Leadership is a constant need for every organization, especially in light of today’s rapid digital technology changes, uncertain government regulations and policies, and working in a more disruptive world. But there are some new skills, twists and insights emerging.
One of my favorite leadership books is still Good to Great, by Jim Collins, who cites five characteristics or levels of great leaders from the hundreds of firms he researched. First, you need to be a highly capable individual, which means you have the requisite skills around talent, knowledge, and work habits. A second level is being a contributing team member, which basically means working well and contributing to group or team objectives. A third is being a competent manager. Here the skills are the ability to organize people and resources toward desired goals. The fourth level is being an effective leader. Effective is the key word. In other terms, this level means commitment and pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, which, in turn, inspires higher performance standards for all. Finally, the fifth level is the most intriguing – executive – and possibly is the most difficult to fully define well. What he means is building enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.
The last two levels are the most interesting. What does being “effective” mean today, broadly speaking? What does having a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will mean today to build enduring greatness? Are there some new aspects and twists?
- Being a futurist – not just visionary. The future is far more volatile than we’ve ever seen. In a couple of recent projects in different industries, the timeline chosen for a vision was only one year! Visions used to be typically 3, 5 or 10+ years. But with the pace of industry disruptions, technological change and more volatile political and market environments, the participants in both efforts couldn’t imagine pushing the envelope longer. This is different than in 2001 when Jim Collins wrote his book, a time in which continuity and stability was more prevalent in most industries. But it’s not simply the need for a vision, but understanding what’s unfolding around you, company, industry and world – and, becoming more of a futurist. A former colleague, Lisa Kay Solomon, writes compellingly about how leaders will need to be more futurist and dream boldly in orientation. (https://singularityhub.com/2017/02/23/how-leaders-dream-boldly-to-bring-new-futures-to-life/).
- A different understanding and relationship with time. Time has both a qualitative and quantitative dimension. Those wonderful family or friend dinners can seem endless, while the relentless inbox of emails requiring responses into the night leaves one looking at the clock. Since 2008, most leaders and executives have been faced with doing more, with less resources – and an increased attention to the quantitative dimension of time (as some would say, they’re becoming more ADD!). This is understandable, but is not necessarily very effective and smart with your time. With the economy now starting to grow again – but in new ways, leadership needs to go beyond the “have-tos” of being good at multi-tasking, leading teams, and getting things done. A new skill is about carving out time to think, a qualitative dimension – and think hard and critically about the world and what could disrupt your organization, your industry, the current business model, the right people in the right positions, among others. In my work advising leaders, I have found that those 30, 60 or longer minutes daily of really thinking could make your week, month or year a success or disaster. Richard Watson wrote a wonderful short piece recently worth reading (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/praise-slow-learners-richard-watson).
- Strategy AND innovation. Increasingly, I’ve seen many clients shift their strategic planning to include innovation. Why? Growth for many industries, except some technology sectors, is relatively flat. Growth in current markets is about tougher competition, costs, differentiation and finding new or more innovative products and services, including with partnerships. Just look at the auto industry today. With the emergence of self-driving vehicles and the shared economy, the number of partnerships has skyrocketed! In my work, it is increasingly difficult to separate the two leadership skills of strategy and innovation. Leaders will have to increasingly blend traditional skills of strategy and innovation – and have the professional will and drive to keep one step ahead of competition.
- Mindfulness. After almost two decades of empirical research, the value of mindfulness to reduce stress, help deal with complexity, and enhance creativity is now in. And, we’re seeing many firms around the world, such as Google, include mindfulness training in their wellness and creativity programs. But what we’ve not seen until recently is the tie-in to leadership. Last year, in Harvard Business Review, contributors Justin Talbot-Zorn and Frieda Edgette, argued that mindfulness can improve strategy planning processes. As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness, I go back to my early scenario planning roots of meeting Pierre Wack, the head of Group Planning at Royal Dutch/Shell and who created scenario planning in the 1970s – and, was an early meditator and mindfulness practitioner. His teachers taught him about seeing – which became his lifelong passion to “see” your environment with full consciousness. His success with scenario planning wasn’t simply about following a methodological and scientific step-by-step process, but about an important new leadership skill and daily practice around mindfulness. As I’ve found with leading over 150 scenario planning efforts, the work – and success – of scenario planning is as much about the art as the science and I give full credit to my mindfulness practice for enhancing the art aspect. The leaders I work with and have inspired to create a mindfulness practice report back not only the value of more sanity in their daily lives, but new insights and creativity for their leadership (including a broader understanding of time, as mentioned above).
There will always be tried and true leadership skills, but some are new and emergent. Successful leaders will have mastered the former, but those who are curious, continually learning and pushing the edge of their own leadership will always have an advantage.