In this final post in my Perspectives on Leadership Series I want to focus on how we support and encourage each other to fulfil our leadership potential. It is often said that leadership is a lonely role. It does not have to be like this; together we can find a much better way. I believe things are changing and I am delighted they are.
I passionately believe we need a new style of leadership and a new generation of leaders to take new concepts of leadership forward for the greater good of our colleagues, our families, our businesses and our communities.
It is my certain view that traditional ideas of leadership must change to meet the changing needs of a workforce that must work years longer and with less certainty than others have done before them in living memory.
I do not want to resort to cliché or caricature, but the system that produced an endless conveyor belt of predominantly alpha male, cult of personality egotists, driven by share-price and their own sense of feudal entitlement are over. The shadow they have cast may be long and stubborn, but it is over.
A new leadership style is essential and I am heartened to see it emerge and begin to take hold in the minds and actions of many more people than we might at first imagine would be the case. What I believe is now emerging, thankfully, is a leadership approach characterised by the following ideas:
- First is an openness to the idea that we are all temporary contributors, coming together for a period of time, collaborating co-operatively for so long as our interests align. We can no longer bind people together with pseudo-Victorian ideas of “management knows best” or trust that somehow loyalty exists in any meaningful way (in either direction).
- To manage people in this paradigm requires a strong sense of an engaging purpose so that the purpose (rather than the contract of employment) can become a rallying point for our endeavours. It means that communication must be rich, authentic and relevant to meet the interests of all concerned. It requires goals to be set that inspire our need to contribute. It crucially also means creating an environment in which colleagues are proud to be associated with each other and become advocates for brand and purpose.
- Leaders will be most successful when they also learn to be comfortable with some level of vulnerability. When a leader accepts that they do not have all the answers AND is seen to accept that better answers than they have will emerge from the team, then the energy to find answers is heightened significantly. Hierarchies must therefore flex and be porous to allow ideas and people to move into spaces where they can shine.
- The determination to be steadfast around purpose however must be accompanied by an equal determination to be flexible around delivery. To achieve this balance will be empowering for all concerned and will increase the probability of success.
- The working environment you curate is now fundamental to your success. You know that the pay you can offer will rarely be enough by itself to retain people for long; you know that you cannot guarantee role security. Therefore how people feel about where they work, the balance they have and the opportunities for growth they can enjoy are all about the environment you create and manage for them. When Ciaran Fenton says that it is the leader’s primary responsibility to create an environment in which people can thrive, I think he will be seen to be ever more prescient with each passing year.
- Leaders will be exemplary advocates for modern interpretations of flexible working, of taking meaningful breaks and creating time to share and be creative. They will put well-being at the heart of their plans for people and they will promote behaviours that demand we look out for each other.
- This new sense of a collaborative leadership, within an organisation, with different colleagues stepping up at different times, requires a strong sense of investment in people so that they have the skills and confidence to succeed. Again I see colleagues becoming very comfortable trading some pay and some security for experiences and development that will equipment them to work more effectively and to make an even more important contribution. The compact with each employee is that while we are all passing through, their time with you as their leader will be rich in new experiences, developmental, respectful and designed to give them a better chance to secure an even more important new role when they leave.
- Leaders must have open and collaborative networks to support them. Traditionally a network is a latent resource activated when we are pissed off or sacked. Now networks must be active all the time and become places where we share ideas, learn from each other and support each other. Again it is a place to feel vulnerable sometimes, but it is also a place to share and contribute to support the vulnerability of others.
- Leaders will also want to make a contribution beyond the world of work. Sabbaticals will be common place.Returning to learning institutions to improve expertise and feel intellectually stretched will also be expected and joining community projects to make a difference in our communities will be seen as part of the job.
- I also anticipate much greater clarity between leader and team when holding each other to account for what they have each agreed to do. However what will signal a new way of thinking is that when things go wrong there will not be any sense of blaming for failure, but a genuine desire to improve, to share learning and try again.
Finally leaders will also be people who are passing through. There will be far fewer dynastic leaders hanging on until they have accumulated so many share options they can buy a small island. A leader’s purpose should not be to stay in post as long as possible, but to maximise the opportunity to make a difference and then move on. While there is a risk of short-termism in such an approach, I am confident that the greater focus given to making a difference to lives of colleagues, their families and to have a focus on the interests of communities will ensure the balance between goals and sustainability is very well managed.
This is not some Pollyanna view from an aging hippy-lite left-leaning old softie. The reasons I am writing about these things now is because I observe these things now.
Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, least of all me, but I am delighted that there are examples of new leadership that I have the privilege to see every day. In this regard I would like to mention a few people as I sign off on this series of leadership posts. I could literally mention a hundred people, and even then risk missing some names who should be included; but new thinking should have new emphasis, so in this my last few words on the subject I shall just mention a few brilliant women doing stunningly brilliant work. All are in leadership roles and all are reflecting, in different ways, something of the ideas I have shared in these posts. I would therefore like to thank:
Katherine Bellau, Sarah Booth, Claire Carless, Joanna Cheffins, Jo Day, Britt Guerrina, Rebecca Hilsenrath, Helen Jackson, Carolyn Kirby, Alice Marsden, Fiona Penhallurick, Fiona Smith, Kate Staples, Kim Stockdale and Suzanne Wise
…because you have inspired me.
Take care. Paul