Thanks to technology, the pre-conceived notions of what it is to be a manager and leader have somewhat changed. You only have to look at the tech, marketing and advertising sectors to see how millennials are shaping the landscape. The number of tech start-up businesses founded in London last year, for example, increased by 14%. The increasing amounts of these ambitious small businesses and thus the role of a modern leader and the characteristics and skills that they now possess have altered, along with expectations of those in the workplace.
In Deloitte’s Redefining Leadership report, it highlighted that 72 percent of those surveyed indicated that there is a need for a new definition of what constitutes a leader is in today’s world. In this article, we delve into the skills required for the Modern Leader.
1. Open mode of communication
Today, your leader might be someone relatively younger than you. Now leaders may not be based on seniority, i.e. years within the company or within a certain sector, and thus, leaders may have direct-line reports that are older and, in some areas, more experienced than them.
Such leaders may have entered the game not so long ago, but one shouldn’t underestimate how they have come so far and how they will continue to disrupt the workplace, improve business operations and contribute to creating culture.
Swedish Marketing and Brand professional Babba C Rivera is a worthy example. Rivera is best known for her approach to adopting Uber in Stockholm and promoting lifestyle and luggage brand Away. She made the Forbes 30 under 30 list, for her work and has since founded her brand agency bybabba.
She did more than manage people; she created a company culture and fully adopted a vision.
By working from the ground up, resonating with people, communicating expectations and the overall vision, Rivera fully embodies the attributes of the modern leader.
Rivera is also the co-founder of HER USA, an empowering community of women supporting other women in the workplace. She has aptly tapped into her network further by using her influence to support female empowerment and lead by example.
Rivera is an innovator and influencer that embodies this contemporary leadership style; her level of transparency in work-ethic and communication defines this style.
2. Two-way learning is essential
The top-down leadership approach has commonly been associated with a persona that wants to direct as much as possible, whilst a more agile style is frequently aligned with start-ups that includes bottom-up ideas generation and project management.
Andrew Filev points out in his Forbes article Agile vs. Top-Down Management: Leadership Must Evolve as an Organization Matures, that the success of both leaders and managers is equally influenced by the maturity and style of an organization. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist.
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Start-ups are commonly associated with having leaders or visionaries that are completely connected to their employees and their day to day activities – usually because of a flat organizational structure.
It may also occur because it is easier for the start-up structure to stay in contact with fewer employees or employee’s jobs are less prescriptive and so forces greater communication.
In both instances, leaders that listen and take time to learn from their teams boost productivity.
Leaders that are also seen to be learning demonstrate to employees that leaders are also part of the evolution and development of the team and the company.
This receptiveness promotes inclusiveness and demonstrates empathy which has a positive impact on talent attraction and retention.
3. An empathetic ear nurtures connection
The attitude to active listening as an agreed soft skill essential for the workplace has changed dramatically.
Global leader, business maverick and philanthropist, Richard Branson shared in an interview with Motivated Magazine that, “In business, knowing how to be a good leader and always try to bring out the best in people. It’s very simple: listen to them, trust in them, believe in them, respect them, and let them have a go!”.
Leaders may not need to be overly involved in the operative aspects of business, but they do understand the team culture and the key challenges that prevent employees from making significant progress.
Branson is an example of this, thanks to his ability to listen to his people and reroute ideas, policies and practices accordingly. Throughout Branson’s years as an entrepreneur, he has frequently shown empathy.
In 2014 for example, Branson surprised staff that submitted innovative ideas for his Virgin Trains products. He promotes the importance of feedback and listening to employees.
4. Leading by example – the importance of authenticity
In a recent survey by Glassdoor, it was revealed that more than half of employees prioritize company culture and values over salary. This makes the mission statement of a company important, acting more than just a calling card but an active check-in point that the company should be adhering to.
Leaders must embrace core leadership and company values, influencing the behaviors of others and therefore contributing to the culture of the workplace. Here we refer to authenticity: do your company leaders reflect your corporate values?
US politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (commonly known as AOC) demonstrated authentic leadership throughout the US 2018 mid-term election campaign. She showed stellar commitment throughout each phase of the campaign, humility and a thirst for wanting to engage with people at all levels, starting with her own staff and sharing her vision with them from the start.
In short, she represented her message, making her not only authentic as a leader but relatable and trustworthy.
Leaders have a dream, direction or vision and see the bigger picture. This remains at the forefront of what they do and is trickled down to teams accordingly.
Understanding that leadership is critical not only to business performance but to the employees that work there, already indicates a shift in terms of how we perceive the Modern Leader.
5. The modern leader must think digital
Leaders that embrace change (digital and traditional methods) are more likely to create a larger impact in the workplace. As the way we learn and communicate continues to shift, so does the way people manage teams.
Visionaries will be quick to scan the overall landscape and be fully aware of the latest developments in their industry and even in others. Such leaders are conscious of the role they have in terms of driving transformation within the business. They have sensitive antennae, that allows them to stay ahead of the curve.
Similarities from other sectors are quickly recognized: in a fast-paced digitalized world trends tend to migrate to other fields.
Big Data enables leaders to create a clear image of the target they wish to reach and set a strategic approach for turning the vision into a reality.
Carlos Becil, SVP, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Coach Brand, a Luxury Fashion company, was one of five leaders that was asked in an interview with WWD, how do you stay ahead of trends, ahead of a market that is moving so fast?
Becil, who at the time was CMO for Equinox, responded, “I’m always looking outside of the fitness category for trends. We are in the service business, so I draw inspiration from luxury hospitality and retail brands, and by thinking about in-store and in-hotel experiences”.
Reflections on the Modern Leader
To reflect, an open mode of communication from leaders is beneficial within the workplace. This complemented by a two-way approach to learning, where the leader is active in the continuous process of development, is clearly significant. It is here that trust and respect are nurtured. Listening to others and embracing empathy in the workplace as a Modern Leader draws a connection with your employees and overall, and of course we all understand the importance of leading by example. Business leaders today must map the way and stay ahead of the curve.