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Three Leadership Development Styles for 2021

From the desk of Zafirah Jeetoo,

Training & Education Partner, Pierpoint Financial

In my last article, “leadership in crisis” I summarised how the global pandemic and economic fall-out has impacted businesses globally, has affected workers, and how leaders of organisations are unsurprisingly not equipped to navigate such rough waters. I highlighted the fact that now more than ever before, learning and development (L&D) should be exploited to promote leadership styles that take a “people-centric” approach. I have broken down the three areas that I think will be critical to enhancing leadership over the next ten years.

But first…let us take a moment to remind ourselves of the meaning of leadership, I especially like this explanation from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) because it describes three distinct areas of leadership.

What is Leadership?

“Leadership can be defined as the capacity to influence people to achieve a common goal… However, while leadership is currently much discussed and academic studies have multiplied since the 1970s, there’s no single definition or concept of leadership that satisfies all.
What is clear is that leadership covers three integral elements:
· Self - skilful expression of personal qualities.
· Other people - staff, line managers, peers but also senior management and other stakeholders.
· The job to be done - specifying, defining, clarifying, reviewing, and revising when needed, the task to be achieved.”

CIPD (2020)

1. Ethical Leadership

This type of leadership falls under the transformational school of thought. A leader does not need to have any authority in the organisation; a leader can be anyone. This is especially demonstratable in today’s social media culture where the masses can follow visionary leaders, e.g. Sir David Attenborough broke the internet by amassing over 1 million followers in four hours on Instagram.

Employees are searching for leaders that symbolise and represent the values and morals of broader society. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns are high on the agenda. Conversely, in business, ethical leadership can be a bit of a balancing act, as often the requirements of the business may conflict with individual morals. However, leaders must remain true to their own moral principles (do the right thing) and seek to understand the different views of their staff and ESG issues that may cause conflict. An ethical leader that is admired can have a positive impact on staff retention and organisational culture where staff also “do the right thing”. So, ask yourself, what do you stand for?

2. Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Agility

I would hazard a guess that you are all very familiar with the term, emotional intelligence, and its definition. But what is emotional agility exactly?

Emotional agility, the very term primarily coined by Susan David, a psychologist at Harvard medical school (2013) defined as:

“Emotional agility = an individual’s ability to experience their thoughts and emotions and events in a way that doesn’t drive them in negative ways, but instead encourages them to reveal the best of themselves”. (R, Mitson, 2018)

As I mentioned in my previous article, the uncertain times we live in have seen a rise in socio-economic troubles, which has had a direct impact on employees, causing them anxiety and stress. A top-down communication structure or even a good communication strategy just won’t cut it anymore. Employees are increasingly working remotely and looking forward; a hybrid approach to working may become the norm.

Therefore, it is imperative that leaders demonstrate even greater empathy and become emotionally adaptable to the climate within which they operate. This is essentially emotional agility. The capability as a leader, to not only understand yourself and others but to adjust your behaviour appropriately, such as understanding the mood of your team and changing your communication style to address the situation. This can be done by giving and receiving more constructive feedback and creating opportunities for employees to develop mindfulness by accepting the twist and turns of working life. In addition, inspiring them to make small but powerful changes emotionally will have a positive impact to team working, customer care, and performance (more on this soon).

3. Leading the Learning Culture

What is the definition of a ‘learning culture’?

“While there is no unifying definition or theory of learning culture, there are several common concepts that can be found in many of the definitions:

  • supporting individual learning and transformation, and allowing this knowledge to shape strategy and process

  • encouraging teams to learn and reflect on their work and proactively influence strategy and process change

  • a willingness to learn and improve from the wider organisation and key decision-makers”

CIPD 2020a

Leaders are perceived to be at the forefront of their beliefs, thought leaders who strive to promote their vision and values to the world. They are followed because of their personality, their ideas. People follow them because the leaders ‘message’ resonates with the individual’s belief system.

As a leader, be prepared to embrace the idea of a learning culture by being the person who demonstrates enthusiasm for learning, being vocal, and making L&D an attractive proposition to all stakeholders.

In the first instance, business leaders should be given the opportunity to undertake leadership training that equips them with the core behaviours of good leadership. Let’s pause for a moment. If you are a leader and your organisation does not have continuous professional development opportunities for you to keep evolving as a leader - then it is time to ask why. Remember being put through a leadership programme is not sufficient, you will need to practice, practice, and practice to ensure the transfer of learning has become part of your natural skill set.

The benefits of a leader who engages with learning will be equipped to scrutinise staff performance, have the confidence to change, improve the organisational culture and increase strategic and future-focused thinking. All the ingredients required to gain a competitive advantage and, by doing so, ensure the organisation survives and thrives.

CIPD (2020) Leadership in the Workplace [online]. CIPD. Available At:

CIPD (2020a) Creating Learning Cultures: Assessing the Evidence [online]. CIPD. Available At:

R, MITSON (2018) Defining Emotional Agility with DR. Susan David [online]. Virgin Pulse. Available At:

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