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Most of our ideas about what makes a leader come from the Industrial Age. It’s all about working harder than anyone else, natural charisma, being a tough negotiator, an inspirational speaker, being up front, taking the final decision, winning.
At the same time we tell leaders to be emotionally intelligent, to connect, to coach, to delegate and empower. It’s no surprise we’re all so confused, right?
In fact, being a leader isn’t terribly complicated. After all, what is a leader? Someone who looks at what is, and what could be, and disrupts the status quo to bring about change. Leadership can come from anywhere. It’s not all about your senior executives or the Board. Leadership isn’t a job title. It’s a way of being, and seeing the world.
Leaders create more leaders
We have to let go of the idea that leaders create followers. Today we need leaders who create more leadership. We want leadership to pop up all over the organisation. We want individuals to take ownership for solving problems and gather together a group of other people who can help bring about that change.
Companies need clarity of purpose
In order to do this (without chaos) companies need to have a clear purpose. This is more than a mission statement or bland values…sorry, Brand Values. It’s genuine clarity about why the business exists in the world. What is it here to do? When purpose beats everything else (including shareholder value) leadership can emerge. Employees see the organisation’s purpose and they see what’s getting in the way and they are given freedom to solve the problem.
Hierarchical thinking inhibits innovation
Our Industrial Age forefathers operated their businesses like machines. And the hierarchy is very machine-like, isn’t it? But today’s businesses have to be agile, responsive and ready to pivot at any time to adapt to the changing context in which the organisation operates. Human being aren’t great machines. Anyway if, as predicted, bots are going to do half of the jobs currently done by humans in the next decade, it’s our humanity we need to leverage. Leaders need to create space for others to do great work and then get out of the way. That means not being the answers-person any more, but being the curious questions-person. It means getting out of the day to day and sensing, observing, imagining and reflecting. It means swallowing the ego and finding a deeper meaning in your work.
Bug-fix because there are no right answers
Leaders must let go of having all the answers because there are none! It’s the Wild West out there. Instead, we need to be quick learners, fast failures and listen so hard to what other people say that we might actually change our minds. By the time you’re 99% sure you’re right it’s too late anyway.
Think like a CEO
Leaders see the organisation as a whole. They don’t battle for recognition for their team or resources for their team or special treatment for their team. They step outside of the siloes and see the organisation as a single entity. Beyond that they see what’s going on in their industry, in the world beyond and reflect on how that impacts the decisions being made today.
They don’t worry about the competition because they aren’t fighting to be number one in today’s market. They are aware that the threat is from disrupters coming up their blindside so they become the disrupters, rethinking their industry and what the future consumer/planet will need.
None of this is hard
It’s about being a human being. It’s about stripping back all the theory and going on a journey of self-development. That’s all leadership development is in fact – personal growth. As long as we stay connected with ourselves and take ourselves outside our comfort zones we can grow. The organisation can only be as developed as its leaders so we owe it to our staff, our customers and the wider community to reveal more of who we are to them and to ourselves.