Everything we thought we knew about leadership has changed.
The supreme, singular CEO and top-down leader – ambitious, extroverted and specialized – may no longer have what it takes to survive in today’s rapidly changing global environment. In a recent study by IBM, more than 50 per cent of the 1,500 North American CEOs surveyed felt their organizations were not adequately equipped to weather the storm of increasing market and environmental uncertainty. The rapid expansion of globalization and information technology calls for a need to lead across place and culture. Traditional organizational boundaries are being dissolved and replaced with an interconnectedness of systems and communities. And with an influx of millennials into the workplace, CEOs are encountering an entirely new set of work values and expectations. Uncertain times call for new approaches to leadership.
“We need to ‘unlearn’ conventional leadership methods,” says Dan Buchner, vice-president of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute at the Banff Centre. “What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Organizations today need to focus on not only performance optimization but more importantly on building resiliency.” Yesterday’s focus on training single leaders and senior managers is no longer sustainable. Instead, Buchner believes leadership should be spread across organizations and networks. Future leaders need to exhibit what Buchner calls “some very human traits” – generosity, reflection and vulnerability. Future leaders must be able to hear and respond to diverse voices, adapt to new processes and transform adversity into opportunity.
Here, in the Alberta Venture Guide to Leadership Development, we break it down into six parts, so you can more easily keep pace with the changing face of leadership.
Hire More ‘Wild Cards’
How do we identify and hire the kind of leaders that will help drive our organizations forward? “It’s time to think outside the hiring template,” Buchner says. While it’s important to focus on expertise in a particular field to fit a particular job description, forward-thinking organizations also need to find responsive, adaptable individuals who can thrive in a number of situations. Look for individuals who’ve taken the road less travelled. Unconventional, creative career paths build up a diverse skill set that’s needed to overcome challenges. And not only that, but diverse individuals bring new networks and resources to your organization’s table. Finally, ask “Are they curious individuals?” “I always encourage organizations to look for curiosity,” Buchner says. “If you’re not curious, then you’re most likely not interested in experimenting with a different way of working, relating and adapting.”
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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. “The traditional methodologies that we use [to train leaders] aren’t necessarily the ones that will be embraced by the younger generation entering the workplace,” Buchner says. Millennials 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, Buchner argues, is to create opportunities for learning from within the workplace. Don’t simply send employees away to take a two-day course, or workshop. Instead, 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. “Leaders have to really believe that new ideas can transform the situation, and they have to be willing to explore along the edges where other people avoid going,” Buchner says. 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. “They make sure that everyone at the top of the tree looking down sees only smiles. But all too often, those at the bottom looking up see only asses. 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. “To be successful, it’s more than just collaborating with other people: it’s co-invention with other people and organizations,” Buchner says. 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.
Gender Inclusive Leadership
In 2013, BP conducted a study, entitled Global Diversity & Inclusion Report, which examined female representation in the oil and gas industry. Though 72 per cent of respondents agreed that it remains a male-dominated industry, results show that more women are joining the oil and gas sector:
Borrow Ideas From Other Cultures
We don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. Today’s digital age of rapid information and knowledge sharing means it’s easier than ever for leaders to look up and out across different countries, cultures and contexts, and search for solutions to apply to local challenges. “Do we always have to come up with something entirely new?” Buchner asks. “Can we look to other places that might point us in the right direction?” Scholars today are exploring a new approach to leadership by reflecting on cultural heritage and practices. “Culture-based innovation” is the use of old ways of knowing to drive innovation processes and outcomes that directly benefit communities on deep cultural levels. One of the most essential things we can learn from cultural heritage, particularly from indigenous and traditional societies, is the importance of a person’s happiness and sense of belonging to an organization. “People who love going to work are more productive and more creative. They go home happier and have happier families,” Sinek writes. “They treat their colleagues and clients and customers better. Inspired employees make for stronger companies and stronger economies.”
Investing in Community Leadership
For Encana, it’s not just about developing internal leaders
Community: Dawson Creek, B.C.
In 2010, Encana, one of North America’s largest oil and gas producers, began funding new models for collaborative community development in northern B.C. and Alberta. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to make our contributions more meaningful,” says Patsy Vik, manager of community relations, “and we’ve discovered that it’s the relationships that help direct our investment dollars.” Relationships are a key component to the Community Leaders Program, a community capacity-building initiative done in partnership with the City of Dawson Creek and the Banff Centre. Encana participates in ongoing community collaboration with municipal leaders and citizens to identify issues, brainstorm solutions and align its investments with community decisions. “Recently, the council created a diverse cohort of new and emerging citizen leaders in Dawson Creek to come together to envision what their community could look like in the future and set strategic priorities,” Vik says. These processes result not only in smarter sustainable development projects, but are also creating opportunities for the municipality and citizens to learn and cultivate leadership skills. “It’s about building community ownership over understanding the problems and feeling a part of the solutions,” Vik says. She believes this approach is strengthening the understanding and trust between the municipality, citizens of Dawson Creek and Encana, and that by supporting processes for social development, Encana is compounding its investments long term. “It’s important to find opportunities to listen,” Vik says. “Investing in community collaborations, we’re positioning ourselves as a business in a very strategic way. It’s really an approach that lends to our business priorities by building meaningful relationships, supporting local-level leadership and sustaining community into the future.”
Redefining Leadership Success
How do we evaluate the success of new leadership models and approaches? Buchner says success is analogous to watching the film credits rolling after a movie. It takes hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds, skill sets and motivations, working collaboratively, to create an emotionally compelling, beautiful film. “Organizations that are successful engage multiple perspectives,” Buchner says. “They know how to co-ordinate and help different players interact with each other.” Today’s version of leadership success is about relationship building between leaders, organizations and community groups. “When a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers,” writes Sinek in Leaders Eat Last, “then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way.”