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Leadership: Then and Now


Think your job has changed significantly over the past decade or two? Compound that with the complexity of leading an entire organization!

Previous generations of leaders could at least count on a reasonably stable world, where change unfolded at a much slower pace. These days, the past is increasingly less predictive, the future is almost unimaginable, and the present exists for about a nano-second.

From an employee perspective, today’s leaders have to manage multiple generations of workers with values, interests, and needs that often conflict. From a customer perspective, today’s leaders face great expectations and less certainty than ever. “Good enough” doesn’t even come close anymore. We have an enormous number of choices, less tolerance, more self-interest, and a dramatically different definition of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Put these all together and you get a huge chasm between the old leadership style of administrating and directing versus the new model of guiding and inspiring.

Not too long ago, leaders basically had to figure out what to do and then tell people what, when, where, and how to do it. Today’s managers and leaders face a whole new set of expectations in the way they motivate the people who work with or follow them.

People not only don’t want to be managed, in most cases, they simply won’t be managed. Today’s employees want to be led. They want to participate and engage in every aspect of their job. Creating a two-way relationship is critical, especially considering that many knowledge workers today know more about what they are doing than their boss does.

To develop the skill sets necessary for today’s “guide and inspire” environment, leaders need to focus on:

Continual learning and unlearning

There are almost no jobs left that will remain the same over time, which means that the demands of leaders and managers are continually evolving. The great ones are constantly learning and developing themselves. They’re internally driven to constantly get better, knowing full well that they will not, and should not, be perfect.

Broadening their perspectives

Today’s leaders are highly observant and flexible. They can consider multiple perspectives to create general guidelines that help to make sense of what’s going on around them. They’re open to receiving information for conflicting sources, and can distill complexity.

Problem solving

Taking names and kicking butt is a thing of the past. Today’s leaders consider current issues from the perspective of making things better versus blaming or worrying. Their thinking balances the ability to visualize what might or could be with an effective day-to-day approach to getting the right things done.

Developing self-awareness

Great leadership comes from within. Today’s leaders constantly strive to become more aware of their own intentions as well as their impact on others. They also have the ability to admit mistakes and learn from them. They know that a lot of what got them to their role won’t carry them to continuing success.

Improving their communication skills

Specific, direct, and candid with others, today’s leaders expose their agendas and use good listening skills to really hear what others have to say rather than simply planning their next response.

Thinking strategically

When dealing with today’s issues, leaders need to operate from a broad, long-term perspective balanced with the intense pressures of producing short-term results. They need to understand and appreciate the current state as well as see possibilities.

Thinking globally

As our world becomes increasingly smaller, leaders need to appreciate and leverage diversity. They also need to become more innovative and proactive, anticipating problems and opportunities as well as entirely new markets and products. They need to consider whole new ways of communicating and connecting.

It is a hyper-changing world. If you don’t feel confused and challenged each and every day as a leader, you clearly don’t have a firm grasp of the new reality!

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