Learming Hub
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_22612" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Jack Welch was CEO of GE for 20 years. In a changing world, is he still the model for leadership? Jack Welch was CEO of GE for 20 years. In a changing world, is he still the model for leadership?[/caption]


When discussing the challenges facing business leaders it seems almost de rigeur nowadays to talk about the level of change organisations are facing.

The challenge to equip leaders to build the future in these uncertain times is certainly daunting, with seismic geopolitical shifts (in this context the Trump administration seems to be the gift that keeps on giving), disruptive technological change (how many of us even fully understand the implications of bitcoin, blockchain and whatever new technology will be unleashed on us next) and even severe climate and weather events.

The very ubiquitous nature of these challenges may however inure us to their real potential as both a threat and an opportunity to affect a true paradigm shift in how we view leadership, a classic case of an issue being undervalued through overuse.


The Concept of Leadership

From the perspective of the 21st century the development of our concept of leadership is a little clearer than it may have been in the past.  From this remove we can see how the largely male, heroic models of leadership have greatly influenced the literature and teaching in this field.

The business leaders who are most often cited, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs etc. are broadly from a similar mould and the models of leadership, with the exception of Servant Leadership (as a servant leader you put the needs of others, particularly team members, before you even consider your own, but how many executives really model themselves on this type of leadership?) extol an assertive, confident, out-going and mainly extroverted style.

In fact, the Myers Briggs type most associated with leadership is the ENTJ (extraversion, intuition, thinking, judgment), which is described as the ‘general’, again exposing the military underpinnings of the leadership canon. We can clearly see this bias in the continuing popularity of books like Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people”, the pseudoscience of NLP and programmes that teach executives how to create the right ‘impression’.

Given the genesis of the leadership concept it is understandable that people might misconstrue the notion of leadership presence as the ability to impose oneself (and influence people), but there is real hope that we are about to experience a genuine shift in the paradigm.

Unhappy Influencers

[caption id="attachment_22617" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Richard Boyatzis studied how leaders influence those around them Richard Boyatzis studied how leaders influence those around them and how that effected their lives and careers[/caption]

Recent research conducted by Richard Boyatzis and colleagues from Case Western Reserve University examined the relationship between the extent to which people adopted an ‘influencing’ leadership style and their later satisfaction with both their careers and their life in general.  Interestingly they found a very strong negative correlation between these factors, i.e. the more people adopted an influence style the less satisfied they were with their careers and lives.

Boyatzis and colleagues did not have an objective measure of career success, so one could still argue that the ‘influencers’ did better in their careers, but Boyatzis’ research does tell us that irrespective on how well an outsider might judge your career progress, the ‘influencers’ are less happy about their situation.  The researchers concluded that those who adopt an influencing style are pushing on their environment and trying to get more from others, e.g. they tend to show a high need to control social situations.

The crux of the problem, especially in the context of a VUCA world, is that pushing on or trying to control an environment that is in a constant state of flux, verging on chaos is unlikely to be very effective and will certainly lead to people being highly dissatisfied and unhappy in their work and indeed their lives.

Now would be the perfect time for the leadership movement to learn the lessons of evolutionary psychology that success in a changing environment falls to the most adaptable, those who can outlearn their competition.


The Adaptable Generation

This will require a cadre of new leaders who are less ego-identified with success and winning, who don’t see problems as opportunities to impose themselves and demonstrate mastery of the environment.

Rather we will see the emergence of leaders who can go with the flow, adapt to new realities quickly, work through and with others as either leader or follower and pivot gracefully as cherished paradigms fall away and hard-earned experience proves ineffective as a guide to new problems.

There is no doubt that the idea of women in leadership is in the current zeitgeist and may or may not create a fundamental shift in how we see leadership in the future.  I am however hopeful, that as the new model emerges we will see less emphasis on the old machismo of the ability to impose oneself on others and on the environment and more emphasis on the willingness to adapt, change and ‘flow’ with emerging realities.

Bruce Lee used to tell his students to ‘be like water’, perhaps that is not a bad metaphor for what leaders will need to become.


imi-colm-foster-810Dr Colm Foster is Director of Executive Education at the Irish Management Institute. He has acted as a leadership development consultant to organisations in the US, Asia and Ireland, particularly specialising in Emotional Intelligence.

