The future is an exciting, and sometimes scary place, full of things that will challenge and change the way we live, work and lead. We often focus on technology because it’s visceral, something we can see and touch, whether it’s advances in energy, medicine, virtual reality or robotics. But sometimes, while we’re focused on hardware, changes to social structures or interpersonal communications, sneak right up and tap us on the shoulder, announcing their arrival. One area where this has occurred is in leadership, one of the most vital components of success in our communities, economies and the planet.
By necessity, the future sweeps away old components, outdated ideas and concepts, in favor of more effective ways of operating. For some of the outmoded methods in leadership, the future could not have come soon enough. Models that were handed down that were not only ineffective, but caused damage, are thankfully heading the way of the dinosaur. And to these we say good riddance.
For two decades, I’ve delivered training sessions to develop more effective leaders of character and the feedback I get from my participants highlights three key areas that happily indicate the future of leadership is already here.
Collaboration vs. lone wolf. Anyone who has ever worked for an arrogant or insecure leader who would not accept feedback or work with others knows how frustrating this can be. We live in the information age. Due to technology, conveyance and access to knowledge has never been easier in human history and tapping those limitless ideas should start within our own teams. Collaboration isn’t just attainable; it’s expected in today’s work environment. We live in a dynamic age, and to depend on one mind, that of only the leader, for answers, is foolish and reckless. Throughout time, our tribal communities were pros at collaboration, leveraging available human resources for maximum effect. Collaboration means putting ego and pride to the side as a leader. It means willingly working together, tapping into the wealth of great ideas to create more eloquent solutions and stronger buy-in from team members when they understand their ideas matter—and that they matter.
Earning trust vs. expecting it. Anyone who is a member of Gen X or older was raised with inherent trust in figures of authority and those in leadership positions. Millennials have a very different perspective and although some think it’s based on cynicism or indifference, I believe it’s based on a fierce curiosity and willingness to ask those in leadership to “show and prove” their motives and trustworthiness. “Do as I say because I’m the boss” is a broken model and only ensures passive aggressive behavior even if it does work in the moment. In our tribal communities, leadership was not an authoritarian affair, but conducted through consensus, a basic form of democracy. And a leader who wasn’t trusted, wasn’t followed. After all, trust is earned, and we are now in an era where that is front and center again where it belongs.
Being adaptive vs. inflexible (a.k.a. my way or the highway). Being adaptive in a rapidly changing world is not only vital to success in the workplace, but a key to our effectiveness in leadership. Leaders who have “always done it this way” are being pushed aside by leaders who are willing and able to do it better. The goals in our businesses and for our teams may remain evergreen, but our tactics to achieve them can (and sometimes must) change. The best leaders today are the ones who stay nimble, curious, willing to learn and to adapt when they find a better way to do things. Nature teaches us that inflexibility is the first step to decline, stagnation and death. Our tribal communities have heeded this lesson throughout the millennia, being able to adopt new ways to work together, utilize scarce resources and conduct business and trade – and we’re still doing it today.
What archaic or outdated models of leadership has your organization continued to use? What old, ineffective practices are hamstringing your leadership model? The future belongs to those leaders willing to embrace better methodologies and practices to get better results from their people. And the future of leadership is already here.