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Leadership in Britain Redefined by Economic Climate

  • Date: Friday 23rd July 2010
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  • Financial prudence ranked as among the most important trait
  • Bosses now more emotionally intelligent
  • Nick Clegg’s leadership style most emulated among business leaders

Sound financial decision making and emotional intelligence are the two most defining qualities of successful leadership, according to a study released today by Orange.

In a joint project, Orange and Exeter University’s Centre for Leadership Studies questioned over 5,000 of Britain’s bosses and employees to explore leadership styles in the post-recessionary climate. The study was carried out to help inform the search for the finalists of the 2010 Orange Leader of the Year Award, part of the prestigious National Business Awards, which recognises outstanding leadership in business.

The findings revealed that financial prudence is now considered by the majority (73%) of employees as among the most defining qualities of sound leadership. In six in 10 cases, bosses who had demonstrated sound financial judgment since the onset of the downturn in November 2008 were viewed by employees as being the more effective and successful leaders . When questioned, being ‘good with budgets’ was consistently ranked by employees as the most important skill, above charisma, academic qualifications and physical appearance. Only three out of 10 (38%) of the employees questioned believe that being an impressive orator is a key factor for successful leadership.

Feedback from bosses revealed that they are striving to meet the changing expectations of employees. When questioned over four in 10 (43%) revealed that they had recently turned down a bonus in an attempt to be seen as more financially prudent. It is a move welcomed by employees, with four in 10 (40%) saying that it had positively influenced their perception of the individual as a leader.

The study revealed that this behaviour is part of a committed response by business leaders in exercising a greater degree of empathy towards employees. When questioned, over half (56%) of bosses revealed that they had actively softened their leadership stance in order to be seen as part of the team. Over one third (34%) revealed they now take a more active interest in the welfare of their work force and nearly a quarter of bosses (22%) cited that they were actively making more of an effort to bond with their staff.

Says Jonathan Gosling, Centre for Leadership: “The study has revealed that demonstrating emotional intelligence is a vital leadership trait. Employees are looking for bosses who connect with them on an emotional level, acting as more of a peer rather than an inaccessible, unapproachable superior. There’s growing pressure therefore for bosses to bridge an apparent contradiction: employees respond best to bosses who are good at team-working; but they also respect prudence and decisiveness. Leaders are expected to be close enough to understand and contribute to facing the daily challenges of work, but distant enough to remain clear headed and focused on the bigger picture.”

The study revealed this evolving perception of leadership is also being applied outside of the work environment. When questioned, Nick Clegg was identified as the political party leader most emulated by business bosses for his open and honest approach. It saw him rated above Cameron (15%), David Milliband (5%) and Andy Burnham (1%).

Martin Stiven, VP of Business at Orange said: “The recession has reshaped how we define great leaders and the traits that are now considered as vital ingredients for success both in and outside the board room. Whilst the economic climate provides a testing time for leaders, it has also defined new leaders and the 2010 Orange Leader of the Year Award will recognise those individuals who have combined outstanding leadership qualities with exceptional business acumen.”

Half of the 5,000 respondents questioned (48%) also claimed that those politicians and business leaders who were associated with making sound financial judgements are now viewed as the better leaders with Chancellor George Osborne and Mervin King topping the list. Fred Goodwin came bottom nominated by less than 1% of respondents.

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