The changing dynamics of how and where we work, are changing what people need in a leader. Leaders used to inspire, inform and create an atmosphere. Do they do so now, and do you even need them to?
At some point as you go through your career, you have to make a decision about what type of a worker and what type of a leader you are going to be. The learning process is to understand more about people and different cultures, and to work out how you get the best out of those people. There are a million books and random motivational messages to support you in the process but that is all nonsense unless you can apply what they say.
As Machiavelli said you can choose to be ‘loved’, collaborative and engaging or ‘feared’ directive and imposing. Everyone ends up on that spectrum but if you are at the extreme, you won’t be effective or happy. I.e. everyone takes advantage of you or everyone hates you. (see any leadership textbook anywhere for 500 pages on variants of this).
This has not generally changed but the context around it has. To summarise the change; consider a view of distance to people. Not just emotional but physical. You can be close to your team sat in the trenches under fire from the enemy (insane client requests and visiting leadership) or you can be sat behind the lines sending instructions from headquarters.
Line yourself up against the model being honest about who you are and what you enjoy the most.
Me, I love being in trenches close to the people and applying the iron fist in the velvet glove approach. It’s all smiles and laughs until a line is breached and then it is fire and brimstone (not for long, then it’s back to the laughs). I’ve trained myself over the years to adapt my approach and my mindset to be good at doing that and I’m pretty happy with where I am.
Big, massive however…….
If you look at where things are going at corporates. The fundamental dynamics of people working together are changing which means that the role of leaders I think is changing too.
Change from experience to efficiency – most if not all corporates are moving towards some type of activity based working with the addition of collaborative spaces. In addition, there are multitude of articles and surveys showing the changing preference towards working from home.
The foundation for all of this is built around people becoming more efficient, better use of space, and more effective allocation of resource. To me, this goes against a core principle that I have worked to, namely you want to enjoy yourself at work. It’s not a question of the time spent but a value judgement about what you can create in the team. I’ve got more value in the osmosis from being next to people than I ever would have getting my work done an hour earlier and going home. The 30 minute coffee discussions, the Wednesday afternoon cake competitions, the side conversations have all contributed to knowing people better,
I grew up in consulting where you would often work away from home; breakfast in the hotel, you would leave as a group in taxis to go to the office, you would leave as group and commonly all go for dinner. It was a 14 hr a day engagement with the same group of people. I probably worked for 7 of those hours but I learned more in the other 7.
The role of a leader in that context was to create an atmosphere over the whole day where everyone could contribute to more than just the work. Think about graduates in particular, if you only see them in the course of their work during the day, you miss the opportunity to see their richness of knowledge and way of thinking in other ways. I know more about the people I worked with 10 years ago than I do about the ones I did last year.
Ask yourself now in the workplace in 2017 why so many people have large noise cancelling headphones? How much time do your leaders spend engaging you outside of core working? This is a skill and an environment which is disappearing. I can completely understand the opposing argument but we haven’t replaced that old fashioned approach which an equivalent and so the skills are becoming redundant.
Information and insight – it is the same for the tools and methods which enable collaborative working. The potential is huge to improve engagement and alignment in co-production of documents or in the sharing of information. However, the increase in volume in information does not always equate to equivalent quality and value. Look even at Linkedin and consider how much original content you see produced vs content shared. I know a huge range of people who I’ve never seen write a single thing themselves. Spend a week reading and liking only an article that was written by the poster and see how you behaviour changes.
Sharing a link to the Harvard Business Review with no comment or insight is not entirely valuable. Should I get any credit for knowing something because I’ve shared it. This is translated into corporates too. Leaders now with access to a huge range of material don’t have to produce anything or promote their own thought leadership. Even more than this, because everyone has access to all of the information, younger people no longer are turning to leaders to see what they think in the same way.
Consider, when was the last time you were asked by a junior person what you thought about something or when was the last time you shared something that you did yourself to a colleague?
Inspiration – a role of a leader was always to inspire the people that worked for them. It was a ethos that anyone would be happy with what they were doing if they felt inspired by the leadership. There’s a great but possibly apocryphal story of someone asking a janitor in 1967 what their job was with the response being ‘I’m putting a man on the moon’. The role to inspire was essential to building that connection with the organisation.
Now with twitter and LinkedIn etc . you can connect with very important global leaders and experts. You can listen to Richard Branson’s thought of the day or assess Justin Trudeau’s utterings on foreign trade. A bit closer to home, you can see the CEO of your own companies account, what she thinks, is reading or is listening to. Younger people in particular therefore, don’t need the inspiration as much from the lower tiers of management because they think they’ve got what they need elsewhere. I don’t need to know what Keith Logan thinks about AI because I can read what Mark Zuckerberg thinks all, of, the, time.
Ask the junior people in your organisation who their business role model is. 10 years ago who would have been given a name in your organisation. Now, it’s likely to be a global CEO or a superstar TEDx er.
So then, the fundamentals for how we work have changed and we are perhaps becoming a industry of managers. So, have a think about your own organisation and look at your leaders. What is being valued and rewarded higher up and even more importantly, think about what’s important to you in a leader and think about the leader you want to be?