The next IMI Diploma in Leadership starts on 2nd May, 2018.
            [post_title] => 21st Century Leadership: The Shifting River
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What are the key elements leaders need to consider when devising their strategy in the current climate?

Thomas Lawton, Professor of Strategy and International Business and Director of the Global Competitiveness Institute at Cork University Business School, outlines what lessons of the past can be applied today and the mindset leaders should use when looking to create their own breakout strategies.
This conversation was recorded in May 2020
Subscribe: iTunesTuneInSoundcloudAcastStitcher – or search ‘IMI Talking Leadership’ in your podcast provider of choice.
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Jacob Morgan

Jacob Morgan

16th Feb 2021

Four-time best-selling author, speaker and futurist. Founder of the Future of Work University.

Related Articles

21st Century Leadership: The Shifting River
Episode 27 | Future Growth Strategies with Thomas Lawton
The Future of Work

Jacob Morgan: Future-Proof Your Leadership

Defining leadership is not easy 

During the research for his book ‘The Future Leader’, Jacob spoke to 140 of the world’s leading CEOs and surveyed over 14,000 employees. What struck him most, he said, was the blank expression he was met with by these same CEOs when he asked a simple question: How do you define being a leader and leadership? He explained why he viewed leaders as acting as the lighthouses for an organisationguiding their people in times of uncertainty.

“Leaders literally shape the world we are a part of. It really does matter the types of leaders we have.” 

 Self-care is not selfish care 

To be the leader your organisation needs, Jacob emphasised, you must be able to take care of yourself so that, in turn, you can be “at your best” for others. He pointed out that, contrary to what some leaders believe, self-care is not “selfish care” and said that adopting the mindset of ‘The Servant’, whereby leaders put serving their team first, “can have a dramatic impact on an organisation”.  

Explore or get left behind 

Jacob used the example of Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton to illustrate how bringing people of different backgrounds together, as the Antarctic adventurer did prior to one of his most daring missions, can be transformative for leaders. Jacob said that being agile, curious and, most importantly, adopting a growth mindset are tools that every leader should possess. He said that having a mindset of exploration, whereby new paths are forged in business and fresh perspectives sought, is “crucial” in this world.

“Don’t just focus on yourself. Understand that leadership is about others.”  

What separates good leaders from bad leaders 

Empowering your people to accentuate their specific talents, Jacob said, is a fundamental skill every leader should possess. The ultimate goal, he went on to say, was for leaders to help others to become “more successful” than you are. Focusing on the strengths of your people and developing a “human approach to leadership” is a key aspect that separates good leaders from bad ones. 

Two women speaking in an office
Good leaders and bad leaders have a key separator, according to Jacob (picture source)

Become a futurist with your decision making 

Today’s business landscape is riddled with uncertainty, bringing with it an even more pressure-filled decision-making process. Jacob advised that leaders play out scenarios in their heads in advance of any decision, taking a future-centric outlook. He pointed to four key questions that should be at the forefront of managers’ minds in this respect: 

a) Why might something happen? 

b) What else might happen? 

c) What do I want to happen? 

d) What might impact why something may or may not happen?  

Answering these questions, Jacob said, allows leaders to ponder the variables and malleability of scenarios so that businesses are better prepared for whatever comes. 

Channel your communications 

With so many channels of communication at our disposal in the modern world, Jacob explained, it can be easy for messages to slip through the cracks. He gave the example of the difference between hearing and listening as a leader, and how the latter is central in an always-on culture where we are “pulled in so many different directions”. Jacob advised leaders to ensure that they choose the most suitable communication channel for their business and ensure that, above all else, the message is delivered loud and clear. 

“Communication has changed now more than ever.”  

Be the Yoda your organisation needs 

Developing emotional intelligence and being an empathetic and self-aware leader – what Jacob calls the skill of Yoda – are critical elements in management. And often, as Jacob illustrated, they are neglected. Jacob said that leaders, rather than remaining detached, must lean into a policy of ‘my door is always open’. Building these relationships with your people, he said, is even more essential during a pandemic that has made virtual working the norm. 

What leaders need to do next 

Jacob challenged leaders with a simple question: What can you do to improve by 1% every day? That mindset, he said, to “challenge convention” and to not be afraid to ask “what if” is invaluable for any leader. Avoiding a typical day, being a guide to others and doing a self-analysis are all steps leaders can easily incorporate into their routines. 

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