Leaders Must Be Well to Lead Well

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

For information on Brandon Hall Group’s research and how we can assist your organization, please visit www.brandonhall.com

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Mike Cooke



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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.