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Business is on a journey and those who seek to lead organisations into the future will have to adopt a leadership style to match the changing aspirations of employees and customers.
What is a leader? If a leader is just someone who is in charge of lots of people, why did Arsène Wenger concede in January 2015 that Arsenal FC were in need of more leaders on the pitch? If a leader is simply a figurehead, why do we talk about the leadership team setting the culture, values and future shape of an organisation? And if a leader is simply the person who makes the decisions, what on earth is the point of all those articles on the Internet which talk about delegation and personal accountability?
The fact is that whilst there are probably almost as many leadership styles as there are people with the word leader in their job title, there are a few defining characteristics which separate outstanding leaders from everyone else. Let’s start by busting a myth. Whilst the populist view of what constitutes a leader has changed over time, the characteristics exhibited by great leaders have been in evidence since time immemorial. Put simply, a great leader is a great leader, no matter which period in history they inhabit.
So what are the characteristics of a great leader? An overwhelming personality, the ability to ignore the effect of their decisions on others, a willingness to tell others what to do? No of course not, although all of these negative characteristics and more have been viewed by certain individuals as a prerequisite for leadership. Sadly, there are still organisations in existence today whose leadership believe that it is their right and their duty to boss others around.
But these individuals are hopefully a dying breed and there is certainly no place for them in today’s organisations. The fact is that business is on a journey and those who seek to lead organisations into the future will have to adopt a leadership style to match the changing aspirations of employees and customers. Next Generation leadership is about as far as you can get from dictatorship. The name of the game for organisations which want to create a game changing, differentiated future is innovation and that demands a far more open, resilient, resourceful and flexible leadership style.
A culture of innovation requires intelligence, seeking to truly understand the drivers which are shaping not only the pattern of business but also customer attitudes and approach. A culture of innovation requires agility and adaptability, moving fast to create differentiated products and experiences. And a culture of innovation requires collaboration, working not only across the organisation but also with customers and third parties to create real solutions to real problems.
All of this requires a leadership style which trusts and empowers, which inspires and enables, and which encourages people to challenge and to create. In fact, those looking to take on a Next Generation leadership role would do well to investigate The Leadership Challenge™ which has been inspiring great leaders for over 20 years.
Why do businesses need to change, why do leaders need to move away from autocracy and towards empowerment? The answer lies partly in the hands of the recession and partly in the exponential development of technology, as predicted by Moores’ law. In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted the rate at which the number of transistors on a circuit would double. Computer buffs took this as a challenge, leading to unprecedented and continuing exponential technological development. What Moore did not predict was the consequences of this rate of change; namely, the rise of the Internet, the levelling of the playing field between individuals and multinational corporations, and the birth of a generation of computer savvy, social media friendly individuals who are all looking for a more open, collaborative and meaningful work experience.
So the challenge of Next Generation leadership is twofold. Those tasked with leadership at the current time will have to learn to embrace a new leadership style which will not only deliver a Next Generation Organisation but will also match the aspirations of Generation Z once they hit the workplace. Those coming along after, who already belong to the Internet generation, will have to build on the work done before them, whilst at the same time learning to manage the bulk of the workforce who are not as Internet savvy as they.
What is a leader? Whatever you thought it was, if you want to take your organisation into the next generation, perhaps it is time you thought again.