As teams evolve into increasingly self-regulated and autonomous units, the need for stability, direction and vision from leaders becomes critical. These changes, driven by technological innovation, disruption to business norms, uncertain political landscapes, and changing employee demographics and aspirations are pushing leaders to reevaluate their real mission in organizations.
According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, in a rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected world, where there is often a vacuum of leadership in society at large, people expect businesses and their leaders to fill the gap. Companies are increasingly evaluated not just on their financial performance and quality of products, but also on their impact on society. Whether it is through intelligent use of beneficial technology, internal policy and organizational culture that empowers their employees or just being good corporate citizens, companies today are expected to uphold social values and universally held ideals. In order to meet these changing expectations, leaders need to embrace growing complexity and adapt and enrich their skills and abilities in order to stay relevant as leaders.
Working with senior level leaders internationally, I see leadership practice evolving in four key areas. To transform their organizations, leaders will need to:
1. Start by transforming themselves.
Personal transformation drives organizational transformation. Therefore, if the primary role of leaders is to inspire and mobilize people, they must become leaders who have the character and skills to inspire. Developing skills in creating an environment where individuals feel stimulated and safe enough to take risks, push corporate and cultural boundaries, as well as listen and relate, means that the leader becomes less of a director and more of an enabler, who brings out the best in others.
To do this, leaders will need to dig deep within themselves to find ways to model this behavior for their teams. They must put themselves into play, experiment, reach out and listen to everyone, and distill ideas with minimum bias. They need to personally start doing more of the heavy lifting when it comes to the development of talent — through feedback, sustained and regular coaching, and modeling – all of which require intense self-awareness, listening skills and empathy.
2. Meaningfully personalize work and learning experiences.
Across the globe, millennials have entered the workforce and, through their influence, are changing the dynamics and meaning of work for many. This generation is seeking more than pure financial success; they are looking for personal growth and purpose both from the type of work as well as the people they are working with.
Like a gardener who creates a beautiful garden filled with plants that have different needs, the challenge for leaders is to understand, stimulate and inspire thousands of people at the individual level while maintaining harmony and balance as a whole. Blended learning approaches, diversity of training delivery systems, flexible workplaces and benefits are all examples of the different approaches companies can adopt.
3. Create more robust and sustained pathways for developing leaders.
We all know that training and learning/embedding are not the same things. How often have we been at the most fantastic and motivating training session, but when we got back to our everyday work, the transfer and application of learning just didn’t happen? It is highly demoralizing when, after inspiring training sessions, we return to an environment stuck in old routines, uninterested in changing or benefitting from the new learnings.
Classroom training is not enough. Everyday coaching, mentoring and feedback from leaders is key. A leader’s ability to draw out, improve and integrate these skills into the organization determines how effectively a team learns and grows. A leader champions a focus on learning that extends beyond training in classrooms and ideally provides opportunities for modeling, practice, adaptation and reflection.
4. Elevate the quality of connections and conversations in an organization.
We are all wired to react and fix problems and to focus on getting things done quickly. As a result, most of our conversations in the workplace are highly transactional.
But if we are to create teams that inspire each other, the ability to reach out and connect with others in a deeper way becomes critical. Teams that focus on understanding, supporting, challenging and creating will be able to move in a more agile manner and innovate faster. Stronger connections also mean more cohesive teams that are more stable when dealing with change and uncertainty and are better at risk-taking and navigating conflicts and problems smoothly.
A leader can accelerate this process by modeling the behavior. What do you focus on? Do you show the bigger picture? Do you create opportunities for individuals to collaborate and talk outside project silos? Some of the more innovative ideas I’ve seen are corporate hackathons for big unsolved issues, cross-functional brainstorming days and, of course, lots and lots of individual training to accelerate emotional intelligence, actively sponsored by leaders.
Here is a great opportunity. The world is hungry for leaders with character, compassion, capabilities and clarity who are able to inspire. Once leaders start the personal transformation journey for themselves, their organizations will follow.
By Rose Cartolari
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