There’s an old saying: “A decisive leader dictates, a visionary leader motivates and a strategic leader learns.” Business leaders develop their management styles from years of experience in certain environments. And, as executives craft their leadership profiles, they tend to identify with leader-defaults based on areas of their success. We all do that. If it works well most of the time, it will probably work well again. The challenge for 21st century business: A singular leadership profile will no longer carry the day. We need a new design.
In the not-so-distant past, organizations were able to navigate through stable markets toward a future that closely resembled what had come before. Most organizational leadership structures were based on a pyramid: A top-down management structure led by an executive with ultimate authority, supported by levels of management that implemented strategy.
That design is quickly approaching its swan song. One person, regardless of how talented or experienced, can no longer expect to personally generate, communicate and execute the management required to lead a business. Not today. It’s a different world and organizations need to retro-fit leadership to meet it.
Here are some major components of business that are no longer a “sure thing”:
Human Capital: The war for talent is back. Guess what’s important to the majority of U.S. workers? Challenging and meaningful work, autonomy and independence, workplace flexibility, opportunities to learn and grow, the latest technological tools, identifying with management’s vision and being a part of a team. The days of “love it or leave it” when it comes to employee retention are gone. If you want to attract and retain the best, you need to become an employer of choice in the workplace.
The Competition: We used to know a lot about our competition. They were right down the street or right across town. We knew what they did well and they knew the same about us. Today, the competition is on the other side of the Atlantic. They want your business, they are getting it, and they are willing to work cheap.
Technology: If you do not keep up with technology, your organization will not be able to compete. This ever-changing, ever-developing critical area of commerce is setting the tone for how we DO business. We need to adapt to technical innovation and adopt effective ways to integrate that technology and source it to our employees.
The Market: Perpetual uncertainty is the new certainty. There are a lot of players out there. What happens in China can seriously impact a plant in Georgia. We compete for resources like steel and oil with consumers from other countries. The playground is global and we aren’t the only ones out there anymore.
These realities serve to promote an important point; the critical leadership traits required to run a successful business have evolved over time. They are:
- And the desire to relate to different types of people
Oh, and one more very important trait: The willingness to share the load, understanding that the one- size-leadership-approach does not always fit every leadership need.
Compartmentalizing specific areas of leadership has its advantages.
- It divides the labor of leading for more effective implementation of policy and strategy.
- It provides the organization with an infusion of new energy and new perspective.
- It allows people to apply their individual skill sets and experiences to their highest and best use.
- It addresses the quandary of succession planning by allowing new leaders to experience the realities of leadership much sooner than traditional career tracking.
Commit to a goal of building a Leadership Alliance with executives who present singular areas of expertise, varied skill sets, different experiences and different talents. (They should not look, or sound, exactly like you!) Then assign each leader to an area in your business that will benefit from what they bring to the table. These people are the emissaries of your vision for your business. They can become the strategic partners you need for the navigation of the future.
It’s time to take a new look at how we define leadership. As with all important endeavors, effective leadership is almost never a solo act. Yesterday’s leadership theories won’t carry us to the next level. We can create a new leadership design that will better serve our needs.
Article provided MKS&H’s Human Capital Management Division.
McLean, Koehler, Sparks & Hammond (MKS&H) is a professional service firm with offices in Hunt Valley and Frederick. MKS&H helps owners and organizational leaders become more successful by advising them regarding their financial, technology and human capital management needs.