I was recently on a panel looking at the future of leadership. Here are my thoughts on how leaders can face today’s challenges in a way that prepares organizations for the future.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing leaders today?
One challenge is the speed of change and how to embrace disruption instead of merely trying to survive. It helps to be clear about who you are, so when caught in the midst of change and turmoil, you stay grounded. Organizations that have a strong, shared purpose are best positioned to respond proactively to disruptive opportunities. This is also true at an individual level. I am heartened to see the current interest in bringing the practices of mindfulness into organizations and believe it can help with focusing on what is most important.
Another challenge is created by demographics. This is the first time in history we have had four generations in the workplace. And we have more diversity than ever in power positions. I believe we have reached the point where we can leverage the advantages diversity offers and finally implement ideas first articulated by early leadership pioneers like Peter Drucker and Peter Block – to rethink organizational structures and the use of power and control.
The third big challenge is that the opportunity technology has created for connectedness also makes it necessary for leaders to let go of a control mindset and to adopt a collaborative approach. Networks are too complex today and the work is too inter-related for the traditional hierarchical models to be effective. It is more important now than ever to understand the value of diversity and how to utilize it to maximize the benefits for innovation and engagement. These are challenges for leaders at all levels, not just senior leaders.
Why are these challenges for leaders at all levels, not just senior leaders?
I think we need to stop waiting for senior leaders to fix things. They have less power than you might think. More importantly, when you assume responsibility, you help not only others and your organization, but more importantly, you empower yourself. Every manager and supervisor, no matter what their level or title, can take action within their own sphere of influence.
In addition to what you’ve already recommended, are there other things we can do to meet these challenges?
First, stop trying to control information. It’s not possible. Behave as though everything you do will become public knowledge, because it probably will.
Also stop trying to control people. Stop trying to “manage” them. Instead, help them connect meaningfully with their work, see how they can make a contribution and give them the tools and information they need to accomplish their work. Forget about performance reviews. They never worked anyway. Instead, leaders should set up ongoing feedback mechanisms, have ongoing conversations about the work and what’s needed to improve it, and remove roadblocks that interfere with accomplishing their work.
We need to stop thinking of people as human resources and remember they are human beings. Organizations do not exist without people. You can know where the organization needs to go, but you can’t get there without the people. You can have the right strategies, but they cannot be implemented without the people. People are not PART of the organization, they ARE the organization. We become unbalanced when we are so task-oriented, goal-oriented, or focused on the enterprise that we forget that each individual matters.
Take time to connect with people in simple ways on a day-to-day basis – say hello on the elevator; ask your assistant how his weekend was before you give him a new assignment; or when you purchase something, say hello to the checkout clerk and look her in the eye. Get to know more about the people who report to you. Understand their personal goals and support their development. Don’t avoid providing clear, direct feedback, but remember it is possible to deliver even the toughest message with integrity and respect.
Great advice, totally concur. The first point about embracing disruption is extremely insightful. Keep up the good work!
Honored by your kind words, Bret. So glad this resonated for you.
Those are arguably three of the biggest challenges for leaders and they are not the only ones. Managing and leading change is huge and on heels of your three comes complexity knocking on the door. Finding ways to do things more simply with less, with the premise that “less is more” instead of adding more and more is also a big challenge, in my experience. Finally, I love this: “Get to know more about the people who report to you. Understand their personal goals and support their development.” Nothing more important than that! So well said, as usual! Thanks!
I agree that learning to navigate an increasingly complex world is huge challenge for all of us and we must find ways to be comfortable with living in an unpredictable world. I touched on this with the speed of change, but there is a lot more to be said. Much thanks for adding your insights, Gary!
An insightful and concise post I can share! I would love to see a revolution aimed at tossing out performance reviews. It’s time to create community with meaningful conversations, not hierarchy and “feedback.”
Love this: “It’s time to create community with meaningful conversations.” I couldn’t agree more!
I too am so pleased with “embrace disruption!” It’s very much aligned with a phrase I often use – embracing ambiguity. In facilitating the skills of Effective Learning and problem solving with my students, I always suggested to them that ‘it was not enough to acknowledge or deal with ambiguity; they needed to embrace it.’ It’s the only way anyone or any organization can hope to be creative and thus successful.
