2018 Photo by Justin Medina on Unsplash
I am often asked if leadership is changing.
Has the way we define leadership shifted because of changes over time?
Has changing technology impacted how we lead in organizations?
For more than forty years, I have held various leadership roles. I believe that the most fundamental, required leadership skills have not and will not change. On the other hand, it seems to me our expectations about what defines good leadership and the tools we use to develop these leadership skills are changing.
Embodying the fundamentals of good leadership, new technological tools and emotional intelligence skills can help us to become great leaders.
What are the skills that enable leaders, and engage and motivate individuals and their teams?
For me, a leader:
is visionary and inspirational,
is people oriented,
communicates purpose and sets context,
has confidence and executive presence,
is goal oriented and translates complex issues into an easily understood tasks, and
takes calculated risks.
Leadership creates the possibility of a new, better future.
Leaders enroll others to take the journey with them. They learn together while solving problems, developing new perspectives, commitments and actions.
These skills define the qualities of an effective leader. Based on the situation and what’s needed, good leaders discern when and how best to apply their skills. Obviously, this is easier said than done.
Let’s return to the questions initially posed. I believe our expectation of what an effective leader has to deliver has not changed. However, the way it gets delivered has shifted. In my work, in order to remain effective, I have adjusted my approach by connecting with people, framing issues, making decisions, solving problems and enabling others to do so as well. As society and our workplaces evolve, good leaders must grow and evolve as well.
A little bit about me might help frame this conversation
I was an officer and leader in the US Submarine service for 22 years. At the time the Navy was a very traditional ‘old boys club’, literally. When we deployed, everyone on board was male and worked in close quarters. Being traditional mariners, our conversations were often politically incorrect, crass and off-color. In other words, generally inappropriate by today’s standards. We always took our ‘sailor talk’ as fun banter; it was never intended to be hurtful. We still were able to get the work done well, including making and executing critical decisions. Also at the time I served, the military’s approach to sexual orientation was “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” To me, even then, that policy seemed antiquated, ill-conceived and lacked understanding. I retired on December 31, 1994.
The next week, I began working as an office manager in a new role with a new status – civilian. I only had a long weekend to learn to dress in civvies and manage my language. I now had a female boss. I worked with our partners and workers, a diverse group that was 30% gay or lesbian. Obviously, I had to change my mindset and behavior quickly. I remember thinking that first day, “Well, I have the job. The real issue is how am I going to keep it?”
It is 21 years later and I am a Managing Director in the IT department of that same organization. In my estimation (and that of my bosses), I have been successful. I’ve learned how to voice an opinion, when and how to watch my language and when to keep my mouth shut. I appreciate our workforce diversity. I recognize that one of the strengths of our organization is that people are our greatest strength. I am viewed as a leader here. I have changed my leadership style and personal behavior to lead my department and contribute to this organization.
I contend that the fundamentals of good leadership have not changed.
To be the best we can be, our approach to leadership must adjust to fit the current circumstances. This is not a ‘one and done’ approach; it requires that we take a constant, ongoing critical review of our own thought processes and practices. Our organization, like so many others, is multi-generational. The Millennial's, Gen X, Y, and Z’ers will become the future Managing Directors and Partners.
For them, more than my Baby Boomer generation, computers, the internet, the Internet of Things (IoT), and social media are the norm. We all are increasingly reliant on technology. This impacts how we lead, coordinate action and manage workplace change. Regardless of our role, we must recognize that our cultural practices are changing faster than ever, in part because of rapidly evolving technology. We must make choices about how best to stay ahead of the curve.
through my experience over time, I’ve come to understand that regardless of the tools we use (hopefully wisely and well), we must be able to connect, empathize and communicate with the people we lead. Periodic face-to-face conversations can produce resonance and deepen relationship.
Our leadership practices must engender trust from our team. We are accountable for creating the circumstances where all of this can happen reliably and consistently. When we succeed, our resilient, learning-oriented teams continue to do great work and execute well, despite a volatile and changing world.