How can inculcating life skills contribute to effective leadership | Education - Hindustan Times

How can inculcating life skills contribute to effective leadership

Jul 19, 2023 04:22 PM IST

Leaders of the future need to cultivate delayed gratification, empathy, and cognitive flexibility to excel in their roles and drive meaningful change.

“As we look forward to the future, leaders will be those who empower others”- Bill Gates

Show respect to others: Treat everyone with respect, regardless of their position or background. Show empathy, listen actively, and be considerate of others' feelings and opinions.(Unsplash)
Show respect to others: Treat everyone with respect, regardless of their position or background. Show empathy, listen actively, and be considerate of others' feelings and opinions.(Unsplash)

While good leadership has always been the driver of growth and change in our society, be it public leaders, corporate or social leaders, the role of a leader has evolved over the years.

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A report on the Future of Leadership Development by the Harvard Business Review, highlights the need for evolving leadership traits and the need for leadership development in people beyond the C-suite. The growth cultivated through effective leadership drives personal growth, fosters greater sense of self, and encourages meaning and purpose in life and work. It brings about happiness, reduces stress, and contributes to enhanced mental health and wellbeing.

These aspects, in turn, lead to a transformation that boosts engagement and effectiveness, thus empowering leaders to better support their teams and organisations.

When leaders become catalysts for remarkable change, they can mobilise others to take action, raise awareness, and effect change in their communities. As a result, it is paramount that those aspiring to be leaders should cultivate and nurture an array of qualities that would enable them to inspire and motivate others, build partnerships, and achieve positive results.

With a rising emphasis on effective leadership in the era of globalisation, artificial intelligence and a fast moving and an unpredictable future, it is important to understand what are some of the skills that leaders of tomorrow need to have.

Today, more than ever before, leaders need to develop critical life skills that will enable them to have the personal confidence and social conscience to lead organisations and people to a meaningful purpose.

Here, we delve into three key life skills that leaders at all levels in an organisation need to imbibe to excel in their roles.

The Need for Delayed Gratification as a Life Skill in Leadership

Delayed gratification, or the ability to resist the temptation for immediate rewards to achieve long-term goals, is a crucial life skill for effective leadership. The ability to resist immediate rewards is key in staying focused on long-term objectives, making informed decisions, and persevering through challenges. Very often, leaders have to bypass the temptation of quick wins to work relentlessly towards a larger, long-term vision.

Developing the skill of delayed gratification can be accomplished through a number of strategies:

Set and pursue long-term goals: Clear goals enable leaders to stay focused on their objectives and avoid distractions that might hinder their progress.

Demonstrate dedication to a greater goal: Practising self-discipline involves making conscious decisions to avoid immediate gratification to achieve long-term objectives. This might involve saying no to tempting distractions, developing healthy habits, or managing time effectively.

Display motivation: Celebrating small victories can help leaders stay motivated and committed to their goals. It provides a sense of accomplishment and reinforces the value of delayed gratification.

Incorporating Empathy in Leadership

Another vital life skill is empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

A report by Forbes indicated that empathy has significant constructive effects on leadership. The real job of a leader is not merely being in-charge, but taking care of those people who are in their charge.

Leaders who show empathy are more likely to have innovative teams and successfully navigate the demands of their work and personal life. In essence, empathy plays a crucial role in creating a positive environment and fostering collaboration.

Empathy is also a critical component of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to recognize and understand one's emotions and those of others. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to handle conflicts, make informed decisions, and manage their emotions in high-pressure situations. Developing empathy in potential leaders can help them increase their emotional intelligence, thus making them better leaders in the future.

In a future that is more and more dependent on machine learning and AI, empathy will be a key skill for successful leaders.

Some ways to develop empathy in leadership include:

Practising sensitivity: Displaying sensitivity by paying close attention to non-verbal communication, and making an effort to understand different perspectives can foster an empathetic environment.

Respecting diversity: Empathy is rooted in connection. Building a culture of connection by respecting diverse backgrounds can bolster positive workplace behaviours. For instance, a leader who takes the time to learn about and embrace cultural differences can inspire their team members to do the same, resulting in a more collaborative and innovative team dynamic.

Displaying appreciation: Motivating the team by acknowledging their achievements and strengths can play a crucial role in building professional relationships steeped in empathy and understanding.

Cognitive Flexibility as a Critical Skill for Leaders

The third essential life skill for leaders is cognitive flexibility, which involves the ability to effortlessly transition between different modes of thinking and adapt to new situations.

This entails being receptive to innovative ideas, considering multiple perspectives, and employing creative thinking to address challenges. Cognitive flexibility is also a significant aspect of adaptability, a trait increasingly sought after in our rapidly evolving world.

According to a NCBI study, cognitive flexibility creates more awareness because a high level of cognitive mind individuals are more inclined to show creativity and innovativeness to adapt entrepreneurial ideas.

In the contemporary business world, leaders' cognitive flexibility is an essential quality that allows them to think creatively and generate novel solutions.

This skill equips leaders to approach challenges from multiple perspectives and identify innovative strategies that can drive their organisations to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

Therefore, cognitive flexibility becomes an indispensable quality for leaders striving to stay ahead in a rapidly changing business landscape.

Leaders can develop cognitive flexibility through the following:

Developing adaptability to combat challenges: By consciously practising flexibility and approaching problems from fresh perspectives, leaders can hone their cognitive flexibility skills. They are better equipped to find creative solutions to problems, consider multiple perspectives, and come up with innovative ideas to overcome obstacles.

Problem-solving: Willingness to restructure one's thinking and adapt behavioural strategies to solve problems from multiple perspectives significantly enhances cognitive flexibility. For example, when faced with a business challenge, a leader with cognitive flexibility may explore various options and find an unconventional solution that others may not have considered.

Tolerance to confusion and ambiguity: Developing and practising the ability to accept and navigate unclear, uncertain, or confusing situations nurtures cognitive flexibility. This skill enables leaders to approach challenges from multiple perspectives and identify innovative strategies that can drive their organisations to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

Leadership is fundamentally a blend of numerous competencies that interconnect to generate a comprehensive whole. Leadership, in general, is a multifaceted and intricate craft that necessitates a combination of technical, interpersonal, and cognitive skills.

The inculcation of relevant life skills in today's individuals is an ongoing process that is crucial to prepare them to become effective leaders in the future. Therefore, it is paramount for every leader to prioritise the development of these skills to achieve success and proficiency in their leadership roles.

(Author Arjun Bahadur is Lead, Life Skills Collaborative. Views expressed here are personal.)

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