I recently attended a Think Tank at the L&D + HR Symposium on ‘Supporting the New Age of Leadership – what Capabilities do our Leaders need to thrive?’ It was an insightful and robust discussion that could have continued for much longer. I also recently attended a Q&A with Jim Collins through the Growth Faculty and this article blends insights from both events plus my observations.
Supporting the New Age of Leadership
There is a marked shift in what employees now expect of their leaders that, if left unaddressed, could have significant impact on engagement, productivity and retention.
1. Who are our Leaders?
It was widely agreed that the scope of ‘leader’ has expanded to those in our organisations who demonstrate leadership qualities and who should be encouraged to develop these strengths. Leadership is becoming truly democratised and distributed and leadership development shouldn’t be limited to those at the upper levels of the org chart.
2. What’s influencing this shift?
There are a multitude of influencing factors – here are 3 of the many we discussed.
If we look through a positive lens, we found ourselves coping with more rapid and complex change in the last 2 years than probably the last 30! For example, who would have agreed that we could move to a model of remote working within the space of A WEEK?
No, it wasn’t perfect, but we did it. Yes, we needed to act because of a pandemic, but this lights the way for a change agility approach, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
We now have multiple generations in the same workplace all with different sets of values, social needs and preferences for being managed and led. This requires a more dynamic style of leadership.
Changing Power Dynamics
As we work our way through what the ‘new hybrid’ really means, employees are finding their voices, voicing their concerns and being candid about what they do and don’t want their future workplace to be. This requires an inclusive, empathic and collaborative leadership approach where the genuine desired outcome for all is win:win.
3. What do we expect of our Leaders?
In addition to the 3 qualities highlighted in bold above, there is a definite shift of expectation away from the more traditional leadership qualities and a focus on qualities that, when demonstrated by a leader, lift everyone up.
We created a list of ‘increasingly important and desired’ versus ‘decreasingly important and undesired’ qualities. Here are just a few I shortlisted that in and of themselves, could be a topic of conversation.
The $64K Question – How reasonable are these Expectations?
As we look to the sample list on the left:-
- how realistic is it that we expect all or most of these traits (and consistently) in our peers, managers, directors and executives?
- how quick are we to judge when we don’t see them?
- if WE are the leaders, how consistently are we role modelling the traits above and how much pressure are we putting on ourselves to be perfect?
- what are we doing to nurture, grow and develop these desired attributes?
Where to start – 4 ‘food for thought’ strategies
There’s no simple answer to the questions above and at first glance it can seem overwhelming. We do know that the answers can’t be found in a one day ‘Introduction to Leadership’ training course (forgive the flippancy), but there are places that we can start that don’t cost the earth or require an Executive MBA or a year at INSEAD!
1. Optimise the wealth of Knowledge, Expertise and Experience that already exists. This could be through formal or informal mentoring programs, internal think tanks by open invitation, a buddying system or ‘focus on’ storytelling gatherings that cover different leadership themes and topics.
2. Know who is demonstrating the Desired Leadership Qualities. Is it possible that there are hidden qualities that aren’t being optimised for the benefit of your people or your business? Is there a proactive focus on looking out for and spotting those with emerging leadership traits, highlighting and encouraging them, or do you have a cohort of ‘best kept secrets’ potentially looking to move if not being recognised and acknowledged?
3. Recognise that Attitude is as important as Aptitude. One of the very first performance management systems I implemented at a research company I worked for turned out to be one of the best. Equal importance was placed on developing attitudinal and behavioural competencies as technical and subject matter ones, and I (falsely) assumed all PM systems worked this way.
How do you track, measure, develop and reward traits like enthusiasm, encouragement or empathy? Food for thought.
4. Access the myriad free resources for Professional Development. When I was a young leader how I wish we’d had resources like TED, article sites HBR, free learning sites like Coursera (currently 10 free leadership courses) and LinkedIn Learning (free for a month) plus leadership podcasts (like mine 😊)
OK, so this is a shameless plug for my podcast ‘Rawthentic Leadership’ – now ranking 6th in the top 25 Australian Leadership podcasts. Each month I take a different aspect of 21st Century Leadership and interview people who I believe are walking their talk in this field, being real, raw and authentic. In Summary
Employee expectations on our leaders have changed and if we don’t grow with them, we risk losing ‘good to great’ people.
If you don’t have a budget for an extensive leadership development program, don’t let that stop you. Do something, start small, acknowledge the talent, and, if you’re feeling brave – put the challenge out there and let those budding leaders suggest and create the way forwards!