Traits and Challenges of Business Leaders

Leaders in every field have developed their own feelings on what is necessary to be an effective leader and motivate employees to produce desirable results. There are several general theories that impact leaders as well.

The most widely recognizable motivational theory is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow developed a series of low to high level needs that all human beings experience. The theory is accepted in the psychology world with its limitations being fully noted, and is effective for use in a business setting.

The Internet Center for Management and Business Administration explains how Maslow’s Hierarchy can impact employee motivation. “If Maslow’s theory holds, there are some important implications for management. There are opportunities to motivate employees through management style, job design, company events, and compensation packages, some examples of which follow:

� Physiological needs: Provide lunch breaks, rest breaks, and wages that are sufficient to purchase the essentials of life.
� Safety Need: Provide a safe working environment, retirement benefits, and job security.
� Social Needs: Create a sense of community via team-based projects and social events.
� Esteem Needs: Recognize achievements to make employees feel appreciated and valued. Offer job titles that convey the importance of the position.
� Self-Actualization: Provide employees a challenge and the opportunity to reach their full career potential.
(Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 2005)

The Maslow Hierarchy has been re-imagined several times, however the essential elements remain. These five factors are great influences on an employee’s motivation. Each employee is at a different level, and their leader should be able to recognize what level and offer the support to meet those needs. With this theory in mind, a leader has the best tools to be able to evaluate his/her employees and provide the tools that are necessary to motivate the employee.

Future leaders will need to be able to deal with a wide range of issues, and more than anything be able to be flexible and demonstrate a willingness to change and an enthusiasm that is infectious.

Fast-paced and frequent changes will continue to be a driving factor in business. The success of a company’s change management strategy will be directly responsible for the company’s overall success. The designated leaders will be the most important catalysts for change.

Some of the most important traits for effective leaders include integrity, optimism, dedication and tenacity. These seem like obvious traits for a leader but each will be absolutely crucial for success in the near and distant future. With the growing presence of governing bodies in the business world, integrity will be an honorable and essential trait for leaders to be able to follow rules, and maybe even more importantly, gain the trust of their employees.

Optimism cannot be overemphasized. The historic automobile manufacturer Henry Ford said, “If you think that you can or that you can’t, you will always be right.” Optimism encourages risk takers and breeds enthusiasm; both are historically vital elements for success in business.

Dedication is another trait that will build support from employees and lead to breakthroughs in the business. Tenacity is simply the relentless pursuit of goals through dedication and hard work. Leaders of the future will need to be more like leaders of the past. Risk-takers and dedicated workers who earn loyalty and command attention through their actions and ideas. Simple paper pushers just won’t do anymore.

“Significant changes are occurring in today’s workforce – in quantity, quality and diversity – all pointing to a severe talent shortage in the near future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 million people are expected to exit the labor pool by 2010. By 2008, it is expected that 10 million more jobs will be available than workers to fill them. This picture gets worse when you consider the decline of knowledge workers. According to the Department of Labor, 75 percent of future jobs will be knowledge based, yet in the next decade, 70 percent of the workforce will not be college graduates,” said Rebecca Callahan, with Montgomery Research. (2006)

With this being said, leaders of the future will be operating under tough circumstances and be required to make tough decisions. The director at the Harvard University Leadership Education Project, Ronald Heifetz, explains it as “Leaders of the future need to have the stomach for conflict and uncertainty – among their people and within themselves. That’s why leaders of the future need to have an experimental mind-set. Some decisions will work, some won’t. Some projects will pay off, some won’t. But every decision and every project will teach you and your organization something about how the world is changing – and about how your company compares with its competition.” (1999)

The major challenges facing leaders in the future will continue to be the major challenges that have always faced leaders, what is the most important issue is how the leaders are responding to those issues and becoming greater leaders in a business world that is likely to start operating at higher odds and under strenuous circumstances.

Heifetz states an important fact in relation to what will give leaders the tools to face future challenges. “Most leaders die with their mouths open. Leaders must know how to listen – and the art of listening is more subtle than most people think it is. But first, and just as important, leaders must want to listen. Good listening is fueled by curiosity and empathy: What’s really happening here? Can I put myself in someone else’s shoes? It’s hard to be a great listener if you’re not interested in other people.” (1999)

There lies the great tool for future leaders. While employees are getting interested in themselves and developing their own careers, leaders need to get interested in those people.

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