I recently attended the HRD (HR Directors) Conference in Birmingham, UK, through which I participated in a variety of workshops and collaborations that enabled myself and other participants to debate the challenges that face us in 2020.
One topic that repeatedly came up was the change in leadership patterns that many organisations have adopted, which have either been created by design, or have emerged in response to stakeholder needs.
This change is founded on the belief that leadership is not solely the domain of senior managers but is instead a ubiquitous cultural capability that should be distributed throughout the organisation and be part of every employee’s skill set. The story of leadership is being shaken up. It’s not just about managers leading; it is about ‘mindful agents’ being the right leaders in the right places at the right times.
Of course, on paper the idea that everyone is a leader is wonderful, and the notion that ‘pop up’ leadership will emerge to fill any leadership void sounds perfect. However, as the rhetoric of the conference demonstrated, we operate in an increasingly challenging environment, confronted with rapid change, globalisation, digitalisation and AI (artificial intelligence). Add a healthy dose of wellbeing and sustainability issues to this mix and the territory of an organisation is hardly an easy place to navigate. So, what chance does the emerging leader really have? How can we help them?
I was surprised in our workshop discussions by how many organisations have working environments that echo Jon Ingham’s work on social leadership: the idea that organisations lean on ‘communities’ and ‘networks’ as much as functional teams in order to get things done. This model involves a complex web of interconnected project teams working across functional and other boundaries to deliver in an agile way. This brings us to the inevitable question: how to lead in this pioneering territory?
The workshops threw up some familiar leadership shopping lists in response to this question, including humility, flexibility, emotional intelligence, empathy, creativity and courage. However, they also brought to light the shocking statistic that the average age of a worker’s first leadership training is 42! Hardly a recipe for emerging, ‘in the moment’ leadership…
This experience made me reflect on what we have noticed at Impact, working with our many global clients. Some clear trends we have observed offer guidance for what might help with this ambiguous pattern of leadership:
Back to the simple things
The need for solid interpersonal capabilities is key. In striving to make the best of top talent, engagement and retention are high on the agenda, and in this way, quality one-to-ones are essential. There was resounding – and worrying – agreement in the workshop table-top discussion that the ability to hold quality one-to-ones is a dying art. If we are to understand the needs of our workforce, we have to value them, and valuing involves listening, coaching and caring. Understanding yourself and your ability to get the best from others is still the base currency for effective management; only the trust that this brings delivers the legitimacy of leadership.
It’s not that hard
In the face of the complex webs that futurologists and social commentators love to weave, there is a need for simplicity. It may be a complicated world but our basic needs remain reassuringly simple:
- Have I Noticed that leadership is required?
- What do I Decide to do?
- What Action is needed? And in that act do I need to provide:
- Meaning: Why are we doing this? What is the purpose?
- Value: Why am I important in this? What is needed of me?
- Structure: What are the details of what, where and when?
Just because the world is complicated it doesn’t mean the solution has to be. For those of us tasked with leading organisations, here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
- Where are we as individual leaders in all of this? Maybe we aren’t playing to our strengths.
- Are our underlying beliefs held too tightly? Maybe there is a better way.
- Are we just playing old games? Maybe we need to break some old patterns.
- What are we actually in service of here? Maybe we have lost sight of our purpose.
- Are we liberating the brilliance of our people? Maybe there are people we’re not giving the best opportunities.
In our experience, ‘immersive’ learning with high-quality facilitation and coaching is the best way to enable the potential of leadership within organisations. People learn best from experience. Let them have a go in a safe environment, learn from their experience, and apply it back into what matters the most. Our immersive learning journeys have won Impact clients the highest accolades available within organisations and we are very proud of this.
In this ever complex and challenging world lets pay attention to what we know works best - simple tools that enable human-to-human excellence and the ability to lead whatever the circumstances. With expertly-designed, customised experiential learning, Impact can help you equip your mindful agents to be agile social leaders.
Andy Dickson is Head of Global Customer Solutions at Impact. You can connect with him here.