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FUTURE LEADERS – THE EGO IS GROUNDED – THEHRDIRECTOR ISSUE 230 – DECEMBER 2023 | PUBLICATION ARTICLE OF THE WEEK

Even ten years ago, understanding the numbers, generating an impressive profit and nurturing the best individuals in the office were key to how we measured success in leadership. If you couldn’t hack it, you could leave, wellbeing of employees wasn’t top of the list, nor was diversity or inclusivity. A drive to win was a way to kill off the competition, with managers in charge and keeping control. As for corporate social responsibility, for some, it was at best a distraction.

Ten years on, leadership today is almost unrecognisable, and traditional management styles are not delivering. Today leadership competencies have evolved to extend beyond traditional business skills like change, data and risk management, problem-solving, decision-making and vision setting. Now in the contemporary work environment, effective leadership requires a multifaceted approach that includes self-leadership first, being purpose-driven as well as fostering synergy, connectivity, empathy and engagement across geographical boundaries and cultural ecosystems. To succeed in this new landscape, leaders must develop the ability to filter out distractions and disruptions and delve deeply into information as architects rather than dictators of the business. A crucial aspect of leadership in today’s world is the cultivation of self-awareness and simply caring. According to McKinsey’s analysis of academic literature as well as a survey of nearly 200,000 people in 81 organisations globally, there are four types of behaviour that explain 89 percent of leadership effectiveness: being supportive and seeking different perspectives are two of them, along with operating with a strong results orientation and solving problems effectively. So, what are the main issues facing the modern leader? Our drive comes from a kind of void within us. Many high achievers have experienced significant trauma in childhood and the resulting drive has taken them up to the C-Suite. Successful people often describe themselves as ‘very driven’, to which a reply could be ‘so who is doing the driving, then?’ Leaders of today need to help their inner child release their white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and allow the adult to take over. By acknowledging and embracing past trauma, leaders can ease that unappeasable drive to live up to an expectation lodged at an early age. Self-awareness allows us to lead from a place of authenticity and resilience, to navigate uncertainty with effectiveness and improved emotional stability. This leads to new energy, greater clarity in decision-making, liberation from conditioning and greater agility.

We are also facing a void. It is the unknown future which is rushing towards us. Leaders of the past were used to having structured approaches and mindsets and knew how to handle a situation by applying a well-used formula. Life, society and the world have changed. New waves of change are coming towards us; the pandemic was one, AI is the next, with quantum computing on its heels. Leaders with the breadth of new skills have the ability to ride the waves and adapt as they go. Many of us are underestimating the impact AI will have, but it is a truism that AI will not replace people but rather people using AI will replace those who aren’t. Leaders must be tech-savvy, and keep up to date even if they are not directly responsible for tech. So many people are going to have to learn new skills and it will be important not to write the older generations off. Enormous amounts of money are being invested in a race to adopt and develop AI and whether the ultimate result is utopia or dystopia will depend on the ethical frames of mind of those in power, both corporate and governmental. Remaining human takes on a new meaning for the leader of tomorrow.

Being better than the competition helps build greater profitability but the nature of competition is changing as technology is leveraged, so modern leaders know they need to differentiate the brand or service more than ever. But competition is more than that. There are now five generations in the workplace who bring different things to the table but also have varying needs. The gulf between the pay of the CEO and the person on the shop floor is growing and what is now an enormous disparity has to be addressed. Good leaders will face income inequality head-on. There is a paradox in our increasingly globalised world that there is increasing polarisation and division accompanied by greater loneliness. Having a high Culture Quotient (CQ) means appreciating globality whilst working out as a leader – how do you bring your people together? The younger generation in particular wants to be more than just a number, they want a clearer identity and for that to be aligned with purpose. Wilful blindness has meant that outlook has been damagingly short-term. We have been so focused on the monthly numbers that long-term decisions or plans are paid no heed. Look at the effects of global warming and the lack of leadership action which needs to be taken to mitigate its effects. There is now deep-seated anxiety and frustration which is exacerbated by social media, so instead of having their heads in the sand and wringing their hands whilst looking at their vested interest in profit, future leaders will stop and listen to the younger generations. Leaders must know how to manage angry people to stop the pressure cooker from going off. To do that they need to have the skills to manage their own anger and create plans which take account of wider impacts.

The characteristics successful future leaders must have. Vulnerability: One key challenge for modern leaders riding the waves of uncertainty will be the need to be able to say: “I don’t know what is coming next, but we are going to work through this together”. Contemporary leaders show courage and vulnerability. Optimism: Most successful leaders are fundamentally optimistic people and can prevail through difficulties much better than pessimists. More than ever, we will need to progress with optimism, empathy and respect. Optimism breeds positive energy, whilst pessimism saps it. An ability to look at what is really important: Look at AI, So much could positively come from it. We just have to be very careful. Agility, pre-emption and quick decision-making are important. Being the guardian of ethics and integrity and having a courageous mindset, requires good leaders to be authentic and transparent. An ego in check: Leaders of the future who understand how to manage their ego will bring in the best people to deal with any challenge that comes up. They will acknowledge they are not experts in everything and won’t feel threatened by others who are better than them in some way. Instead, they will respect individuals for what they bring and put the best minds together to handle problems and challenges in the most innovative and constructive way for the good of the business rather than their own ego or vested interests. Loud and proud valuers of health & wellbeing: They know a healthy environment and culture, otherwise known as organisational health, is inextricably linked to the needs and wellbeing of their people and is therefore one of the main cornerstones to success.

Relationship builders: They will value and actively look for diversity and difference. They will be in tune with the generations to promote innovation and generate loyalty. They will be deep listeners with an ear to the ground. They know empathy plays a pivotal role in understanding engagement, connection and overall leadership effectiveness. Self-awareness: They will be able to admit self failings and ask for support. They will be mindful and show gratitude. Leadership may not be something you are necessarily born with but is a skill you can learn. Leaders who understand themselves better will benefit their business and people. Empowers of others: Knowledge sharing, having clear roles and rules, not stepping in to solve problems unless they must, encouraging respectful engagement in difficult conversations and communicating well will empower the team. Rather than directing and managing people, the modern leader knows how to enable their workers by making it easier, clearing away the obstacles that may hold them back and creating a space to do their best work.

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