In the context of digital transformation, how can and how should managers and executives ensure with qualified leadership that teams and individual employees remain healthy, qualified and motivated – despite the stress brought on them by change and dynamic working conditions? For example, first of all be self-critical: After all, if things don’t run smoothly in the company, productivity and innovation rates fall short of expectations and the company falls steadily behind in the market, this can be caused by the coexistence of traditional and modern management models. Some executives like to cling to outdated models of staff management – and at the same time hope to somehow manage to survive the change. Dr. Sven Grote, who also talked about the TÜV Rheinland dialog “Human and health”, addresses the most important leadership myths.
“In management research, there is nothing that does not exist,” summarized the organizational psychologist Prof. Nerdinger back in 1994. Since then, the world of leadership models and approaches has been no less diverse. The management development alone is bringing forth numerous blossoms, from being a leader of horses and wolves to personality coaching, outdoor seminars with and without raft building and a variety of esoteric offers, just to name a few. The same applies to requirements imposed on managers. Here it is necessary to examine exactly what really makes sense, what requires further scrutiny (also in the sense of evidence-based management) and what is perhaps proven to be a myth.
The 7 leadership myths
Myth 1: Skills are a trendy subject.
The first leadership myth is about skills seen as a trendy subject. Skills of managers and employees cannot be considered a temporary trend or fashion topic. Rather, it can be seen as the timeless core of entrepreneurial change and as a guarantor of success in industry 4.0. Leadership skills exceed knowledge and formal qualification and also focus on the practical application of knowledge. It proves itself especially in new, unknown situations. Leadership skills were already considered relevant in times of “relative stability”. This makes the importance of leadership skills even more important in “disruptive”, i.e. exponentially unstable times. The systematic definition and development of relevant skills remains an important management task.
Myth 2: Professional skills are not important.
This is a leadership myth that has been around for many years, often from consultants or trainers. Accordingly, professional skills are not that important for managers. Much more important success factors are social skills and emotional intelligence. However, this statement is not accurate. No evidence can be found for this either in research or in practice. The following are rarely found in day-to-day business. Executives who are successful in the long term without distinctive professional skills simply because they would not be accepted by employees. Limited professional skills cannot easily be compensated for by social skills such as empathy or intuition.
Myth 3: Social skills are the key to success.
Previous studies (with Prof. Kauffeld and Prof. Frieling) with real teams from companies according to the Kassel skills grid (today Act4-teams) have investigated the role of skills. The Kassel Skills Grid, KKR for short, is a method developed in 2000 at the Institute of Ergonomics at the University of Kassel for the “External assessment of problem-solving skills of workgroups”. A group of five to seven employees worked on a current and relevant problem from the operational process during 60 to 90 minutes. The process of dealing with the problem was written down and evaluated on the basis of the KKR. This study showed in particular the importance of professional, methodological and personal skills; social skills made less or hardly any distinction between effective and less effective problem-solving groups. Thus, social skills being the key to success is also just one of the leadership myths.
Myth 4: Managers must be extroverted.
The available empirical data does not confirm this fourth leadership myth. There are numerous counter examples of highly successful and at the same time less extroverted executives and company founders. Executives achieve acceptance among employees and organizational effectiveness in very different ways, for example through perseverance, patience, loyalty to the company and its employees, openness and trust. Extroverted people may find it easier to reach leadership positions, but this does not necessarily make them more successful than others.
Myth 5: Industry 4.0 and digital change is a new phase in the life of companies.
Many companies have been dealing with digital transformation, end-to-end processes and the development of new business models for years. Digital transformation has long been the focus of attention for future-oriented companies, even though it is currently experiencing new impulses and gaining momentum. In fact, it is a wrong leadership myth to think that Industry 4.0 and digital change are something new.
Myth 6: If you want to understand what digital transformation means, you have to go to Silicon Valley.
Because this is where the thought leaders, the trendsetters, the visionaries of the new work can be found. But essential aspects of corporate culture are “invisible”. Also many things cannot be transferred on a one-to-one basis. Although many of Silicon Valley’s management strategies provide new insights, they also involve well-known and familiar aspects. Certain concepts, such as agile leadership, risk degenerating into buzzwords.
Myth 7: Digitization is above all a question of technology.
There is a risk that digitization and industry 4.0 will be narrowed down to technological aspects. It is often not enough to offer an app. Solutions that are too simple then turn into “digital soap bubbles” that burst in practice. Sustainable digitization processes usually also involve aspects of cooperation, leadership, corporate culture and even values. Avoiding these issues may seem like an attractive shortcut, but it usually turns out to be a dead end. For successful digitization, companies need leadership skills. The aim is to reflect, communicate and systematically develop one’s own skills. Trying out, failing and learning are just as essential as the right communication. It is important to give employees freedom to communicate with each other, to know what they want and to let them know that their ideas are appreciated. Organizations that rely on skills can react more easily to major transitions, to change, to an unclear future such as what digital transformation brings. Try out, fail, discard, recognize your skills and gain new ones. None of this is a magic formula. But they may be tips that one should pay more attention to as a manager for the sake of successful leadership in times of disruption and digital transformation.
About Dr. Sven Grote who addressed the most important leadership myths
Owner of the consulting firm Fokus-K, with work and research focus on competence measurement, modeling, development, management. Other focal points are personnel and organizational development, leadership, training and transfer, group work, team diagnosis, development, management, company change processes, process support, large group events. Teaching activities at universities, i.a. Leuphana in Lüneburg, the DISC at the University of Kaiserslautern, Business and Information Technology School, Berlin, UNIKIMS, Kassel. https://www.fokus-k.de