Why companies need employee first leadership more than ever

Present-day businesses are required to constantly develop and evolve in order to survive. Certainly, over the past two years, businesses have had to evolve and adapt in order to navigate through the Covid 19 pandemic and the disruption and uncertainty it brought with it. Businesses have adapted by introducing new products and services, engaging different markets, and embracing technologies and procedures in order to promote business resilience.

Leadership styles have also had to evolve to ensure they support their business’ most valuable asset – its people – during these uncertain and challenging times.

As the Covid 19 pandemic eases, there is a sense of a return to ‘business as usual’, however it is imperative that leaders of businesses take stock and review their post pandemic position. Many will find that the landscape has shifted somewhat and there are new challenges to tackle in the form of staff well-being, re-setting team culture, talent retention, supply chain management, and growth pressures.

It is within this environment where you, as a leader in your business, may need to take the time to review and evolve your leadership style to suit the changing circumstances.

Understanding your leadership style

Being aware of your leadership style is important to the success of your business. This self-awareness is a part of your emotional intelligence, an important quality for any leader.

Traditional leadership styles

Traditional leadership styles favoured in the past have concentrated on the wellbeing of the organisation rather than its employees, with a focus on the bottom line – profits – not people.

Some of the most common business leadership styles include:

  • Authoritarian leadership. The leader employs a top-down, autocratic approach. Subordinates are given explicit directions without being able to offer ideas may be controlled via threats and penalties.
  • Laissez-faire leadership. Leaders of this kind avoid power and dodge responsibility. Decision-making is left to subordinates, who have to sort out problems themselves. Productivity often suffers as a result.
  • Paternalistic leadership. In this situation, leaders perceive themselves as guides and protectors of their teams, perhaps providing good working conditions but in return expecting gratitude as well as an acceptance that ‘father, or mother, knows best’.
  • Democratic leadership. This more egalitarian type of leader consults subordinates and encourages participation in decision-making, leading through persuasion and example rather than coercion. Barrack Obama

“Employee First” leadership

Although the concept of employee first leadership (also known as servant leadership) has been around since the 1970s – first introduced by AT&T executive Robert K Greenleaf – it has recently grown in popularity as a business leadership philosophy.

In this approach, traditional business leadership styles are discarded in favour of an employee-first approach. The leader’s main objective is to provide guidance and opportunities for growth to team members directly reporting to them. The focus is switched from the company to its employees and their job satisfaction, skills acquisition and professional advancement, and even their mental and physical health. As a result, these talented and motivated individuals will make a major contribution to business growth.

Characteristics of a great “employee first” leader

If you aim to be an effective “employee first” leader, you’ll need to cultivate these attributes:

  • Emotional intelligence. Aim to be self-aware and also listen attentively to others, noticing their body language and tone of voice. Strive to empathise with, understand and help solve their problems.
  • Persuasion via inspiration. Use motivation and encouragement, not coercion, to convince others to take a required course of action.
  • Vision and foresight. Create, and communicate to employees, a mission statement for your organisation. Use analysis tools to construct a road map which sets out how the vision will be achieved.
  • Take responsibility. Not only for your own actions and behaviour but also for the performance of those who report to you.
  • Fully commit to the growth and development of your team. Analyse their needs so that you can take appropriate steps to create a contented and productive community.

Business benefits of “employee first” leadership

This style of leadership could be a better choice for your organisation because:

  • Nurtured employees are more resilient. A focus on employees’ overall wellness will pay dividends when the going gets tough. (Did someone mention a pandemic?)
  • Fulfilled employees are more likely to stay. When employees feel that their professional development matters and that they are being supported in their roles, you are less likely to be impacted by factors such as talent shortages and the Great Resignation.
  • The employee first leadership model will proliferate. Successful employee first leaders provide a role model for their subordinates to collaborate with their colleagues and build better, stronger teams.
  • Empowered employees foster business success. Empowering your employees to make decisions and take risks, given appropriate communication and guidelines, is not only positive for the employee but also for your business. Sharing decision-making eliminates red tape and bureaucracy. Taking risks fosters creativity, leading to business growth.

Support for aspiring “employee first” leaders

If you feel that your business could benefit from implementing a different style of leadership, give us a call.  Our Business Mentoring and Advisory teams are ready to discuss how we can help you transform your business leadership style and reap the rewards in business success.


Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.

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