Research assistance by Jessica Fernando
Giving Room for a Socio-Emotional Leader
In my 10-year experience of running assessment centres and development centres where participants are given a time-based leaderless activity that creates pressure to perform, there always seem to be 2 types of leaders that emerge – a task-oriented leader and a socio-emotional leader. This is an interesting observation of the dynamics in leadership, and a question that is brought forth is whether this can be applied in a formal organisational leadership structure.
The task-oriented leader focuses on strategy, vision, delivering results and making decisions which are predominantly left-brain functions. These decisions are also informed by the inputs of the socio-emotional leader whose role is to keep up morale and to build interpersonal relationships and a positive culture; managing emotions and the wider people issues may require the balance of a right-brain function. In the same way that distinct functions are balanced by the brain, balance to the organisation can be brought in by having distinct leaders. To think the socio-emotional leader has a lesser role is to undermine the value that this kind of leadership brings to the table. This is because the socio-emotional leader will inform the task-oriented leader of the pulse of the people and what it feels like at grassroot levels, which is vital knowledge to have in any decision-making process. The socio-emotional leader ensures that people are being looked after and that systems in place are friendly for people to work.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change the way we work, and not being accustomed to remote working is an impediment to the functioning of an organisation. The challenge now for a leader is to manage, engage with, and build team spirit amongst virtual teams, whilst ensuring delivery of tasks. It may not be possible for all task-oriented leaders to acquire the skills needed to effectively manage teams in this type of setting. If the world is going to be in a state of emergency or crisis for the foreseeable future, it may be wise to reshuffle organisational leadership structures in one of the following ways:
- Appoint 2 organisational leaders who will complement each other’s roles at the topmost hierarchy, so that the decisions being made during a time of crisis are balanced and take all variables into consideration. The 2 leaders would need maturity, mutual respect and the willingness to share their powers at that level.
- Allow a 2nd in command to emerge in the organisation to act as a mentor to compliment the CEO. Although the 2nd in command wouldn’t share equal power, they would have the seniority and maturity to guide the CEO. As in the case above, the 2nd in command would need to be able to collaborate with the CEO in making decisions – bringing balance in the process would certainly lead to richer decisions than those made alone.
- Give more strategic power to HR and for HR to be equally influencing of the decisions that the organisation makes.
If organisations are successful in giving room for socio-emotional leadership to emerge – which otherwise is barely noticed or given credit to – to steer the ship alongside the task-oriented leader, it may help the organisation flourish amidst VUCA times.