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  • Writer's pictureLayla Foord

Challenging the Status Quo: Why Divisive Leaders Continue to Thrive

Why do divisive leaders keep being rewarded when we claim that leadership requires empathy and humility? 

This paradox has troubled me lately, prompting a reflection on the disconnect between rhetoric and reality in the realm of leadership.

In recent years, there has been a widespread call for empathetic and vulnerable leadership, posts on LinkedIn are full of advice on optimism and radical candour. Supporting the virtues of understanding, compassion, and emotional intelligence in guiding teams toward success. Yet, time and again, we see individuals known for their lack of empathy and divisive leadership styles rising to prominent leadership positions. It's disheartening to see these patterns persist, with little consequence for those who perpetuate them. But it is equally difficult to ignore that they do get a certain type of result. But at what cost?

The damage to the humans left in their wake, the broken trust and inability to replace essential employees due to reputational damage all weaken the organisations ability to scale sustainably.

So why does this happen? Why are leaders who embody assertiveness and decisiveness often favoured over those who prioritise kindness and respect?

The answer lies in our collective misconception that assertiveness and empathy are mutually exclusive qualities.

We've bought into the myth that to lead effectively, one must adopt a tough, no-nonsense approach, sidelining empathy as a sign of weakness.

However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Empathy is not weakness; it's a strength. It's about understanding and connecting with others on a human level, fostering trust, and building strong relationships. Empathetic leaders are better equipped to inspire and motivate their teams, leading to higher engagement, productivity, and loyalty. They create inclusive environments where every voice is heard and valued, driving innovation and long-term success.

As I reflect on my own experiences, I've come to realise that empathy is not just a nice-to-have trait; it's a fundamental aspect of effective leadership. Throughout my career, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of empathy in driving positive change. From fostering collaboration and creativity to resolving conflicts and building resilient teams, empathy has become the cornerstone of my leadership approach.

Yet, as I write this, I can't help but feel the weight of societal expectations pressing down on me. I worry that by advocating for empathy, I may be perceived as weak or soft. But I refuse to succumb to these outdated notions of leadership. I've led with empathy and kindness throughout my career, and I've seen the tangible impact it can have on individuals and organisations. Not to mention, it feels good.

As executives ad boards, it's time we challenge the status quo and redefine what true leadership looks like. It's time we recognise that empathy and assertiveness are not mutually exclusive but complementary qualities that can drive extraordinary results. Be open to the idea that we can achieve great things together, enjoy doing it and make difficult decisions, all at once.

The direct correlation between engaged and empowered teams and company results, long-term, is too important to ignore. This great article by Forbes highlights the top 10 stats to demonstrate this impact, including the evidence that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability. This finding by Gallup punctuates the fact that employee engagement consists of concrete behaviour, not an abstract feeling. So lets find a better way to interview, research and and find our next executive leaders with an open mind and humility, especially now that we've finally begun to appreciate the necessity of sustainable growth versus the previously favoured growth at all costs notion.

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