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.