Most employers invest heavily to develop better leaders and have been doing so for decades. So why don’t more organizations get better results? Why don’t more organizations have the leaders they need to thrive?

There are many reasons, but Brandon Hall Group’s latest Leadership Development research shows that most employers need to invest more in leaders’ wellness.

High-performing companies — those that thrive and have highly engaged employees — have leaders who are:

  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Curious
  • Humble
  • Empathetic
  • Physically fit
  • Authentic
  • Generous

Bob Rosen, Founder and CEO of The Healthy Leader, has been researching and writing about this for years and his thinking has never been more relevant than during this time of unprecedented disruption.

The leaders of the future need to help their teams continuously adapt and evolve in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment. That’s not easy and it can’t happen unless leaders take care of themselves. Leaders must be well to lead well.

That is difficult when leaders have so much pressure to perform, they do not feel they have the time to help themselves. When we asked organizations participating in our Leadership Development research to identify the biggest barriers to developing better leaders, the top answer — cited by 66% of respondents — was, “our leaders have limited time to learn.”

That mindset must change. Your leaders must be relentlessly curious and have a growth mindset that drives them to continuously learn and evolve. This drives intellectual health that is essential to adapting to constant disruption.

Leaders’ curiosity should extend to themselves; they should have a desire to understand who they are at their core. That self-knowledge and self-awareness drives resilience and self-confidence that keeps them grounded as they cope with challenges and conflict.

That’s what makes emotional intelligence so important: it encompasses self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. All of these are critical to the ability to lead in a business environment that is increasingly diverse and politically and socially divided. It also makes a person healthier and more well-rounded.

As The Healthy Leader says in its Leader of the Future white paper, leaders must be aware and authentic, with a strong sense of humility and a keen sense of empathy.Unfortunately, a majority of employers still believe business competencies and skills are more important for leaders than high emotional intelligence. About 40% also said they are not familiar enough with emotional intelligence to use it and don’t know how to measure it.

Source: Brandon Hall Group Impact of Leadership Development Study

The outlook is not much better. Only 31% of organizations in Brandon Hall Group’s HCM Outlook 2021 study committed to a moderate or heavy investment in emotional intelligence training this year. At the same time, 59% committed to moderate or heavy investment for filling more open leadership positions with internal candidates. This represents a huge disconnect. Why would you commit to promoting more people into leadership without investing in the proper personal skills to be successful?Leaders must tend to themselves before they tend to others and their employers should help them get there. But the disruptive business environment makes it difficult for most organizations to give their leaders the time and space for self-development and self-reflection. That is something that must change if organizations want their leaders to excel.

Here are employers’ top three people priorities for 2021, according to our HCM Outlook study:

  • Foster and inclusive workplace (72%)
  • Assess and drive employee engagement: (70%)
  • Assess and foster employee well-being: (68%)

How will those goals happen without leaders who are grounded and able to demonstrate positive emotions — such as hope and compassion — in difficult times? How will companies retain overworked employees when they lack leaders with the inner health to be resilient and demonstrate energy and self-confidence amid ongoing disruption and ambiguity?

Organizations need leaders with the inner strength to build trust and productivity in an environment of skepticism and disengagement. Employees must have rewarding relationships with their leaders, which requires them to inspire, collaborate, listen and provide empathy — balanced with candid, constructive feedback.

In some ways, leaders in many organizations did rise to the occasion during COVID-19, our research shows. For instance, about two-thirds of organizations said leaders exhibited kindness, patience and genuine interest in the well-being of employees, and adapted and persevered in the face of challenges. But less than 40% were able to demonstrate self-awareness — including mitigating their biases — or collaborate inclusively, or ease uncertainty.

Those latter qualities come from possessing strong emotional intelligence that empowers self-reflection and adjusting behaviors to meet the moment. While the worst of COVID-19 is probably behind us, the challenges ahead are many and require sophisticated leadership that most organizations have been unable to consistently muster.

There are many aspects to that evolution, but it begins with having healthy leaders with the inner strength to inspire, motivate and collaborate with humility and inclusion.

-Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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Claude Werder

Claude Werder oversees Brandon Hall Group's analyst team, new product development, corporate development, the HCM Excellence Conference 2015, publishing, and social media and marketing strategies for Brandon Hall Group. In that role, he manages Brandon Hall Group’s research priorities, Membership Program and Member Center, and Brandon Hall Group’s exclusive KnowledgeBases of research data and HCM solution providers, services and products.