The Gaps in 21st Century Leadership
By Carol Butcher –
“There are huge gaps in leadership. Leaders are not delivering what people need in the organisation. Leadership needs to be more focussed on the relational areas, how leaders relate to their people, and how they relate to their stakeholders and build trust. This is not the focus currently; this is one of the big changes that need to happen,” says Metaco Director, and Talent Talks Lead: Talent Development, Barbara Walsh.
Leaders are traditionally developed through business school approaches such as MBA programmes. “These programmes provide candidates with an understanding of business, but this is not enough to carry them through in terms of leadership competencies and capabilities,” Walsh contends.
South African leaders have traditionally adopted a command and control approach to leadership: “The approach tends to be hierarchical – do what I tell you to do. If it’s not done ‘right’ first time, I’ll do it myself. This gets in the way of developing the people under them and does not result in very happy employees. People are not being stimulated, or grown to the degree that they could be.”
Business is changing from a command and control approach to a more collaborative style of leadership, globally: “There is a move away from silos where people protect their turf to sharing learning and resources. People are coming together to produce a gestalt, where the sum is far more than the individual parts. They are achieving more together than any of them can achieve alone.”
Walsh is working with companies locally and internationally, which are developing more of a coaching culture: “People are learning from each other at all levels; this does not mean that there aren’t leaders who have the ultimate authority and decision-making powers.”
Companies in Africa have also embraced a coaching culture: “A mining company in East Africa is growing and developing its workforce from the bottom up through collaborative leadership, collaborative learning and empowering their people. Sustainability is very high on their agenda,” she reveals.
Walsh says collaborative leadership is about leading from the heart as much as the head. It is also about appreciating diversity in its real sense: “It is about recognising each person as an individual, the uniqueness of each person. It isn’t about clustering people into a group based on religion, skin colour, or gender. It is about valuing each person for who and what they are and developing them accordingly.”
Going forward business needs to pay a lot of attention to their stakeholders and how they are meeting all of their stakeholders’ needs: “Here, we can learn from Brexit; we can also learn from Trump’s electoral victory. The populist vote is a result of leaders and governments not paying attention to what was happening on the ground. We can also learn from the BP Deepwater Horizon case. Commercial fishermen instituted a class action lawsuit which nearly sunk the organisation. BP had not considered them as stakeholders.”
Technology is also changing the world of work: “Many of the medium to lower level jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence. The kind of jobs in the future will be very different from the jobs we have today. It is not going to be about holding onto IP. It is about managing the liquid workforce. It is about managing people who are working gigs, rather than people who are permanently employed. A specialist may even work across a number of competitors. It is about being able to shift past harbouring information and knowledge to making knowledge freely available, and then it becomes about relationships. The relationships are what will to make the difference.”
Soft skills are important as they tie into relationships: “Leaders of the future need to have emotional intelligence, they need to be able to manage themselves as leaders, they also need to be able to communicate effectively, across all different levels, and a wide range of stakeholders and communities.”
General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of US and International forces in Afghanistan has written an excellent book entitled “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. “The book is about how the US military in Iraq had to adapt and become a team of teams: “The different parts of the military recognised, that unless they started to collaborate, al Qaeda was going to have the upper hand. Different parts of the military had to start talking to each other,” Walsh explains.
This also needs to happen in leadership teams, particularly Exco teams: “If it doesn’t happen at the top, it is not going to happen in the rest of the organisation. They have to be setting the example. The sum of the wisdom and intelligence that lies in that team is far greater than any individual has on their own. But then how do they start to mine that?”
Michelle Obama epitomises collaborative leadership: “She was not hamstrung by the political constraints that her husband was. What she did in fostering massive social change, in the States was huge. It is really about partnering. It is not about being a manager and an employee. It is about partnering to achieve our purpose, which is what an organisation exists to do. It is a big move away from individual leadership into collective leadership. It is about how the parts relate to each other.”
An organisation can have the best people and the best systems and still not make it: “In his farewell speech in 2015, John Chambers, the outgoing CEO of Cisco made the point that by 2020, 1/3 of organisations that are in existence today will not be here; such is the speed of change. It is the speed of adaptation that is needed and unless leaders can be geared for that and able to be agile in the strongest sense of the word, resilient to change and nimble, their companies will be left behind. It is about working in collaborative teams in service of a joint purpose taking into account who their stakeholders are.
Walsh concludes with a special message for Talenttalks readers: “It is not business as usual anymore. Tomorrow will be different to today, and every tomorrow will be different to every today. Make sure that you are planning for this in how you transition to new ways of developing your leaders and teams, and embrace new technology. Ensure that you’re looking ahead to the future, and that your innovation is not based on present perspectives, but on looking ahead to what the future will need from you.”