Culture is back on the leadership agenda as organisations struggle to adjust to the rapidly evolving values and behaviours of their workforces, stakeholders, and customers. Executive teams are finally embracing culture not as a soft, nice-to-have element but as a hard and measurable component of their business that directly drives performance, reputation, and retention. This thought paper explores how organisations are acquiring a new understanding around leadership and are redefining the capabilities required to be a leader within their organisations.
It is hard to imagine that more than 130 years after Fedrick Taylor published the first thinking on business management there could be anything new left to write about leadership. However, over the last decade there has been a fundamental shift in our understanding of this term. Today, the most progressive companies globally promote the non-conformist idea that anyone within the company can be a leader. This moves away from historical models of either a) leaders at the top and workers at the bottom, or b) leaders as those with deep organisational knowledge. This simple concept changes everything. Organisations evaluating candidates for leadership roles should be reviewing not how much subject matter expertise they have or their years of experience but how they have had a positive, measurable impact on organisational culture and what potential difference they can make to it in the future.
“Specialist leaders remove ego and offer their service to others”
This disruptive shift away from the SME leader and towards the specialist leader is creating a new breed of generalists with flexible, transferable skills that enable them to successfully lead teams regardless of industry or subject area. It is also changing the way in which junior employees are mentored and developed.
SME managers are trained to develop mini versions of themselves, whilst specialist leaders are experts in nurturing each employee’s unique potential and developing them to have skills and capabilities that often go beyond those of their leader. Specialist leaders remove ego and offer their service to others, as opposed to “conqueror” managers who demand service from others.
Authentic leadership requires a unique blend of hard analytic skills to understand strategy, organisational culture and objective setting combined with the empathy, emotional intelligence and coaching skills necessary to motivate employees at an intrinsic, purpose-driven level towards the organisation’s goals.
Leadership by design
Beyond leadership characteristics, leader role design is a key enabler for senior staff to have organisational impact. Leadership roles must be designed to be inclusive and equitable. The antiqued idea that as someone goes up the hierarchy they are expected to work more hours and make more sacrifices for their career is unfortunately still prevalent in many organisations. The often-lamented phase “that’s why they pay you the big bucks” typically reflects a broken, outdated, exclusive model that is unsustainable and unhealthy. Sadly, it is these unrealistic work expectations that often discourages the best candidates from aspiring to leadership roles and who ironically are also the future leaders capable of correcting these unhealthy work habits.
An evolved model of leadership promotes leaders who value outcomes and team above all else and who are impatient with need for busy work, face time or unnecessary work-family trade-offs.
- Review how leadership roles are designed within the organisation. If the articulated role description can only be accomplished with an 80-hour work week then leaders are likely being set up to fail.
- Evolve the organisation’s leadership capabilities by setting clear, smart expectations and goals for leaders.
- Integrity matters – leaders should earn their respect through leading by example.
- Think differently about leadership roles – can the role be done part-time or job-share?
Meet the authors
Barcley Consulting is a boutique management consulting firm focused on helping corporates and government with strategy, innovation and execution.
For more information on their other publications please visit www.barcley.com.au