I’ve just finished writing an article to contribute to a colleague’s new book about leadership in these challenging times. One of the questions I was asked to consider was the role of leaders in our new world. Should their responsibilities and what is required from them have to undergo some change?
My thoughts are the requirements of leadership fundamentally have not changed. What has changed though, is the expectation of how leaders are fulfilling these requirements. Certain critical aspects of leadership have not been spoken about as loudly, or as often, as other aspects. You know the ones that I’m talking about. Things like kindness, empathy, and humanity. And these are important, as the last couple of years has shown us. Equally, we still need leaders to execute on many of the other aspects of leadership that we have taken for granted so far and have perhaps been more evident. Things like planning, decision-making, critical thinking, strategic thinking, visioning.
The circumstances of the last couple of years have even challenged leaders to execute on the things that they were previously doing well. How do you have vision when the world is changing significantly, and continually, at an accelerated pace? How do you plan for the unknown? These are the things that leaders have grappled with, as well as becoming more human in their leadership.
I think it is great that the conversation has expanded. I think it is great that there is a light being shone on what is being a leader all about? What is being a good leader? What is being a great leader? Given the times that we are operating in, having these conversations is important. Let us all keep asking our leaders to step up. Let us keep the expectation for leaders to lead us.
Here are some of the elements I believe offer the foundation to effective, well-performing leadership now, and into the future.
This builds on my three foundations of leadership and leading in possibility. First, lead yourself, lead your tribe, then lead your world, so that you can inspire, influence, and have impact. We need our leaders to be doing all of these things today, to create a future of possibility. Start with self, where it all begins, where the leadership foundation is built for every leader.
1. SPECIFIC FOCUS
In the context of understanding the big picture, leaders need to focus specifically, and only on the important. You are a finite resource, and you need to invest yourself wisely. Focus on the activity where you can make a difference, where only you have the skills and the knowledge and the breadth of sight and vision, to complete these very important areas.And stick to this. Do not get distracted by shiny objects.
2. ZONE OF GENIUS
The second thing about leading yourself is to stay as much as possible in your zone of genius. Stay in that area where you are operating at your best, your peak performance zone, where you can get more done more easily. This means focusing on what you know, what you love, and how you can contribute. Again, think about the big picture and where you add the most value.
3. CONNECTION TO PURPOSE
For leaders to be operating at their best, they really need to feel like what they do has meaning and purpose. So, if you’ve lost your way recently, or you are surrounded by turmoil and lots of information, take a moment to reconnect to the purpose of your leadership, to the purpose of your organisation. This is what carries you through. It creates an anchoring, a solid basis upon which you can build your leadership.
4. SURGE CAPACITY
This is a topic I’ve been talking about for a couple of years now. It is very important to recognise that while we all have the capacity to surge, to draw all of our resources and respond to a demand that is placed on us, your surge capacity has limits. And that means you need to replenish yourself deliberately and proactively. You cannot keep going forever, surging in response to changing needs and demands, reacting and doing all the things that you need to do as a leader, if you don’t look after yourself. So, you need to create permission and opportunity to replenish your surge capacity.
Now we are moving into the space of leading your tribe.
5. HUMAN CONNECTION
We have seen connection between people challenged over the last couple of years, as we have all had to work through situations where we are in remote working and home working, where we have sometimes been isolated and very separate, or working in extreme conditions. I remember speaking to a leader who said that they had not been face-to-face with any of their team members for 14 months. And that was incredibly unusual.
There has been a loss of connection between leaders and their teams, and between team members. So, as the leader, focus on opportunities to create connection. Connection helps to build trust and loyalty. Which we all need at the moment, if we are going to work together, collaborate, rely on each other, and know that we are making a contribution that is valued.
