• Steve Gilroy

Do you have what it takes to be a leader in today’s world?

Last month on at least three occasions I was asked what it takes to be a successful business leader. The question posed wasn’t exactly worded that way, but the individuals or audiences were basically asking what it takes in today’s changing and high-speed world. I hope that on the day I gave a reasonable response – I’m sure it was nothing deeply profound!

Earlier this month I also completed a major clear-out and update of my home office. I’ve actually had a home office for over 20 years – before internet, anyone remember Compuserve? During the clear-out I came across many of the training materials, handouts, speaker workshops and so-on that I have collected over the years. So I took a look at the content related to leadership styles (I had a lot). Here’s my updated (and hopefully more coherent view) of what it takes to be a leader in today’s world…

A changing world requires a changing workforce. Gone are the closed door leaders who inspire fear in their employees. Being a successful leader today requires an entirely new set of skills.

Agility, collaboration, coaching, questioning and listening: these are just some of the elements of the style of leadership that’s seen so often in today’s successful, fast-growing businesses and organisations.

This hasn’t always been the case, though. Over the past ten years, leadership styles have changed significantly. The ‘old’ style was direct and authoritarian, command and control. However, in today’s working world, that’s rarely what’s needed.

The new normal for successful leaders involves more of the following attributes.

Speed and agility — many projects have a very short lifespan. Leaders need to be able to test things and adapt rapidly even if they’re not a success. It’s OK to fail, but fail quickly, learn from it, then move on.

Informality and collaboration — the concept behind Simon Sinek’s fascinating book Leaders Eat Last is that leaders need to be part of the team, not above it. Great leaders work alongside their team, and make sure that they’re looked after, recognised and rewarded.

Facilitation and coaching — today’s leaders direct less and coach more. They inspire, enable and facilitate rather than give orders. Providing clear expectations of performance is a given, but a leader’s true role is to recruit great talent and set them up for continuing success. Coaching (and mentoring) is perhaps one of the most significant new skills for a leader — not just to support a team member, but to challenge them and focus them to achieve more than they thought possible.

Questioning and listening — great leaders ask great questions. They also listen, actively, with depth. Questioning and listening allows leaders to provoke high engagement and performance within their organisation, and they trigger real insight and accountability.

Benefits of the ‘new’ leadership traits

By putting these ‘new’ skills into action, employee engagement and performance will increase, and loyalty will grow. But to be able to benefit from these tools and techniques, leaders also need a degree of humility — they need to demonstrate that they’re prepared to learn like anyone else.

Enjoy the ride

Great leadership is also about enjoying the journey and having fun along the way. The more you can see the effect of ‘new leadership,’ the more you’ll gain from it. Even though it’s a very challenging time to be a leader in any type of organisation, by perfecting these ‘new’ leadership traits, you’ll find that the rewards far surpass the challenges.

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