Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Modern View of Leadership

Here's a short, 5-minute video from HBR where a group of "expert thinkers" discuss the crucial skills needed by tomorrow's leaders. As near as I can tell by listening to their comments, those skills are:
  • Trust
  • Authenticity
  • Empathy
  • Devotion to others
  • Explaining why
  • Curiosity
  • Mindfulness
  • Clear sense of purpose
Hmmm. Does that list look familiar to you? It certainly does to me. Let me quote one of the thinkers, Ellen Langer, who says in the video:
"Not surprisingly, since I've been studying mindfulness for over thirty years, I believe that leaders of the future would prosper enormously by becoming more mindful."
Thanks, Ellen. That's almost as good as Bill George telling us to be authentic after publishing a book called Authentic Leadership.

My thoughts are summed up well by one of the commenters, Mitch McCrimmon:

I found this video very disappointing. It is supposed to be about leaders of the future, but most of what it says could have been said 30 years ago and probably was. Much of it consists of the usual motherhood statements about trust and purpose characteristic of a very old-fashioned concept of leadership.

So what is a more modern view of leadership? Well, I like what my fellow Hourglass blogger Jamie Notter often says. Leadership is not a skill to be learned by an individual, it is a system that is to be established by an organization and successfully implemented over the multiple comings and goings of individuals. A modern leader, in other words, is not someone who surrounds himself with followers, it is someone who builds the capacity for leadership in her organization.

And in today's multi-generational environment, I think that means multi-generational leadership systems. Boomers, Xers and Millennials all have a role to play in creating new systems of leadership, and each brings a unique perspective that, when integrated, can make the system stronger and more sustainable that any system based on a single generation's ideals.

Trust, authenticity, mindfulness. There all good attributes to have. But they have to exist across your organization, not just in your leader.

Image source


Jamie Notter said...

Thanks for giving voice to the more systemic view of leadership, Eric. I will agree with your last point as well, that the individual characteristics they mention ARE good for individuals to develop. That's a part of capacity building--it's just not the central core of "leadership" as you point out.

I find it interesting to think in a new, fresh way about what kind of personal development is tied to systemic leadership capacity. How does mindfulness help me build the system's strength? I think it does, in a very important way, actually, and I notice my own approach to personal development shifts when I connect it to system health.

Eric Lanke said...

I agree, Jamie. For me, mindfulness helps build the capacity for leadership when I remember to be mindful about how our system is working and how it can be improved. Too often, in the day-to-day rush to get things done we focus only on what's to be done, not how it gets done. By opening dialogue on the how with my staff I hope to be more mindful of the leadership system we're developing together and how it can best benefit the organization.

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