Leadership is a constantly evolving concept. From the old days – where authoritative leadership was the order of the day – to present times, where leaders are expected to be far more flexible, empathetic and adaptable, the concept of leadership has undergone many changes.
So, if we were to look at leadership in the present-day context, what would be the most important aspects?
The first and arguably the most important thing that comes to mind is change management. It’s almost a cliché to say that the world has seen more change in the last 50 years than in the previous 500, but it’s undeniable. Look at the last 6 months alone. Could anyone have anticipated at the beginning of this year where the world would be today?
Anyone who aspires to be a leader in these times has to not just adapt to change but thrive on it.
A good leader should be able to both anticipate and react rapidly to changes in the environment.
A good leader must be proactive.
A good leader must be able to truly embrace change, translate it into a vision, communicate the vision, and attract those who also believe in the same vision.
A good leader needs to facilitate a culture that welcomes and embraces change, rather than one that emphasizes the status quo.
Leaders can be inherently amenable to change, or change management can be learned. Often, it’s a combination of the two. There are organizations that specialize in it, for example, Prosci, the world leader in change management resource, and an absolute authority on the topic because of it. They have a great certification course on the subject. I spent years working with Prosci and am now putting my learnings there to use in helping small businesses realize their potential through effective change management.
One especially important aspect of leadership in the modern context is the spirit of service.
A great leader seeks not to direct their people but to serve them. It’s not enough to just be empathetic – one must be genuinely interested in one’s people. One needs to align with their goals if one desires them to align with one’s own. One needs to find the triggers in their psyche that align with the vision one wants to achieve, the change that one wants to bring about, rather than ram one’s own version down their throats. It’s not just about what one can extract from one’s people, it’s also about what one can give them.
Only by serving one’s people can a great leader drive the greater good.
Also, part of the spirit of service is an awareness of the social and community context. Enlightened organizations today recognize that they are not islands; in order for them to flourish, so must the community they exist in.
The people who work in the organization are also community members, so doing what’s good for the community isn’t entirely an altruistic concept. A great leader is as sensitive to the community as to their own people.
Perhaps the most difficult skill set a great leader needs is that of being a good coach.
The leader needs to understand the motivations of their team and help them maximize their own potential. One has to identify each person’s strengths and build them into the organization’s game plan. One must make each person understand their role in the team’s success and raise their game to contribute to it. And it’s not enough just to have a good team. One needs to nurture in each team member's desire to grow;
because it is this desire that makes them take on the greatest challenges and drive change.
Another aspect of leadership that doesn’t get talked about often enough is the ability to take failure in one’s stride, accept the blame, and move on. Even great leaders face failure now and then; and how they handle it determines how their teams fare. The natural human tendency is to look to shift the blame; but a great leader will accept their responsibility, look for ways out of the situation, and drive the change needed to turn the failure around.
This, perhaps, is one area where leadership in the US is at an all-time low, these days.
So, if I had to prescribe a 6-point checklist of great Leadership Qualities of 2021, I guess it would be:
Thrives on and drives change.
Doesn’t just lead but serves; doesn’t mind leading from behind if necessary.
Community development focused.
Ability to put one’s team’s priorities and needs ahead of one’s own; looks to give, not just take.
A great coach – builds everyone’s strengths into the game plan, communicates, and gives them what they need to succeed; makes them grow.
Takes failure in their stride; makes it a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block.