‘New normal’ seems to be the phrase of the moment (at least it was last month). But in truth, nothing ever really gets a chance to ‘normalise’ these days, so pretty soon, ‘new normal’ will be ‘old world’ and the next wave of new will be on us. So how can leaders – how can anyone at any level for that matter – effectively navigate new after new after new?
Today, I want to talk about the future of effective leadership, which to be honest is the now of effective leadership too. So have a listen to my 6 principles for the future of leadership and ask yourself how you’re measuring up.
6 principles for the future of leadership
When I talk about each of my six guiding principles for effective leadership both for now and for future, they’re going to sound simple. But to get the most from these, you’re going to need to be brutally honest about where you’re at right now, and then sufficiently disciplined to get to where you want to be. My Big Six are: purpose, strengths, humility, clarity, enabling and evolution. Each of these principles is based on sound research on human psychology and behaviour, as well as leadership research and practice. So let’s get to it.
To lead effectively today, you need to be clear on your purpose and on the purpose of your organisation. People crave meaning and higher purpose – so stand for something. From a personal point of view, ask yourself what do you want your contribution to society to be? What legacy do you want to leave? How will the world be different with you having been in it? Clear on your answers to those questions? Then great, the next job is to consider how to communicate your purpose simply and clearly, and we’ll come on to that. Not yet quite there? Then it’s worth digging into those questions to get clearer on your purpose.
My podcasts at Season 4, episode 5 on finding your values and season 7, episode 9 on finding your joy, should both help. Now onto the purpose of your organisation – in a recent study by Bentley University, 84% of millennials said that helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important to them in terms of motivation than professional recognition. So it’s important for you, as a leader, to be clear on the purpose of your organisation, its higher purpose, its point, and its function in the world and in society.
In my view, this focus on purpose is going to become increasingly important over time as we all become more enlightened about the activities of organisations and more expectant of organisations being a force for good in the world.
Next is Strengths – as a leader, it is essential to know what you love, what energises you and to do that, more of that, but skillfully. This needs keen self-awareness. Strengths are qualities that enable us to contribute uniquely in the world, in a way which no one else can. But it’s only when we know and understand our strengths at a conscious, deep level, and accept and internalise that these are us, and that means that we can’t be strong in all areas, that we can turn up to work authentically.
This is true for everyone, leader or not. It’s crucial to know your risk areas too and to manage those effectively (my podcast as Season 5, episode 2 on taming the energy monster will help you identify and mollify your ‘strength in overdrive’ risks). When you truly understand, accept and apply your strengths in your own unique way, you can start to lead authentically.
Staying humble allows you to learn. To do this well, my advice is to stay curious, ask questions, always listen, and then listen more. Two ears and one mouth in those proportions right? When you stay humble as a leader, you’ll also often challenge your assumptions, and not assume that you are right, or that what you thought was right before is still right now – keep evaluating the evidence and being prepared to be wrong. A lot. And own the being wrong, apologise when it’s appropriate, wholeheartedly.
For me as well, humility provides a bedrock for effective collaboration – within and outside organisations – because when you’re humble, you’re more open to seeing where others’ strengths may lie and creating a partnering opportunity where you can both contribute something of value.
A final point on humility – overdoing it may result in you diminishing the importance of your own contribution and elevating others’ to the point where it can negatively affect your own impact. That’s a risk that needs managing, it’s not OK to lessen yourself to build others up. You can be humble while still staying equal.
That is, clear, consistent, simple messaging. Once you know your purpose, and the purpose of your organisation, it is absolutely worth doing the work to make sure that can articulate the purpose clearly and confidently – it’ll take time and practice but will absolutely be worth the effort. Another important point is to learn how to set clear expectations, give clear feedback and to speak your truth.
My podcast way back at season 1, episode 4 on giving great feedback in 3 steps, will give you some tips on how to do that well. Too many leaders end up over-complicating, or pulling back, from offering clear, consistent, simple messages – it doesn’t take much effort to think of a leader demonstrating this right now…they are everywhere. But having your opinion (even when summating the opinions of others) and confidently and simply stating your own personal view, is another important facet of effective leadership in an information-rich, complex, unpredictable world.
My fifth principle for effective leadership now is to remember to Enable – to create an environment and to practice behaviours which enable the strengths of others. So get good at ‘strength spotting’:
- pinpoint people at their best and tell them about the qualities that you admire and value in them; find ways that people can stretch their strengths – so that they can up their contribution still further by developing in areas where they have natural talents
- create the conditions for ownership – people should feel responsible and accountable for delivering results in areas of strength for them, so be clear on your expectations and ensure that your people hold themselves to account for delivery
- finally, be a coach – ask questions, listen and help your people to make their own decisions about the best way to get a result, their way.
For more on all of this, check out my podcast at Season 5, episode 11 on the art of great leadership – Maximising strengths in others.
Finally, is Evolution – continue to develop and grow, keep learning and try not to get too comfortable in your knowledge and experience set, there’s always something new to learn. And that will keep you sharp, humble and will enable you to predict the unpredictable that much more effectively, to horizon-scan and to identify early where you may need to change direction.
That’s it. Those are my six guiding principles for effective leadership for the future, for now, and for yesterday.
To get the most from them, ask yourself on a scale of 1-10, how well you’re delivering each right now – you’ll be higher on some and lower on others. Make sure that you take action on both. Strengthen your strength areas by stretching them further. And find ways to get closer to a 10 in those areas where you find it less straightforward.
Good luck on your journey. It may be long,lifelong in fact, but it’ll be well worth it.
This podcast is available on all major podcast platforms. Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, ACast, TuneIn, Breaker and Soundcloud. Check out the back catalogue, leave a review and subscribe to get them every Monday morning!