Reinventing Leadership for the 21st Century
By Blaire Palmer
Author, Keynote Speaker,
CEO That People Thing
The way we think about leadership, where leadership comes from in an organisation and the role that leaders perform is due for a revolution.
New types of business are emerging with flat, self-managing structures; with purpose at their heart; with a focus on humanity, the customer and the planet rather than profit, shareholder value and market position.
Even in more conventionally structured businesses, the idea that a leader can rely on their position for power is outdated. It doesn't stop some trying! But "boss-leadership" as we call it it is unsustainable. To lead today requires humility, self-awareness, very little ego and a re-think of what a leader is there to do.
With our privileged insight in to what really goes on behind the closed doors of the Boardroom we, at That People Thing, spot trends in leadership before they hit big time. Like putting a frog in cold water and slowly raising the heat, these trends can occur so gently that it is years before you notice the world has changed and you’re now in hot water.
We frequently sense-check our own approach to our work to ensure that isn’t happening to us. Trotting out ideas that were cutting edge 5 years ago won’t help our clients as they look ahead to the next 5 years (by which time they will be a decade out of date).
Our work with clients focuses on 5 major themes which we believe all senior leaders need to be aware of as they consider their role as leaders, as drivers of change and as custodians of their company.
Re-wiring leadership thinking
Much of the management theory that has become conventional “wisdom” was developed for industrial age businesses. Why on earth would we still think that was relevant today? We live in a different world - what we call The Personalised Age - where the complexities we need to address in our businesses are far greater, where the customer is far more sophisticated and where employees expect you, their company, to treat them as human beings. For leaders this means a Personalised approach to leadership and a need to form authentic human connections with those they work with – to show vulnerability and reveal who they really are. It’s rare that we see leaders who get this right. But those leaders who are re-wiring their brains and allowing themselves to remove the mask they’ve worn all this time are rewarded with greater loyalty, innovation and engagement.
Leaders need to create an organisation where a sense of purpose lies at the heart of what drives decisions. Today’s employees will only go to the future willingly. They won’t go just because you tell them (as they might have done in the industrial past). Your position gives you no authority to lead. And, as you can’t carrot and stick them in to caring, you need to connect with what turns people on and off and learn how to access people's innate desire to make a difference. Oh, and that starts with you.
Collaboration not Competition
Silos are bad for business. They create competition within the organisation. They keep information and ideas locked in disparate parts of the company. They make it hard for customers (and employees) to get what they want quickly. Leaders need to let go of their ego, any desire to land-grab and even their own personal power and focus everyone instead on working together in service of the business' purpose. But more than that, leaders need to stop thinking that market position is the only success factor. They need to start collaborating rather than competing. They need to think like disrupters, putting purpose and customer at the centre of their thinking rather than trying to win a bigger slice of the status quo. If they don't some little start up is going to come up their blind side and change their industry in a way that makes it impossible for them to survive.
Self-Development not Leadership Development
Leaders today can’t impose their authority. They need to be credible, accessible and genuine in order to inspire trust and respect. This kind of credibility starts with self-awareness, a willingness to be authentic and to listen, really listen, to those around you. It isn't about window-dressing - a few new techniques to try out on people so they will do what you want them to do (but think it was their idea). Listening to what you don’t want to hear, noticing your impact, keeping yourself under continual review so that you don't become the obstacle in the way of your people, is the key here. If people are only telling you what you want to hear that's your problem not theirs.
It is easy to lose your mojo at work. The everyday frustrations of work can wear us down and our calling becomes our day job. Employees can sense which of their leaders really cares about them, about the customer, about the business…and which are going through the motions. Leaders today need to stay connected with their passion, their truth and their motives so they, in turn, can help their people do the same.
Of course it is important to have a vision, to have a strategy and to communicate with your
people – all the stuff they tell you on MBA programmes and in the 100,000 books on the subject.
Of course you need to hit your numbers and manage your cashflow. But we presume you already know that. That’s not changed. That’s nothing new. What is changing is how leaders need to be in order to lead. It’s far more human, far more honest, far more informal. And it takes real bravery to step out from behind the glossy PR that you’ve created for yourself and reveal who you really are.
Are you up for that?
Blaire is currently working on a new book on the future of leadership that explores these ideas in more depth. Due for publication 2016.