The changing landscape of leadership

Written by
Lucy Whitehall

05 Jan 2017

05 Jan 2017 • by Lucy Whitehall

The workforce structure is changing. The traditional, hierarchal model of a business leader, filtering down to experienced senior management who are, in turn, responsible for delegating tasks to more junior members of the team, is no longer commonplace. Increasingly businesses are adopting a flatter structure, where leadership skills are encouraged and nurtured across the team. Roles are less rigid, with employees in the early stages of their career challenged to work beyond their experience to gain new insight and skills. So how can HR – a critical business partner – foster a workforce to benefit all levels?  

Emotional intelligence

A dated stereotype exists that leaders are inflexible people who are difficult to engage with. In fact, the best leaders possess strong emotional intelligence and are in touch with their own resilience. As opposed to a domineering character, they can demonstrate a high level of empathy and the ability to connect with their team. A prime example is Microsoft founder Bill Gates who is, by nature, an introvert but exudes a quiet confidence. 

Another thoughtful leader is Virgin founder Richard Branson, who understands the importance of empowering his team. Branson respects his workforce, and views success as a collaborative effort. In his words; “what leadership boils down to is people. Whatever your style, whatever your method, you need to believe in yourself, your ideas and your staff. Nobody can be successful alone and you cannot be a great leader without great people to lead”. He has awareness for those around him, and prioritises his employees. In truth, a strong leader delegates not simply because they are senior, but because they want to build a team up, nurture their skills and confidence, and guide them.


Offer opportunities

A strong leader empowers their employees. They share their words of wisdom with those less experienced, offering them opportunities to take ownership of projects or have greater involvement, so that they may learn and develop the skills needed to advance in their career. A good leader knows themselves. They can assuredly identify their strengths, but also endeavour to know their team in order to bring out the best in them. Ultimately, this benefits the personal and professional growth of the individual as the wider business. An employee can be a leader, or adopt leadership qualities and competencies, whatever their role. Therefore, it’s important to encourage empathy, emotion and resilience across the team. 


Encouraging empathy means employees will be better equipped to predict how others will react to certain situations and tailor their response accordingly, in times of change or uncertainty. Presenting themselves as a listening ear who can be trusted, coupled with more technical skills, will gain respect from peers.  


Growth mindset - nobody is perfect

Managerial behaviour is about mindset. People with a growth mindset aren’t afraid to try something new or daring, and are not stilted by pride. Instead, they are honest about making mistakes. ‘Failure’ is not a part of their vocabulary, only a ‘setback’ which causes them to collaborate with the team and look at what can be improved upon next time. Strong leaders celebrate triumphs, but understand that not all projects flow seamlessly or reach the desired outcome.

Nurture strengths

A strong leader cultivates leadership qualities in their team, but also utilises each individual’s personal strengths and interests to steer ideas and projects in the optimal direction. It’s important to accept that you can’t excel at everything – a member of your team may be more creative or have valuable contacts, for instance. Nurturing existing skills and developing new qualities in your team leads to successful outcomes that the whole team can be proud of, boosting morale, relationships and business. 

Decision making

Having the confidence and certainty to make decisions that could potentially change the lives of employees or the direction of the business can weigh heavily on leaders. Therefore, it’s worthwhile instilling this positive approach in less experienced employees by giving them the autonomy to make decisions. Not only does this benefit their skillset by teaching them to withstand pressure, but also fosters a decisive, focused team that leaders can call upon for opinions and advice, to ensure practical plans of action are put in place. Remember – the mark of a strong manager is the team behind them. 

There is no ‘I’ in team, but whilst HR is vital in collecting individual talent and fostering a cohesive workforce, nature (an employee’s natural skills) needs to be combined with nurture (how you develop leadership qualities) to drive collective success.