When Joe Biden takes office at the end of January, America will experience a different leadership style to the one they have experienced since 2016. In this article, I examine the leadership approaches demonstrated by Biden, and consider how aligned they are with those we have previously identified as being critical for effective leadership.
To successfully lead people and organisations in the current challenging climate as well as in the future, where change and disruption will continue at a rapid pace, demonstrating empathy, authenticity and inclusivity will be crucial. What can we expect from Biden?
“Leadership, at its core, in my view, is about being personal.” In a recent interview Biden talked about the importance of leading with empathy, putting himself in other people’s shoes and hearing their stories. Through our research into the future of leadership, both leadership experts and great leaders emphasised the importance of focusing on individuals and providing compassion and support. Research shows that highly effective leaders display greater empathy, listening to others and their experiences to understand their challenges . This empathetic leadership style has been found to increase job performance, satisfaction, security  and even company profits .
There are many examples of Biden displaying great empathy and showing compassion for others. He has dealt with great personal loss; Biden’s first wife and daughter died in a car crash in 1976 and his oldest son died from brain cancer in 2015. He has spoken widely about his grief, and he uses his experiences to relate to others who have also suffered loss. Throughout his presidential campaign, Biden consistently demonstrated empathy in his communication, speaking in debates about those who had lost loved ones or livelihoods in the pandemic.
Having struggled with a stutter from childhood, Biden has spoken out about how it affects him and provides support for others who stutter. On the campaign trail, he not only spent time talking to many young people who stutter but also took the time to get back in touch in order to check on them and continue providing support.
Showing empathy and compassion towards others creates an emotional connection that helps followers feel that leaders care about them not just as employees or a resource, but as a person . In challenging times, leading with empathy is critical to get the best from others.
Authentic leaders are genuine, transparent, trustworthy and reliable . They inspire loyalty and instil confidence in others by consistently showing who they are and how they feel. Because he is transparent in showing his emotions – sharing his experience with loss and his love for his son who has battled addiction – Biden is able to be truly authentic in showing compassion. As a consequence of this openness, people are able to relate to him and his ability to show his human side has helped him build connections with audiences and followers.
Throughout the pandemic, Biden has worn a mask or stayed at home for the majority of the campaign trial, held rallies in carparks, and encouraged people to use the postal vote and stay at home rather than risk lives. He leads by example, demonstrating authenticity through his own actions and modelling the behaviours he wants others to follow.
Authentic leadership has been found to be the strongest predictor of job satisfaction and organisational commitment . The ability to be open and honest with others engenders trust, which in turn increases psychological safety  – and when leaders are able to create psychological safety, people feel able to share diverse opinions, learn from mistakes and create innovative solutions . This is also a critical factor in developing adaptability, and with the increasing pace of change organisations are facing, it is more vital than ever that leaders are able to adapt to new challenges.
In a previous article, we defined inclusive leadership as a “leadership style that ensures followers feel valued, empowered, psychologically safe and that they belong”. Biden has not only created a psychologically safe environment through his empathy and authenticity but has also shown he intends to be an inclusive leader through the people he has chosen to support him in the White House. His desire to create an administration that would “look like America” shows he values diverse opinions, selecting people from different backgrounds, races and genders who are highly qualified for their roles.
Kamala Harris will be the first female, first South Asian, and first black Vice President in America’s history. There are more women and minorities in his administration than ever before, including an all-female communications team. Biden is surrounding himself with diverse voices, ensuring that people who have typically been marginalised now have the opportunity to contribute to decision making. Inclusive leadership has been found to improve innovation, productivity and employee engagement , and is critical in the current climate of rapid change in ensuring organisations have diversity in order to help them adapt and be agile.
The traditional command and control leadership styles are no longer effective. Leaders need to be open and authentic, encourage an inclusive style of leadership and show empathy and vulnerability to successfully lead their organisation and people through challenging times. In this respect, Joe Biden is a great example to leaders of the future. No leader is perfect, however, and Biden has had his share of criticism – not least from Kamala Harris, who challenged him on his response to racial injustice among other topics during the Democratic debates. So far, Biden has shown critical qualities of a modern leader. As he takes on the presidency at an incredibly challenging time, only time will tell if this is the leadership needed to unite America.