The future of leadership is always being questioned, explored, poked and prodded; yet the reality is that successful leaders tomorrow will most likely carry the same core qualities as those from today and years gone by. They will be leaders who have the vision of Steve Jobs, leverage disruption like Richard Branson and encourage constructive risk taking like Jack Welch. Above all, they will get that the relationships they create with their people will continue to be the beating heart of their success as a leader.
To put this in context let’s look at leadership through a couple of lenses that will matter in the coming years.
Engaging the Millennial Employee
It’s too easy (and lazy) to write off Generation Y with broad-brush strokes that categorise them as superficial and being the ‘me’ or the ‘I want it and I want it now’ crowd. The reality is that this is a generation connected to values, to each other and to the world as much as the generations that came before it – if not more. It goes without saying then that the most successful leaders of Generation Y will be those who take the time to connect with and genuinely understand what their Millenials want; from life and from work. You can’t discover this unless you build a relationship that is more than chatting about what you did on the weekend or the task at hand. The world is changing and we are well and truly in the Participation Age. As the name suggests, the people we are leading will increasingly expect to be involved at work. They will be as interested in the vision of the organisation as they will your personal vision for leadership and life – there will be no room to hide if your own personal line of sight from values to behaviour is blurred. They will want to be involved in decisions that impact organisational and team direction, and involved in decisions that impact them. So the more you understand, and really know the people you are leading, the more you will know how to direct and optimise their energy, and engage them in ‘why’ they are working with you and not just that they are.
Leading in Global Organisations
Everyday the world is becoming smaller; supply chains and markets are becoming global faster than ever before, and for leaders this means adopting a whole new mindset around how they connect as a leader. Teams are increasingly spread across more than one country and require a different style of leadership that engages and motivates in such a way that people feel like they belong – irrespective of where they are located. I’m fortunate to have worked with and been led by some really effective leaders over the years who have nailed this; one in particular stands out to this day. He was based in Parsippany, New Jersey and I was in Sydney, Australia. He also had reports in other countries and scattered throughout the US; and they all reported the same experience. He took the time to get to know us. Each phone call commenced on a personal level, he spoke as if we were old friends and drew us into the conversation. He also did a second thing very well; he spoke of our geographically dispersed team as if they were in the same room, as if I was sitting next to them! My colleagues, like him, were dotted line relationships, but he spoke as if we were blood relatives, and encouraged us to connect, share and leverage our collective knowledge. And we did. There were no silos and collaboration was the norm. It was as if the idea of borders and separate countries never even existed in his mind; and the assumption of his words and language was that we were one.
So what does this mean for the future of leadership? Probably the same thing it’s always meant; that we are leading people who at their core desire acknowledgement for who they are, and recognition for what they bring. People who, as Maslow suggested, like to belong. Factors that have never changed; but are about to become just a little more important to the leadership success equation. Perhaps it will become the era of the Relational Leader.