In terms of problem solving (and, honestly Effective Learning is a ‘problem to be solved’), I am a proponent of a general problem solving procedure – one that can be adapted to any situation. My personal one is OSCAR. There is important ‘ambiguity embracing within it, to the degree that the ‘S’ is for speed bumps – explicitly identifying the ambiguous links early on in order to include them in the effort.
What’s your experience with leaders understanding the need to get rid of the Control Mindset by the way? Great post as always!!!
Your comments about ambiguity remind me of the principles of aikido – staying centered, dancing with the energy and circular movement – something we can draw on to learn how to dance with ambiguity. To your question: I find that often leaders don’t realize they have a “control mindset” because it’s the air they breathe. Coaching can help them see how they are using it, when it is not effective and explore alternatives that work for them.
Thanks so much for sharing your OSCAR problem solving process and for enriching the conversation, John.
Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us. Thanks
Thank you, Jann!
Jesse Lyn. Great post. I’d like to add a 4th challenge; that workers/ employees are still very much confused about this whole leader/ leadership concept. Here’s what I mean:
A person with terrific leadership skills in a leadership position is called a leader.
A person with lousy leadership skills in a leadership position is called a leader.
A person with terrific leadership skills NOT in a leadership position is called a trouble-maker by those with lousy leadership skills in a leadership position who the company calls a leader.
Points well-taken. As we shift from leadership models based on power to collaborative approaches, we need to redefine what we mean by leadership and the role of leaders. There is an important budding shift in how organizations see the third type of person you describe – which Google’s Laszlo Bock calls “emergent leadership.” I believe this is the type of leadership that is necessary to support our complex, diverse organizations of the future.
This is beautiful. I absolutely agree with you that Team spirit is necessary as leader will not succeed without satisfied followers keying in to the system. Thinking of people as human beings will enable the system appreciate their individual goals. Thank you for the insightful post.
Thanks, Talmiz. I agree that how we think of people will make a huge shift throughout the entire system. Appreciate your comments.
Congratulations! Very insightful. So true about controlling information – reminds me of the Disney intern that just got fired because of her social media post sharing a notice to employees (and instantly rehired because senior management saw the need for transparency.)
Also enjoyed your thoughts about mindfulness and embracing disruption.
Excellent example of how we’re learning to make the shift from the old-school approach in sharing information to responding to the realities of today! Making that shift is not easy and it will be a bumpy road. But it will continue to shift as long as there continues to be a public concern when transgressions are made public.
Great post Jesse! Being collaborative is fun and so rewarding!
Although, I agree with Mark that it is beyond challenging for those that believe that leadership is to about authority, power and control. -That is both a generational and a cultural struggle that is greatly emphasized in our expat world.
Some people change when they understand the vision, trust those instigating the change, and begin to experience the joy and the synergy of collaborative results. Others continue to crave power and control.
A testimonial to the rewards of collaborative leadership! Appreciate your raising generational and cultural perspectives. Thanks for sharing your insights, Chery.
Congratulations Jesse on the Conant Leadership Award and thanks again for continued insight and thoughts. I am fast approaching my retirement and in October will be plunging headlong into the ‘leadership’ ocean…I look forward to it enormously. I do enjoy reading your posts and point of view and relate them often with my experiences. I have a singular perspective on sustaining leadership born out of my experiences and would more than welcome any comments you may have in that regard…a variety of common posts can be found on my Blog.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Raymond. Best wishes with your retirement and plunge into the leadership ocean.
Great blog Jesse. Regarding the “Speed of Change” challenge, I was reminded of a book I read some time ago called Innovation by John Sweeney @iamjohnsweeney. I have never forgot his chapter on viewing change as fuel. He makes 3 great statements that I use often.
– Change is not viewed as an obstacle to idea generation, but rather embraced with excitement of things to come.
– Employees need to be able to create consistently, regardless of what changes are happening around them. Change will no longer signal a decrease in productivity or an increase in fear.
– Employees begin working toward creating change because they understand its a propellant needed to find the next bit of innovation.
These are helpful attitudes. When your attitude about change changes, you can more easily respond to opportunities. Thanks for sharing, Jordan.