Everything we thought we knew about leadership has changed.
The supreme, singular CEO and top-down leader may no longer have what it takes to survive in today’s rapidly changing global environment. And let's face it: For most organizations, that's a good thing. In a 2018 survey by IBM, 61 per cent of the more than 1,200 North American executives surveyed said that people skills were one of the top external forces that will impact them over the next few years. The study's authors saw this as a recognition of the value of intangible assets like talent and ideas, something, the survey notes, that is likely to help growing organizations push beyond the status quo toward perpetual reinvention.
So, what's a leader to do? Here are suggestions on how to change with the times.
Hire More ‘Wild Cards’
How do we identify and hire the kind of people who will help drive our organizations forward? One way is to start thinking outside the hiring template, and instead focus on hiring responsive, adaptable people who have the skills to thrive in a number of situations.
In other words, look for individuals who’ve taken the road less traveled. Unconventional, creative career paths can mean a diverse skill set. Plus, diverse individuals bring new networks and resources to the table.
Finally, seek curiosity over knowledge in new employees. It tends to lead to more learning and experimentation.
One of the most critical conversations taking place in the leadership development sector right now is the idea of “ownership.” Yesterday’s approach of using horizontal development to transfer knowledge from the expert to the employee is losing relevance in a new environment. Milllennials, for example, are self-directed learners. If they need to know something, they go searching for resources and solutions instantaneously. The digital information age has sped up the way employees learn and develop leadership skills. The solution for organizations, therefore, may be to create opportunities for learning from within the workplace and to find ways to embed leadership development inside the context of what they’re already doing. This approach provides an opportunity for individuals to directly relate to leadership development and apply it to their work environment. Ownership of the process builds confidence.
Inspire a Creative Practice
It’s essential to view leadership not merely as a role but a practice, an ongoing creative practice in both individual and organizational spheres. We need to carve open spaces and opportunities for experimenting with different perspectives and processes, and to share knowledge creation with others. By cultivating a creative practice, we can build comfort with complexity and ambiguity, increasing our ability to respond to change.
Innovation must keep pace with the rapid changes in our environments, and leaders must learn how to inspire their employees to search for solutions. That starts with understanding and believing in the “why” of an organization, according to Simon Sinek, author of "Start With Why" and "Leaders Eat Last." “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader,” he writes in Leaders Eat Last.
Don’t Just Collaborate, Co-invent
Leaders today need to realize that they’re only a part of a bigger puzzle: no one person holds all the answers and solutions to problems. “Some in management positions operate as if they are in a tree of monkeys,” Sinek writes in "Start With Why." The new approach to leadership is shifting from a top-down individual model to a bottom-up collaborative one where diverse sets of people and organizations come together to work through conflict, share resources and strive to find solutions. That means more than just collaboration, but co-invention. It’s also about knowing when to lead and when to take a step back and allow other participants to lead. Today’s most innovative leaders are striving to create workplace conditions that build relationships and trust to inspire leadership development at all levels of organizations.
According to research by Deloitte, 94 per cent of executives and 88 per cent of employees believe that a distinct corporate culture is important to a business's success. And research by CultureIQ found that employees rated their company work environments as being 20 per cent higher on all measures - including collaboration, environment and values - in companies with a strong culture.
There are so many different cultures - and ways to create them. What they have in common is the recognition that a person's happiness and sense of belonging to an organization boost health and productivity.
Redefining Leadership Success
Leadership is - and must - change with the times in order to keep organizations competitive. In today's businesses, a renewed focus on people has pushed creativity, collaboration and corporate culture to the forefront of many organizations' goals.