Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kicking Leadership Clichés

Guest post from Georg Vielmetter and Yvonne Sell:
In “Leadership 2030: The six megatrends you need to understand to lead your company into the future,” we outline the repercussions of the convergence of globalization 2.0, the environmental crisis, increased individualism and value pluralism, digitization, demographic change and technological convergence.

As these six megatrends develop in parallel, each feeds on and intensifies the others. The meaning of leadership is changing, as are the skills it requires. In this new era, old work clichés will no longer apply, and new ones will evolve in their places.
It’s no longer lonely at the top

The world has grown too complex for a single person to lead through it, and leadership can no longer be considered an individual effort. Growing individualism is diversifying stakeholders and shifting power away from leaders to employees. Further, an era of simultaneous global expansion and company consolidation is necessitating that leaders work alongside competitors, not against them.

In the era of big collaboration, the ethicization of business, and the complexity that comes with globalization 2.0, the top should be a crowded place. Leadership is, after all, a social practice, and 2030 leaders will recognize this.

The financial market already recognizes it: In an academic study of 30 public companies that announced co-CEO arrangements, the average stock return that could be attributed to the announcement was 2.58 percent. It’s not just co-CEO structures like those at Whole Foods and Chipotle that are getting attention: In late 2013, Zappos announced that it was abandoning hierarchy for “holacracy,” a flat structure without titles where leadership responsibilities ebb and flow among employees.

As stakeholders proliferate and new working practices erode leaders’ positional power and authority, we’ll see an increased need for leaders at all levels to engage with stakeholders and put customers and others at the heart of decisions. Doing so means not making decisions in isolation, and certainly not grabbing the spotlight. Great leaders will need to be great collaborators, guiding teams and companies forward by providing a long-term vision, creating group harmony, achieving consensus and generating new ideas. In this new era, leadership will fluctuate – employees and executives may find themselves leaders in one context, and followers in another. Indeed, Hay Group research has repeatedly noted that the best companies for leadership develop leaders at all levels.
It’s no longer lonely at the top. It can’t be. Going forward, it’ll be networks that get you noticed.

Old dogs need to learn new tricks
To be agile, leaders must accept new technologies they do not always understand and cannot control. The fastest-growing Twitter demographic, for example, is 55 to 64 years old, and the commercial value of nanotechnologies, bitcoin and data automation must be weighed even as executives are learning exactly what it is they’re putting on the scale. Though they may lack digital and technological expertise, executives will need to acquire digital and technological wisdom.

As technologies converge, entire disciplines will have to work together in new ways. Scientific convergence and big collaboration may create a new kind of ‘organizational convergence.’ Leaders will have to go much farther than their usual efforts to break down silos and create collaborative platforms, and they will be called on to manage vast knowledge pools and coordinate the skills of experts from myriad fields.

This demand for agility and adaptability – to “learn it or lose it” – will require humility and inner strength, especially for old dogs: Ego maturity, intellectual security and emotional openness will be hallmarks of “altrocentric” 2030 leaders who put others’ needs first. Egocentric personalities who cannot shift their mindsets – the dogs that don’t learn – will be left by the proverbial road side.

If you seek to be feared – or loved – you’re missing the point
Being feared is the last thing the leaders of 2030 should be. “Inc. Magazine” named democratization of the workplace a 2014 business trend to watch, and when people have the power, they are less willing to tolerate coercive leaders who follow Machiavelli’s 16th-century mantra. This is especially relevant now that the war for talent has become a global competition: Hay Group estimates that two-fifths of the global workforce plan to leave their jobs within five years.

Nor is being loved an appropriate goal, though old-style egocentric executives may seek love as often as they seek fear to feed their own narcissism. Love can also hint that not all stakeholder viewpoints – many of which are conflicting – are receiving due attention.
Rather than aiming for love or fear, the emotionally mature, altrocentric leader who puts others’ needs first strives instead for developing shared meaning, an understanding of purpose, and strong values. Leadership, then, becomes about trust – both earning it and exercising it.

Future leaders recognize that to sow trust is to reap loyalty, to play a proverb into a new cliché. But trust cannot be demanded – few statements are so perverse as the “trust me!” declared without context or supportive action to an audience of strangers. Altrocentric leaders understand the need to take the first step by trusting others to deliver. They are willing and able to delegate authority, creating the conditions for others to act with purpose and meaning within clear boundaries that create direction and set necessary limits. This “bounded autonomy” is both the greatest weapon in the war for talent and the greatest accelerant of strategy and innovation.
What other leadership clichés do you see falling by the wayside as our world grows smaller and faster?

Georg Vielmetter, Ph.D., is the European regional director of Hay Group’s Leadership and Talent practice, where he works with executives and top teams on leadership transformation at both the organizational and the employee level. Reach him at or @GVielmetter. Yvonne Sell, Ph.D., is Hay Group’s Director of Leadership and Talent for the United Kingdom and Ireland. She researches emotional intelligence and has considerable experience helping leaders improve results by implementing competency systems and creating processes to identify, manage and develop talent. Reach her at

No comments: