Contagious Leadership - how does it affect your organisation74% of UK professionals mirror the leadership styles of their colleagues. But is ‘contagious leadership’ the best way to learn?

The best and worst leadership traits spread contagiously through a business, with professionals’ behaviours most heavily influenced by the people they work with most frequently.

New research on the nation’s workforce from ILM, the UK’s leading specialist provider of leadership qualifications, revealed that workplace behaviours are highly infectious, with 74% of professionals having actively emulated attributes seen in their colleagues. Some of the most contagious traits are also the most critical to get right, including communication, copied by a fifth (18%) of workers, problem solving (9%), and customer service (10%).

But is contagion benefitting or damaging your organisation? With bad habits as likely to spread as good, it is vital that employees at every level understand, develop and role model positive leadership skills.

Dr Arthur Turner, a leadership development facilitator and coach from The Professional Development Centre Limited, the leadership delivery partners with USW’s Commercial Services, suggests that: “The word ‘contagious’ does have negative connotations – but emulating leadership styles isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as employees are emulating, amongst other positive traits, enthusiastic, ethically motivated, flexible, engaging and charismatic leadership.

“USW provides positive leadership programmes and qualifications that combine coaching and action learning as teaching tools, and The University focuses on the ways in which teams develop and learn from their managers, so that delegates of such programmes are more likely to create a ‘contagious environment’ that is positive in nature.”

Despite the prevalence of UK workers learning by example from their colleagues, the research found that most employees (58%) would prefer more formal training and development when it comes to acquiring new skills and capabilities.

John Yates, Group Director at ILM, commented on the findings: “People are looking to their colleagues to demonstrate how they can work effectively, particularly when it comes to facing up to challenges in the workplace.

“When properly managed, emulation can be a highly valuable way for people to learn. However, organisations should not rely on contagion to upskill employees, by utilising more formal training systems that employees value so highly, businesses can feel confident that their employees will be embodying and transferring to others the skills they really need for success.”

Further study of the research found that three quarters (74%) of people who copy the humour of their colleagues think it will help them work better with colleagues, a third (29%) who emulate delegation and organisation skills do so to get promoted or receive a pay rise, whilst 41% of people who imitate the creativity, inspiration or innovation of others are aiming to improve productivity. Worryingly, people are most likely to mimic what they’ve seen in others in risky or stressful situations, whether that’s an unfamiliar or difficult professional position (50%) or when something goes wrong at work (32%).

Our ILM accredited leadership and management programmes will ensure you create a business environment that allows teams and managers to positively develop.

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