The study of leadership is not new. Countless theories abound regarding just how 'to be a leader'. Most of which are enticingly wrapped in 'seven easy steps' or 'five essentials' that promise quick-fix answers to what it is to be a leader. "Such publications are consumed with relish, yet appear to have had little impact as we hurtle into a century that guarantees nothing but change, uncertainty and the promise that yesterday's success will count for little in tomorrow's world," says TomorrowToday.biz Director of Story Telling, Keith Coats.
"Few would argue that our old paradigms need to change, that yesterday's answers will not provide the way forward, and that the trustworthy maps and familiar territories of the past have little use for the territories that beckon. The need to rewrite our maps and create new reference points is as essential as it is urgent."
What then of these new constructs that require urgent attention?
Rewriting our maps
Firstly, there is the need to recognise that the nature of organisations is changing. Yesterday's world of big business had the DNA of set structures, predictable environments and one in which 'things' could be measured, controlled and managed. A 'one size fits all' mentality towards leadership and managing people predominated. In fact for many years the prevailing maxim of management stated: 'Management is getting work done through others'.
Experience counted more than ability and respect was guarded in role, title and position. Status symbols and entitlement were the benchmark of seniority. Decisions and responsibility was easily deferred, innovation and creativity lost in a belief that the current formulae worked best.
Several forces came together during the last decade of the previous century that were forever to change the way in which we do business. The massive downsizing of the early 1990's created a surplus of capable, resourced people who had little option but to embark upon new careers of entrepreneurship. This trend was further aided by the emergence and availability of technology and software that created 'virtual offices'.
The fundamental DNA of organisations has therefore had to change. Today survival and success are dependent upon speed of response, relationship, an understanding of the core of what drives the business, adaptability and innovation. Developing this DNA is not easy, painless nor instantaneous. But then neither is developing this DNA optional!
Coats poses the question that if the very nature of the organisation is changing, what then of leadership?
He explains that it is obvious that the kind of leadership that worked in the old style organisation will not be sufficient in the emerging organisation. "No longer does 'leadership by decree' carry the day. Gone is the automatic respect that came with title and rank."
In the world of tomorrow, leadership needs to reorganise and recreate itself in such a way that it recognises the new environment in which it serves. This change is fuelled in part by the new breed of workers that are emerging. Generational Theory teaches that there are major value differences that underpin the respective generations. It is these differences that lead to real conflict within current structures.
A learning culture
Understanding leaders as, 'storytellers' is not out of place in this new terrain. Storytellers will hold organisations of the future together: they will be the ones who weave the magic and invoke meaning and purpose.
"How they do this will in part be achieved by asking significant questions. They will share information; create space; nurture evolution throughout the organisation; and facilitate networking. They will understand the importance of synthesis rather than simple analysis, of recognising patterns - trying to stay curious rather than certain. They will embrace diversity and relish the challenges of exploration and invention. They will readily acknowledge and recognise their own peculiar lens through which they interpret the world around them and then strive to add to that framework where it limits, reduces or impinges on a wider vision. In short they will be 'learners' rather than experts," explains Coats.
"Leadership into the future will be about relationship. Understanding this will require that leaders change what they pay attention to within their organisation. Their agenda will shift from being one that focused on forms, structures, tasks and controls, to one where there is a fundamental focus on the things that determine and drive relationships."
The 'new' questions asked will be ones such as: Do people here know how to listen and speak to each other? Do we respect and embrace diversity? Do we live out our organisational values and purpose? What does trust look like among us? Can people speak truthfully? Is innovation and collaboration honoured? Do people have access to one another and to information throughout the organisation? In what ways are we learning from one another, the system, and the network?
Coats says that this is a tough transition and moving from a predictable world to a process world is not easy or even natural. It requires the kind of leader who understands this transition as one which Kellner-Rogers describes as, "I start anywhere and follow it everywhere".
Keith Coats is a director of TomorrowToday.biz, an organisation that helps companies identify the mega trends that will impact the people connected to their business - employees, customers and partners. Coats is a recognised expert on leadership development and a facilitator, executive coach and futurist.
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