional intelligence skills on average have two leadership styles. But, according to the study, executives with 10 to 12 emotional intelligence skills can effectively use four styles.

Leaders that have mastered the four styles engage their team’s discretionary performance by explaining the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, showing an interest in their team as people and understanding what motivates them. In addition, they involve their team in the decision making that goes with the team’s objectives and build capability to enable effective delegation and trust.

Alex’s Story

As the general manager of one of the most important business units in Belron (the world’s leading vehicle glass repair), Alex was shocked when she received her first set of the Korn Ferry leadership styles and climate data. It showed she was relying heavily on two leadership styles: directive and pacesetting. The result, unsurprisingly, was that she was creating a demotivating climate for her team; the feedback showed big gaps between what the team needed to perform to the best of their abilities and what they actually got from Alex.

Working with her line manager (the CEO) and an internal Belron coach, Alex developed her behaviour in a way that would drive a positive climate.

New Korn Ferry report, The power of EI: The ‘soft’ skills the sharpest leaders use

While most people recognise that soft skills are no longer just “nice-to-have” attributes, fewer people understand the impact those emotional intelligence skills have on a leader’s style and employee loyalty. Our new report explains the concept of Emotional Intelligence and shows the link between EI and individual and team performance. It delves into how emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness, empathy, and adaptability have quantifiable impacts on a leader’s performance and how they influence their ability to flex their leadership styles. The report goes through the 12 emotional intelligence competencies that have shown to distinguish outstanding performance and demonstrates the impact of these competencies on employee retention.

Organisations that support the development of emotional intelligence, give their leaders the chance to maintain their balance in a role that presents conflicting challenges. Broader EI development helps leaders create contexts in which employees can feel focused and ‘on task’ as well as understood and valued and this can positively impact longer-term employee turnover.

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About Contributor

Bevan Gray is the Product Sales Leader for Germany, Austria, Switzerland at Korn Ferry. He works with directors, CEOs and senior management teams at the intersection of strategy, organisation, and leadership to enhance team culture and performance.