What if we admit that leadership—at least the way it is traditionally practiced in organizations—is showing stress fractures (and potentially completely broken)? What if we acknowledge that that strict hierarchies, inflexible goals, and protecting the status quo are ineffective in an environment of uncertainty and change?
What if we admit that we are never fully going back to the way things were and that the world is changing so fast that a “new normal” never fully emerges? What if we decided that there is only a new next and it is up to us to flourish in it … or not?
If we can answer those questions in the affirmative, we can begin to change the way we lead. If we can change the way we lead, we can change the future of work.
The Pandemic changed very little and accelerated everything
Humans have a tendency to believe that the first time we experience something new is the first time anyone has experienced anything remotely similar.
Talent and technology are two of the main drivers for the future of work. Changes in both have been accelerated by the pandemic.
A 21st Century talent shortage has been predicted since at least 2004. The COVID Pandemic simply made it more urgent. Shortages occurred after the plague of the Black Death in mid-1300s and again after the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, too..
It is the same for the technological innovation and change.
Stuart Kaufman introduced the Adjacent Possible theory in 2002. It has its roots in biology, but it is equally relevant to technology and work. The easy way to describe it is that the progress we make at any given moment is influenced by what is already possible in connected and adjacent areas.
The explosion of smartphones, for example, required the development of smaller microprocessors, a high-resolution screen that fits on a small device, and the lithium battery.
The microprocessor was first developed in the late 1950s at Texas Instruments. It has consistently been engineered to be smaller and more powerful. Engineers at RCA first developed the LCD screen in 1964, and engineers at Sharp Corporation added color in the 1970s. Corning’s chemically-strengthened Gorilla Glass has been available since 1960.
Those were all great, but we still wouldn’t have the computer-in-our-pocket devices of today without the development of the lithium battery in the 1990s.
Applying that principle to today’s workplace, video conferencing was made commercially available in 1968. Broadband internet connections made it more viable in the early 2000s. Zoom was founded in 2011. Microsoft Teams was launched in 2017.
The pandemic was the missing piece to force us to embrace the technology and change. It was also the catalyst for Baby Boomers to exit the workplace early and Millennials and GenZs to take advantage of a sellers-market for talent to demand change.
What about leadership?
Change and transformation rarely fail because of faulty management. They fail because of faulty leadership.
We are in the early days of a profound transformation in where and how work is done. Using history as a guide, the organizations that will flourish in the future will be those who reframe the way they think about and practice leadership. If you buy into the first sentence of this article—that traditional ways of leading are showing stress if not already being broken—you know this is true.
Leadership has always been about influencing others to achieve positive outcomes. That doesn’t’ change. What is changing is how that happens. Here are seven ways leadership must change and grow to empower work in the future.
- From activity focused to results focused. Providing flexible working environments occurs naturally when you lead and evaluate your team by the results they produce rather than the schedules they keep. There are absolutely times and jobs that require people to be in a specific place at a specific time. Even then, a results-focused leader eliminates micromanagement and empowers their team to own their performance, behavior, and results.
- From making the organization successful to making everyone successful. Your credit union needs to succeed, but they days of organizational success at the expense of helping members, staff, and the community in which you reside flourish are over. The Great Resignation is caused, in part, by the workforce deciding that they are no longer willing to be second-class citizens in the quest for organizational success. Leaders must think broader about the constituencies they serve.
- From power based on position to influence based on relationships. The best leaders have always known this. Now it is becoming an expectation everywhere. Think of the teacher, mentor, or coach who most influenced you. They most likely had high expectations that you willingly worked to exceed. The reason was because of the relationship with you not their position.
- From protecting the status quo to building the future. Past success means that you were once right. The best organizations actively manage and lead to their desired future. Every leader, regardless of their level, must avoid the Seven Last Words of Every Organization: We’ve never done it that way before.
- From compliance driven to values led. You can mandate compliance. People volunteer their commitment. They do that more often when leaders make the organization’s values come to life in every action and decision. Think of it this way: Do you want your staff to follow the minimum standards of lending compliance, or do you want them to use the standards as the guidepost for living your values?
- From leadership by a few to leadership by everyone. Remember: leadership is about the ability to influence the actions and outcomes of others to achieve positive results. It is nothing more, and it is nothing less. The team member who quietly undercuts new ideas to serve members or improve efficiencies is just as crucial to your credit union’s success as the individual with a leadership title. You still need structure, and we also need leaders leading and growing other leaders.
- From linear to dimensional. We teach and discuss leadership in series of prescribed steps and levels. That is no longer how it works. The successful leader of the future will use each of the following dimensions simultaneously and interchangeably. It is an interconnected web not a flow chart.
- Personal leadership to build credibility and trust
- Interpersonal leadership to create connection
- Organizational leadership to ensure effectiveness and efficiency
- Developmental leadership to help team members grow and the organization to continually improve
- Change leadership to continuously anticipate, pursue, and adapt to the future
- Transformational leadership to remake the organization and team when needed
Mastering these Six Dimensions of Leadership™ allows the leader to execute flawlessly today, prepare for the challenges of the future, and respond to the uncertainty of both.
There are leaders that have mastered each of these moves today. You can spot them in your organization. The challenge is to bring every leader at every level to a mastery that assures your future success.
The future of work is on everyone’s mind. The solution is to master the future of leadership.