We are facing a leadership crisis today.
The rapidly evolving landscape of the workforce demands a new approach to leadership. The strategies of the past are no longer effective. In my latest book, “The Future Leader,” I have compiled insights from 140 global CEOs on the evolving nature of leadership, the future of the field and the necessary steps to become a leader ready for the future. These include the CEOs of: Audi, KPMG, Unilever, Mastercard, Best Buy, Verizon, Domino’s Pizza, Kaiser Permanente, and many others.
Through my interviews with CEOs a common theme emerged: traditional leadership methods are becoming obsolete. The future leader must possess a diverse set of skills and mindsets, rather than relying solely on confidence, tenure, financial performance, or an air of infallibility. Furthermore, my research also highlighted the lack of leadership development opportunities within organizations.
Most people become leaders in their mid to late 20s, but most leaders don’t receive formal training until they are in their late 30s and early 40s if they receive it all. That means there is a period of 15–20 years where leaders inside of our organizations are leading, but they haven’t been taught how to do it effectively. No wonder we have such a lack of strong leadership. But just because you don’t receive formal training inside of your organization doesn’t give you a free pass to be an ineffective leader. You can take training into your own hands. You have the ability to learn what you need to know to be the best leader you can be.
The hardest question for leaders to answer
What does it mean to be a leader? It may seem like a simple question, but it is actually the hardest question for the 140+ CEOs I interviewed to answer. This is because leadership is ubiquitous. We see leadership at work, at the grocery store, on TV, when we check in for a flight, and when we take our kids to soccer practice. Leadership is like water and when is the last time someone asked you to explain what water is? We all assume we know what water and leadership is so we don’t spend time thinking about it, which is a mistake. Defining leader and leadership is an important step. Without a definition we get inconsistency inside of our organizations.
How is it that in some organizations we have leaders who everybody admires and respects in those same organizations we have leaders who everyone fears and doesn’t want to work with? It’s because the people who promoted them had different definitions of leadership and as a result had different leadership filters in place.
If you want great leaders, start by defining what a great leader is. And use that definition to promote people inside of your organization.
The Notable Nine
From the interviews that I ended up with four mindsets and five skills that leaders need to adopt in order to succeed in the future of work.
Explorer: Become a perpetual learner, be curious and focus on agility and adaptability. Most importantly, explorers practice having a growth mindset.
Chef: Learn how to balance humanity and technology. Having the right balance of these two ingredients is crucial. You need both.
Servant: As a leader you must acknowledge that you serve four groups. Your leaders, your team, your customers, and yourself. Serving yourself means practicing self-care so that you can in turn show and take care of others.
Global Citizen: Surround yourself with people who are not like you and learn to look at the big picture of the business instead of just what is in right in front of you.
Futurist: Think in terms of different scenarios and possibilities instead of just a single linear path.
Yoda: Practice emotional intelligence, specifically empathy and self-awareness.
Translator: Two skills which have been around the longest but have changed the most are listening and communication.
Coach: Help make others more successful than you. Adding “than you” to the end of this sentence is really what it gives it meaning and changes how you approach coaching others.
Technology Teenager: Embrace new technology and be tech-savvy, technology is no longer just an “IT” thing.
In a survey of nearly 14,000 employees around the world that was done in partnership with LinkedIn, only 6% of mid-level leaders and 9% of senior executives are practicing these mindsets “very well.” The numbers are very similar for skills with 8% for both mid and senior level executives.
Perhaps the more startling finding is that the more senior you become the better you think you are practicing these mindsets and skills but the worse the people who work for you think you are practicing these mindsets and skills. In other words, the ivory tower problem is real. The more senior you become the more disconnected you become from the rest of your workforce.
Leaders must be like lighthouses
On the cover of my book is the image of a lighthouse. And I think it is such a great visualization of what a leader should be. A lighthouse is designed to help mariners and explorers reach their destinations, but in a safe way. It helps travelers keep out of shallow waters, off of the rocks, and away from danger.
The whole purpose of a leader is to guide their people and organizations to success, but in a safe way. With the nine skills and mindsets leaders can build themselves up to be a lighthouse so that they can shine a bright light onto the sea of uncertainty that we’re all a part of.
But one thing a lot of leaders forget is that if there are no ships in the water, then a lighthouse is useless. Without great people to lead, a leader is pointless. Leaders can’t just focus on building themselves up, they must also focus on the success of their people.