Leaders don’t always get a good press and historical precedent is not a good place to look if you want to identify the profile of a leader in 2019. History tells us that leaders must be autocratic, distrusting, forceful, aggressive and uncompromising – like Alexander the Great, Rommel, Lenin or Mao Tse Dung. The rewards of great leadership in history are not amazing, either: Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, and Ghandi were all classed as great leaders; and unfortunately were all assassinated. In business, leaders are unlikely to suffer the same fate; but we also know that leaders cannot follow the examples from history if they want to be successful. So what leadership skills do global leaders need in 2019?
Organizations need to look to the future
Using the example of soccer, one of the most important leadership traits has to be a realization that the role is not a permanent one. In the UK Football Championship, the average team manager lasts 0.86 years.
Business is not quite as ruthless, but in our VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) large organizations are becoming more risk-averse.
This means they are investing more time and effort into talent planning and talent succession. A leader, therefore, needs to be able to identify the skills and potential in others around them.
The ability to discern talent is not just important for succession planning. Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” A leader needs to be able to know who the smart people are in the organization, enable them to do their job and nurture them for future leadership.
Nurturing talent makes sense
Smart people need to know the organization trusts them in their job and that they have potential to develop as people. That means they need to see that their leaders are preparing future leadership roles for them, that the solution to every vacancy isn’t to bring in someone from outside, but to use the talent the organization already has. This is particularly important, as the last few years have seen the war for talent intensify.
A report in Global HR review states that it takes on average 71 days to replace a senior leader. If you, as a leader, already know who has potential and who has the skills to succeed you, or other leaders, then you gain 71 days on your competition. And as a bonus, an internally promoted candidate knows the culture, the processes and the structure, so the bedding in process is much quicker too.
The Peter Principle
The standard skills portfolio of a leader will be based around their technical competency. The Peter Principle states that too often people gain promotions one grade beyond their level of competency in their job. This means that we must start with leaders who are beyond basic technical competency. They need to be an example for their team, even if they also need to be able to sit back and let the smarter ones do the majority of the operational work.
But the hardest part of leadership is not technical – it’s the interpersonal element. The soft skills.
The populist revolution and erosion of trust
The digital revolution that is happening all around us has given business unprecedented tools to increase productivity, efficiency and performance. With 50% of the world’s planet regularly online, a webpage, tweet or Instagram post from the smallest of businesses has access to the same market share that Unilever or General Motors have at the same basic cost. Nevertheless, the digital transformation has a hidden cost.
The last few years have witnessed a catastrophic loss of faith in “the establishment.” Even to the extent that Facebook is now considered the establishment. Our data has been sold, misused and used to sell us. What used to be the tool to unlock knowledge and break down borders has aroused cynicism and disillusionment. The adage of the second decade of this century is that “if it’s free, you are the product.” We have lost trust in authority; we want to find our place in the world, but we don’t know where to start.
In business terms, the leader of 2019 must be the starting point for trust.
Not all trust is the same
If you want your team to work effectively, as a leader, they need to be able to trust you. And your team is not just those people you see on a day-to-day basis. Your team is virtually connected to you from any location your organization works in. You need to be able to develop virtual leadership skills:
- Performance management
None of these skills will surprise leaders. The 2019 leader needs to ask themselves:
Can I motivate someone I only see once or twice a year? Can I mentor someone I meet in a video conference on Fridays? Am I capable of solving the problems of someone from a culture I just don’t know?
The leader as a stabilizing influence
These are the real challenges of 2019. Your team has the same needs as a team 20 years ago, but they have the added insecurity of a world that does not respond in the same way.
The leader is the common factor in the team and is the one who gives the team identity and purpose.
Whether you are leading a small team of three or four specialists or whether you are the CEO of a huge organization, you are the one the team looks to for their identity and purpose.
To complicate matters, you need to do it on a Skype call, in an email, or during a web meeting. The nature and process of earning, building and maintaining trust has changed as we live and work online.
So what does a 2019 leader look like?
This makes the profile of the 2019 leader a brand new proposition. We have learned to see through “marketing brochure charisma” – teams want authenticity, transparency and integrity. In a list of 16 leadership skills, Forbes rates the ability to “earn trust” as number two. The emphasis is on “earn” – it is an active process.
Leaders who rely on their position and hierarchical structures to inspire trust are a soon-to-be extinct species. The #MeToo movement has highlighted too many men who have used their position and titular authority to abuse trust. Authenticity in earning trust is hard work. We have talked for a long time about Millennials changing work culture. This is even more valid of Gen Z. 62% of Gen Z report valuing “helping others” as an essential characteristic of a trusted brand. Gen Z values diversity, considers everyone an equal, and avoids “fake” identities.
The 2019 leader is a people person, who models selfless hard work. They don’t ask for trust, the people around it give it to them because they work hard to keep that trust. The 2019 leader has developed leadership skills to engage virtual and co-located team members in the same way, and they have a constant eye to empowering their team to grow and develop.
Not a radical, but radically different
The last few years have seen a VUCA mentality dominate. The 2019 leader is not a radical. However, the profile of the 2019 ideal leader is radically different from what has been seen before. The 2019 leader is going to be much closer to their team and working much harder to foster an effective team culture – particularly with remote/virtual colleagues. If Millennials are the first digital natives, Gen Z will be the first virtual native generation. Leaders need to work now to master virtual interpersonal leadership skills to remain relevant.