Executives have markedly changed their leadership styles in the past year – and not always in the ways they think will help their companies most, said a survey conducted by McKinsey and Co.

However, the report entitled ‘Leadership Through the Crisis and After’, explained executives aren’t changing their views on which leadership styles will help companies most in the long term.

According to the survey, these kinds of leadership behaviour are the ones most used by women, who also have the greatest influence on many of the organisational capabilities executives agree are important for companies now and in the future, such as having inspiring leaders and a clear direction for companies.

The survey investigates how individual leaders lead and how that has changed in 2009. For example, respondents say that during the crisis they have seen far more leaders focus on monitoring individual performance – even though they see that as one of the least helpful ways of managing the crisis.

The survey also asked about the organisational capabilities and leadership behaviour they will need to thrive during the recovery and about the ways companies are approaching employee development and gender diversity in the crisis.

“The kinds of leadership behaviour that executives say will most help their companies through the current crisis, such as inspiring others and defining expectations and rewards, are the same ones they say will help their companies thrive in the future,” explained the report.

This news is tempered, however, by the finding that only a third of the respondents consider gender diversity to be among their companies’ top ten priorities and that relatively few are taking any specific actions to promote it.

Some of the findings included:

  • Companies could benefit from encouraging more executives to adopt the kinds of leadership behaviour that executives believe are important to managing corporate performance through the crisis and afterward
  • Looking beyond the crisis, companies would also do well to develop the kinds of leadership behaviour that support innovation, such as challenging assumptions and encouraging risk taking and creativity, and
  • Given the stronger performance associated with diverse leadership teams that include women, and the relatively low priority most companies put on gender diversity, many companies have a chance to improve their performance by paying more attention to this issue.