6. VISIBLE LEADERSHIP
I have spoken to a lot of leaders about the importance of them becoming more proactive about creating visibility in their leadership. And by that, what I mean is that your people, your organisation, and your industry know that you are leading them. They have a sense of that. Your leadership is visible to them. This might be about the way you communicate. It can be about how you reach out to them. It can be about sharing information, bringing teams together. Much of this comes down to being proficient in all of the different environments that you operate in. So online, hybrid, face-to-face, so that you do not become invisible in certain situations. People need to know that you are leading them. They need to be able to rely on that. And they can only do that if your leadership is visible.
7. HUMAN LEADER
The next thing is to be a human leader. This is about all of things where the conversation has been amplified in recent years. Leadership ideas around humanity, the need for kindness, empathy, vulnerability, safety, and so on. It is about having more emotion in your leadership than perhaps 30, 40, 50 years ago would have been the norm. This is about whole people working with whole people, not just working from the head up and using our head brain. You need to use our heart. Your heart is where compassion lives. This is where you tap into the connection with your community and bring humanity into your leadership. People respond to this. So bring humanity to your tribe.
8. DEVELOP LEADERS
This is fundamental. The world is crying out for leaders and more leadership. We need leadership to create sustainable, relevant ways of working and living in our changing world. That means as existing leaders, we have a primary responsibility to develop more leaders. To develop leaders who have the capability to lead, who can practise leadership and who, in having that capability, then grow the confidence to be able to lead the different situations they face.
They say the best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. And it is the same for leadership. We need to be building our capability today, not just for today, but for tomorrow as well.
9. BUILD CAPABILITY
Which brings me to the next point. generally, in terms of leading your world, the ecosystem in which you operate, you need to build capability across all of your people and all of your organisation. So this is about people, process, systems, infrastructure. People need to know that they have the equipment and resources around them, and in them, to cope with what is happening now so that they can feel confident they can contribute in a way that is meaningful, useful, valuable, and that they feel equipped to be able to do.
10. LEAD THE MARATHON
Let’s talk about leadership over the long-term. When the pandemic began, I think many leaders myself included really didn’t appreciate how long the pandemic would have an impact. And in fact, I read a funny little note the other day that said, “Nobody told me 2020 was going to be a trilogy.” And so as we move into 2022, we are still faced with lots of change, lots of challenge, different circumstances, lots of impacts and consequences because of the last two years of pandemic and the impacts that the world has felt as a result. This is not a sprint of leadership. This is long-term change, long-term sustainability, long-term transformation, creating long-term relevance. It is about creating a future. So leading the marathon is not something that you can do overnight. It does take a long-term view, a long-term perspective, and it also takes the ability to pace your leadership and to help your people to pace their way through this significant period of time.
11. PREPARE AND PREVENT
There are so many lessons that we have all learned as we have tried to cope with and navigate through this pandemic. One of the big ones for me, in terms of emergency leadership, and leading through disaster and catastrophe is the importance of the elements of preparation and prevention cannot be underestimated. Leaders need to be looking at what you can do in the space of prevention and preparation going forwards. What are your plans? What are your contingencies? What might happen? How will you cope? What is the resourcing you need? What are your options? What are your possibilities? This requires a continuous focus, always be updating based on learning and experience. This is a never-ending cycle that you need to focus on because after all, you are the leader.
12. BIG PICTURE
And that brings me to the big picture. When you are looking at leading your world, you need to have a big picture perspective. It is not about a single event or a single person or a single idea. You need to consider a bigger picture. So while you might have immediate areas of focus, you also need to make sure that you are keeping an eye on the horizon. To create a future, you need to be thinking about it and contributing to the creation of the future.
I believe, these are 12 of the most significant focus areas for senior leaders, leaders at any level, but specifically and particularly, for CEOs and managing directors. These are the bases you need to be covering. Yes, there is a lot there. Tackle one or two at a time or do a gap analysis for yourself.
Which area does not have your focus right now?
If there is a gap, then there is an opportunity. So what is the opportunity you want to pursue to ensure that you are leading yourself, your tribe, and your world in 2022?
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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