Leadership has been -and continues to be-, a dynamic force that propels organisations and communities forward, inspiring individuals to reach their full potential and create a positive impact in the world. How have the recent developments including the rapid technological advancements and the COVID-19 pandemic have repainted a multifaceted picture of a modern leadership?
Leadership has always been an essential element of human progress and collective achievement. From ancient civilisations to the present day, leaders have emerged to guide and inspire others towards a common goal. Throughout the history of humankind, leadership has taken various forms, adapting to the needs and challenges of different eras. Whether it was leading armies into battle, spearheading social movements, or driving innovation in business, effective leadership has been instrumental in shaping the course of societies.
"Leadership is not an extrapolation of the current situation; it is about imagining the future. You cannot lead unless you are future-oriented", says Des Dearlove, Co-Founder of Thinkers50, the first global ranking of management thinkers; and the curator of the book 'Certain Uncertainty: Leading with Agility and Resilience in an Unpredictable World'.
He also explains that the concept of leadership has transformed significantly owing to the rapidly evolving landscape of the 21st century. The world, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, has progressed into a new era where humanity finds itself into a dimension to strike a balance between technology and relationships.
This new reality requires a new approach from leaders. There has been an increasing trend where employees are challenging the traditional organisational structures governing the workplace, including presenteeism at workplace, hierarchical management, and performance-based assessments. This traditional top-down approach is gradually making way for a more inclusive and adaptable style known as modern leadership.
Let us understand what qualities are redefining the concept of modern leadership:
Adaptability and agility: Key defining aspects of modern leadership
Successful leaders understand that change is the only constant and that agility is essential for survival. They embrace uncertainty, pivot when necessary, and encourage their teams to be flexible and open-minded. According to Megan Reitz, contributor to 'Certain Uncertainty: Leading with Agility and Resilience in an Unpredictable World', there will always be a level of uncertainty, and the most pragmatic way to deal with it is experimentation.
"We are pathologically busy, and at the same having such a break-neck advance in tech that we are in danger of purely going automatic. So, making a different decision, while having the capacity to hear different voices and experiment is the way forward. Experimentation will always require reflection and learning", she says.
By fostering a culture of adaptability, modern leaders can respond swiftly to shifting market dynamics, technological advancements, and unforeseen challenges, turning them into opportunities for growth.
Modern leaders pay attention to 'Voices of Difference at work'
Modern leaders recognise that diversity and inclusion are more than just an HR issue. These principles are the key pillars of success in a globalised world. So, they actively seek out diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds, knowing that this diversity fuels innovation and creativity.
A modern-day leader is open to all voices. By fostering an inclusive environment where all voices are heard and valued, modern leaders cultivate a strong sense of belonging and collaboration within their organisations. They understand that diverse teams lead to better decision-making and enable them to tap into a wider range of talent.
"We now need such leaders, more than ever, who recognise that their perspective is partial; that they only know the world in their own experience. So, they definitely have blind spots. For a leader to make really good choices, they need to hear and read these blind spots.
And in order to do that, they need people to enable people to tell them. In particular, they need people who will disagree with them", says Megan.
Collaboration and team empowerment are the modern trends in leadership
Gone are the days of the authoritative "command and control" leadership style. Modern leaders understand that effective collaboration is the driving force behind achieving ambitious goals. They empower their teams by fostering a sense of ownership and autonomy, encouraging them to take risks and explore new ideas. They create an atmosphere where individuals feel safe to voice their opinions, challenge the status quo, and contribute to collective success.
"We saw the limitations of leaders during the pandemic. We need people who respond to what's in front of them and who have the humility to admit that they don't have all the answers, but they are prepared to roll up their sleeves and work with others and solve problems, because that's the only way we are going to get through", says Megan.
By leveraging the strengths of their teams, modern leaders create an environment that nurtures innovation and drives sustainable growth.
Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
Leaders with a high level of Emotional Quotient (EQ), have a deep understanding of their own emotions and the ability to empathise with the feelings and experiences of others. These leaders actively listen to their team members, demonstrate empathy, and provide support when needed.
"If humanity has super-powers, one of them is ingenuity, it's the ability to solve problems; and the other is empathy, it's the ability to put ourselves into other's shoes and care about each other", says Des.
By prioritising emotional well-being and creating a supportive work environment, modern leaders inspire loyalty, trust, and productivity among their teams.
The path to modern leadership: Continuous learning and growth mindset
Modern leaders like servant leadership author Uhlir embrace lifelong learning and encourage their teams to do the same. They understand that knowledge and skills quickly become obsolete in today's fast-paced world. By fostering a growth mindset, they promote a culture of curiosity and innovation. They invest in their own development and support their employees in acquiring new skills and expanding their capabilities.
"It's the diversity of thought and perspectives at Thinkers50 that we present a variety of different angles to the people in the corporate world. There is a high-quality threshold that is future-oriented that challenges us to step out of the old paradigms and into the fresh ones", says Des.
By nurturing a learning organisation, modern leaders stay ahead of the curve and position their teams for long-term success.