Directions for New Leadership

by Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Many centuries ago, leadership positions often demanded the right family connections. Later, an ability to read and compute became a requisite for leadership. Later still, demands on leaders included an understanding of production systems and today, leaders are expected to possess superb people skills.

The skills demanded of leaders will continue to become more diverse and complex, whatever the size or nature of the organization. Ask yourself: do you possess the skills necessary to effectively lead your organization?

Be “relationship managers.”

Leaders won’t simply supervise traditional “9 to 5” employees. They’ll manage constantly shifting groups of workers – including full- and part-timers, people working flex time, independent contractors, temps and even vendors “on loan.”

Become “learning listeners.”

Today, leaders practice the art of “active listening” – communicating with their whole bodies and sharing information. Tomorrow, leaders will use their communication skills to glean insights and information from the vast quantity of knowledge possessed by the people around them.

Broker resources.

Yes, tomorrow’s leaders will have to manage tight budgets – same as now. But the leaders of the future also will have to quickly shift resources from person to person as changing needs dictate. And these leaders will have to formally account for commodities such as morale, customer satisfaction and image, just as they account for money today.

Communicate electronically.

Skype™ Twitter™ Texts™ Tomorrow’s leaders may not see many of their employees and contractors on a regular basis. These leaders will need to learn how to manage people electronically, and to communicate effectively through audio, video and social media communication channels. And these leaders will need to learn how to motivate customers and find new prospects using these electronic tools, as well.

Creatively use technology.

Tomorrow’s leaders won’t have to be technical wizards, but they will have to understand the myriad of ways technology can be used to manage and market – and will need the “hands-on” skills to select the right technical tools and use them appropriately.

Influence behavior through motivation.

Next generation leaders will become masters of motivation. They’ll glean sophisticated motivational skills from the latest human relations and psychological findings, and use those skills to motivate employees. And they’ll rely on sophisticated consumer behavior models to influence buying behavior more frequently than traditional advertising.

Possess emotional stamina.

Today’s leaders feel stressed when events aren’t predictable or when demands come at them fast and furiously. Tomorrow’s leaders will embrace change, conflict and pressure as exciting professional challenges.

Possess tolerance for ambiguity.

Change, in the form of shifting customer demands, governmental regulations and technological innovation, is constant. True leaders will need the stability to remain calm in the midst of so much change – and to poise the organization to function effectively in a sometimes-frantic business environment.

Possess “translation” skills.

Leaders will develop an acute understanding of the business environment and translate” complex technological, marketing and management requirements to simple, easily understandable principles for customers and employees.

Possess vision.

Don’t confuse vision with goals. While long-term goals may be based upon a business’ vision, an authentic vision is an easy-to-articulate principle cutting across goals and rallying everyone in the organization. A traditional goal: “we’ll achieve 5 percent sales growth next year.” A new leadership vision: “Sale or no sale, we’ll position ourselves as a state-of-the-art company in the mind of every prospect.”

Practice role adaptation.

In years gone by, leaders often were encouraged to identify their leadership “style” and practice it consistently. No more. In the years ahead, leaders will be expected to shift their style, depending on the needs of the moment. At one point, for instance, a leader may serve as a coach, at another moment a facilitator, and at still another moment, a strategist.

Provide self-leadership.

Before the leader of tomorrow can lead others, he’ll have to learn to lead himself. Tomorrow’s leaders will develop lifelong personal education programs, obtain their own mentors or coaches to guide them, and find ways to constantly renew their confidence.

Serve as knowledge brokers.

Next generation leaders will spend time studying and training. They’ll often maintain computerized “knowledge bases” of information, and constantly replenish them with up-to-date data. They’ll be quick to retrieve knowledge from the people around them, and repackage it for others.

Subscribe to personal ethics principles.

Bureaucracy has frustrated people the world over and has generated widespread distrust of institutions. Customers and employees will gravitate toward businesses led by principled leaders who base their actions on strong personal values and commitments.

Understand and manage diversity.

The workplace will consist of people of a wide variety of ethnic and social backgrounds. Customer backgrounds will become more varied as well, and even small firms will be doing business internationally. Tomorrow’s leader will understand the traditions and cultures of the people he’s serving and working with – and promote an appreciation for diversity throughout the workplace.