21st Century Leadership – do you have what it takes?

20 Nov 2012

And if not, what are you doing about it?

Pressing sustainability issues and systems under strain of working within paradigms that are no longer relevant urgently need reform. However, to deliver the changes required, leaders need very different skills to engage their workforce in preparing for large scale continuous change, uncertainty and delivering business as usual.

The rapid pace of change in a technology driven world, where information sharing drives knowledge, has altered relationships and changed the way we do business. As a leader, you are constantly required to leverage your core capabilities, however, given the context of change and technology, are they the right ones for future leadership and organisational success?

As a recruiter in a firm that has a business division focused on leadership and learning I am part of a team constantly examining, reflecting and defining what we see first-hand in systems and the impact of individual leadership behaviours. Right now, it’s not exactly encouraging.

The pace of leadership development is simply not fast enough, or is not directed to developing the right leadership capabilities. In so many instances, systems defeat themselves and their leadership talent by treating development as a cost, and worst still, cost rationalising by restricting travel.

As one successful CEO said when asked why he has increased his spend on staff travel – “How can we possibly know the best solutions, anticipate and remedy the next challenges, understand the timing of change, by sitting at our desks or simply talking to our colleagues here in the office? We need to be out in the market place seeing and learning from others, networking and talking with those who are facing similar challenges and have solved them or at least got some ideas of how to innovate to solve the problems.”

What is apparent is that there are leaders who get it and are making an impressively positive impact on their organisation or system. I met one this week. There are a number of behaviours that I see as core capabilities that are markers for leadership success for the new paradigms:

  1. Value Deliverer: Don’t just think financial results. Nothing is less inspiring and more likely to dis-engage creativity than talking budget cuts and deficits. This capability is about the ability to engage people to create and deliver sustainable value. Leaders who do this well communicate need rather than the message about financial imperatives alone.
  2. Visionary Strategist: Clichéd but true, good leaders understand how to create vision, turn it into successful strategy and inspire buy- in. Creating a culture that supports taking risks, making mistakes and refining strategy will deliver on priorities.
  3. Proficient Communicator / Collaborator: Every time I write an executive level job advertisement and state “high level communication skills, essential” I wonder if I’m not saying the bleeding obvious, and of course I am, however, I use the word communication to reflect contemporary practice, which is about listening to others and asking questions for insight. But, collaboration is the real difference and the key. It takes communication into the realms of building partnerships, alliances and teams to deliver results.
  4. Strategic Alliance Builder: Taking a strategic view to building relationships across traditional boundaries. Recognising the right connections that can deliver what’s needed and deliver greater impact with less.
  5. Corporate Social Strategist: Future leaders are highly visible to their workforce. These leaders focus on team work, inspire, motivate, innovate, empower and influence, and they even roll their sleeves up to get out there with people. They build structures and systems that support achieving strategic imperatives through social networks. Think hub-and-spoke and forget command and control leadership
  6. Sustainability Champion: Leaders need to build fluid and adaptable skills that enable them to move quickly into different roles and address diverse challenges. They also need to be able to foster this in their own workforce. Gathering diverse experience and engaging in real world learning such as action learning style professional development as well on the job experience in different systems will build a strong repertoire of problem solving skills and knowledge.
  7. Knowledge networker: Effective leaders are also knowledge seekers who build and leverage networks of communities for learning. They are open to gaining personal insight, rate highly on curiosity and are receptive to learning.
  8. Trustworthy Self-regulator: Trust is fundamental to every successful relationship. Values about ethical behaviour, honesty and integrity support relationship building and team work. High levels of emotional intelligence are a strong indicator of future leadership success.

As systems and organisations become flatter in structure, embedding the right leadership capabilities deeply within your organisation is a compelling imperative.