Byline: Ellen Read
Creativity, innovation, risk-taking, openness and a connection to the aspirations of the organisation they work for are just some of the feelings absent in workers who toil under less-than-ideal leadership.
And the majority of workers in a recent New Zealand survey are operating under precisely these conditions - something which is certainly holding not only the workforce, but the whole country back - according to the authors of More 'Right' than 'Real': The Shape of Authentic Leadership in New Zealand.
It all comes down to the concept of 'authentic leadership'; leadership where leaders have a high ethical and moral character, self-awareness, are balanced in the way they make judgements and are transparent. (On the flip side, inauthenticity is marked by the tendency to hide not only from yourself as a leader, but from others - hiding your true thoughts and opinions in favour of espousing what you believe others want to hear.)
Following on from authentic leadership is 'psychological capital' as a concept, which refers to a set of positive psychological capacities (confidence, hope, optimism and resilience) and is intended as a differentiator from the more common 'human capital' measure. Psychological capital can be used to predict work outcomes - with a high level likely to result in higher productivity and gains to the organisation's bottom line.
Work by Lester Levy and Mark Bentley from Auckland University's Excelerator leadership centre shows that, following a study of 1000 workers, on average just 37 percent rated their workplace leaders as authentic most of the time.
The study surveyed the perceptions and experiences of the workforce in New Zealand organisations to determine the levels of authentic leadership, the levels of psychological capital, the leadership impact on the workforce and the relationship between them.
Why is authentic leadership important? Because workers who rate their leaders as authentic, themselves have higher levels of psychological capital (which is good for workplace outcomes).
This link is one reason Levy is disappointed in New Zealand's level of authentic leadership.
"We need to develop it more to take advantage of the accompanying boost in psychological capital to ensure higher and better outcomes for New Zealand."
Levy explains the choice of subject - ie, the workforce as opposed to the leaders - by asking why humans study the moon. Are we that interested in the moon itself? No, but what does intrigue us is the moon's effect on the earth (in the form of tides and rotation).
"So why should we look at the followers in this study? Because we're constantly looking at leaders to try and work out leadership, but I think we need to look at the followers as a really important dynamic in the whole relationship. So we've gone, euphemistically, into the minds of the country's workforce and this is what they're saying."
Levy says the results are fascinating and show work is needed on New Zealand leadership - but he notes that authentic leadership is not the Holy Grail.
"Leadership is like a highway under construction, always something new being developed. The reality of leadership is that there is no simple formula. There's no way of saying 'this is the way to do it'. In the end everybody needs to theorise their own personal leadership."
That said, the authors clearly express disappointment with the headline result: "We feel that a figure suggesting that more than 60 percent of our leadership is not yet at acceptable levels of authenticity is disappointing."
They suggest New Zealand leaders are more concerned with the need to be right, than their ability to be real - and while they have a strong ethical and moral standard are unwilling to admit mistakes or consider the perspective of others.
They're saying, strongly, that they don't have regard for the quality of their leaders in the workplace. …