We Need a New Breed of Leader
The leadership mindset that led us into the global economic downturn is not fit for the purpose of leading us back out again.
Recessions encourage cautious mindsets, resulting in refrains such as, “Batten down the hatches, let the storm blow over, it’s not a time for taking risks, let’s just make sure we are still standing at the end of this – we’ll be in good shape to start again.” And, “Sorry, there’s no budget for people development. Not the right time to explore new means of production. Not possible to invest in innovation initiatives.” These leadership mantras have become engrained in the psyche of many a business culture during the last five or six years.
Leadership mindsets have themselves become victims of the downturn. The focus on cost reduction and the bottom line has stunted many leaders’ abilities. The question is, how easily will they be able to shift into a frame of mind that embraces growth, change and innovation. Some who once had visions of new and exciting futures have resorted to being excited by ‘making budget’.
This is not the role of leaders. There are enough skilled CFOs and Cost Controllers out there who are paid well to keep their focus on the numbers. The leaders who will move businesses out of the torpor of recent years to be tomorrow’s successes, will need to identify talent, encourage curiosity, stimulate innovation and cultivate a creative culture of engaged and excited people. Clinging to the mast while riding out the storm merely results in stagnation, and if you have been clinging on too long, you may wish to consider handing over the wheel to someone with fresh ideas.
So, what is required from leaders to propel our businesses into the post-recession era. Here are some pointers to the mindsets that will separate the most successful leaders from the rest.
- Recognition that old economic models are on the wane and an open mind on new ways of doing business.
- An ability to create dreams and visions that young people want to follow. Leaders need to engage the next generation by speaking their language and engaging with their values. That means embracing social media, new technology and global collaboration methods, and recognising the growing trend for addressing sustainability, environment and world poverty while solving business problems.
- A desire to place personal development and growth at the top of the benefits package and recognise that it is not just money that attracts and encourages talented people to want to work and stay with organisations.
- Comfort with lack of control. Creative collaborations in the future will rely on new technology, virtual communities, partnerships, decentralisation, remote working and greater levels of trust.
- Genuine curiosity. Ask great questions – and encourage everyone to ask great questions. By getting curious, you break down the ‘closed’ knowledge culture that bedevils many organisations. Henry Ford was faced with shaking heads from his senior team when he asked them how they could speed up the car plant’s conveyor to keep up with growing demand for his new automobile. They told him that they had looked at it and it was not possible. Frustrated by their inward looking ‘closed’ response, he famously asked them to, “… go find me a 19-year old who doesn’t know it can’t go any faster!”
- A desire to identify successor(s) early. Start the search for your successor as soon as you arrive. A leader’s job is not to get comfortable in the corner office, and settle in for the long haul. It is to cultivate the next generation of leaders, and move on, leaving the organisation in better shape than when they arrived.
The challenge for the current crop of leaders will be adapting their way of thinking from caution and prudence to creativity and growth. For many, who have navigated a safe and risk-free course through the recession, this will be the legacy that defines them. It’s not easy to switch your mindset and style overnight, but only those who can will be capable of claiming their place amongst the new generation of post-recession leaders.