What Would Get You Elected As A Leader

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2024 has been dubbed the ‘super election year’. According to Statista, “around half the world’s population lives in the more than 60 countries holding national elections in 2024, and with roughly two billion eligible voters, this is being described as the largest election year in history.”

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If we view the world as a global organisation and bear in mind to what extent leadership shifts impact organisations, just imagine the scale of change that awaits us due to 2024’s multiple elections. 

We asked a few questions to leaders and those who report to them in a variety of industries across the globe, about what the most important behaviours are for strong leadership and psychological safety. Ultimately, we wanted to know: “As a leader in business, have you ever stopped to think about whether you would cut if you had to be democratically elected for your current leadership role?” 

From the 415 responses we have collated since January, five leadership behaviours stood out as ones that would possibly result in a leader being ‘elected’. 

Do not delay giving feedback

Developmental feedback stings far worse when not delivered promptly. People do not want to wait for formal periodic discussions to hear where they can improve; they would much rather know straight away so that they can address it immediately. Knowing that others are authentic when they engage with us, and not holding back on feedback, is crucial for our sense of belonging and status in the team.

Make time for a quick one-on-one discussion as soon as you notice a behaviour that needs to be addressed or a skill that needs to be sharpened. But remember to keep your comments respectful and do not shame the team member publicly. Then check in regularly to find out where you can support the person’s growth on an ongoing basis. 

Show an interest in me and my development

Although formal measurement and one-on-one sessions to discuss performance and career development are requested and important, it is evident that these alone are not enough. Engaging respectfully, staying in touch informally, and providing regular, consistent communication (even when referring to areas of improvement) are more valued than waiting for formal one-on-one sessions. There is a big need for coaching and mentoring, and a lot of appreciation for leaders who take a personal interest in their team members’ growth and wellbeing. 

Make time to strike up informal conversations with your team members as well AND remember what they share for future conversations. Ask them what they enjoy about their work and where their interests for growth lie. Notice when they do something well or go the extra mile and give them opportunities to play to their strengths. Building these relationships is critical for boosting belonging and engagement, both for individuals and within a team. 

Listen, keeping an open mind

Leaders who truly listened to, acknowledged, and acted upon input from their team members, were celebrated by respondents in no uncertain terms for the sense of ownership and autonomy that this instils. This includes abandoning foregone conclusions to hear what they have to say, which was an inhibitor frequently mentioned as an example when leaders were perceived as not listening well. 

Show your team members that their concerns and input are valuable enough to potentially change your mind. Avoid jumping to conclusions about their intent or what they are going to share, and do not interrupt them. Ask questions to understand better, address concerns as swiftly as possible and put great ideas into action without delay. All this helps team members feel that their contribution is valued, boosting psychological safety and performance as a result. 

Communicate expectations clearly

Team members’ need for certainty came strongly to the fore. Respondents asked for clarity around exactly how to perform tasks, about their roles and responsibilities in general, and how their bit feeds into the organisation’s vision and objectives. 

Check for understanding when you delegate new tasks and make what they are responsible for crystal clear. When we feel uncertain, our brain wastes precious energy on self-doubt and trying to understand expectations. This energy is much better spent on successfully executing the task at hand. Also, being equipped to master new or challenging tasks further fulfils our need to grow and feel valued. 

Also, do not underestimate the value of reminding them of the bigger picture. Knowing how their role and actions contribute to what the larger organisation wants to achieve not only increases engagement and ownership but also cultivates innovation and collaboration between team members and teams. 

Show gratitude

Our data confirms the tremendous power of a simple, spontaneous “thank you”. While public acknowledgement and tangible rewards for a job well done are valued, just giving thanks now carries much of the same gratification. In essence, everyone just wants to feel that what they do is seen and appreciated. 

Never miss an opportunity to thank a team member for going the extra mile, rolling up your sleeves to meet a tight deadline or jumping in to help sort out a crisis. Then, if appropriate, mention their efforts in the next meeting and make sure to recognise consistent hard work and initiative with tangible rewards or opportunities for development.

In these times of turmoil, steadfast leadership is crucial for keeping organisations anchored and team members engaged. We are wired to belong – to a community and/or a cause, so leaders who engage and inspire the hearts and minds of those in their charge meet this fundamental need. This is the foundation for feeling psychologically safe enough to contribute fully. If people don’t feel valued in the workplace, they are less likely to speak up, share ideas, take risks, or even go the extra mile. This applies to countries too!

In essence, these points boil down to one: Team members want to know that they matter. A sense of belonging and psychological safety starts with the leader. Team members base their perceptions on how vulnerable leaders are willing to be and how they respond when relational and performance risks are taken that leave staff vulnerable to reproof. If leaders can show people that they matter enough to have that difficult conversation, to invest in, to listen to, to make a difference and to be appreciated, they might just get democratically elected. 

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