The future of effective leadership: Six guiding principles
‘New normal’ seems to be the phrase of the moment. But in truth, nothing ever really gets a chance to ‘normalise’ these days. In this Thought Piece we discuss the 6 guiding principles for the future of effective leadership.
So how can leaders…how can anyone at any level for that matter…effectively navigate new after new after new? In this piece, we want to discuss the future of effective leadership, which in fact we need right now. What follows are our six principles for the future of leadership against which you can ask yourself how you’re measuring up.
Our guiding principles for effective leadership are going to sound simple. But to get the most from these, you’re going to need to be brutally honest about where you’re at right now. And then you’ll need to be disciplined enough to get to where you want to be. Our Big Six are: purpose, strengths, humility, clarity, empowerment and evolution. Each of these principles is based on sound research on human psychology and behaviour, as well as leadership research and practice.
To lead effectively today, you need to be clear on your purpose and on the purpose of your organisation.
Are you clear on your personal purpose?
People crave meaning and higher purpose – so stand for something. From a personal point of view, ask yourself what do you want your contribution to society to be? What legacy do you want to leave? How will the world be different with you having been in it? Clear on your answers to those questions? Then great, the next job is to consider how to communicate your purpose simply and clearly, and we’ll come on to that. Not yet quite there? Then it’s worth digging into those questions to get clearer on your purpose.
What is your organisation’s purpose?
Now onto the purpose of your organisation. In a recent study at Columbia Business School by Gartenberg, Prat and Serafeim (2016), across 500,000 people and 429 organisations, the researchers found that companies who communicate a clear purpose as perceived by employees and middle managers report better financial performance over the long term. So it’s important for you, as a leader, to be clear on the purpose of your organisation, its function in the world and in society. And then to communicate this purpose consistently and clearly (we will come onto this later). In our view, this focus on purpose is going to become increasingly important over time as we all become more enlightened about the activities of organisations and more expectant of organisations being a force for good in the world.
As a leader, it is essential to know what you love, what energises you and to do that, more of that, but skilfully.
Know your leadership strengths
This needs keen self-awareness. Strengths are qualities that enable us to contribute uniquely in the world, in a way which no one else can. But it’s only when we know and understand our strengths at a conscious, deep level, and accept and internalise that these are us, and that means that we can’t be strong in all areas, that we can turn up to work authentically. And this is true for everyone, leader or not.
Limit your leadership risks
It’s crucial to know your risk areas too and to manage those effectively. What we mean by risks is twofold: firstly, areas that drain you and which you may therefore avoid or ignore, which may be detrimental to your performance if left unchecked. The second type of risk is a strength in overdrive. That is, a strength that has gone too far and isn’t delivering the outcome you want anymore. When you truly understand, accept and apply your strengths in your own unique way, as well as consciously managing your risks, you can start to lead skilfully, confidently and authentically.
“When you truly understand, accept and apply your strengths in your own unique way, as well as consciously managing your risks, you can start to lead skilfully, confidently and authentically.”
Paul Brewerton — YC Co Founder
Humility enables you to learn
To do this well, our advice is to stay curious, ask questions, always listen, and then listen some more. When you stay humble as a leader, you’ll also often challenge your assumptions, and not assume that you are right, or that what you thought was right before is still right now – keep evaluating the evidence and being prepared to be wrong…often. And own being wrong, apologise when you need to, wholeheartedly.
Humility enables collaboration
Humility provides a bedrock for effective collaboration – within and outside organisations – because when you’re humble, you’re more open to seeing where others’ strengths may lie and creating a partnering opportunity where you can both contribute something of value.
Beware humility in overdrive
Final point on humility – overdoing it may result in you diminishing the importance of your own contribution and elevating others’ contribution to the point where it can negatively affect your own impact. That’s a risk that needs managing. It’s not ok to lessen yourself to build others up…you can be humble while still staying equal.
Clearly communicate your purpose
Once you know your purpose, and the purpose of your organisation, it is absolutely worth doing the work to make sure that you can articulate your purpose clearly and confidently – it’ll take time and practice but will absolutely be worth the effort.
Honestly communicate your opinions and expectations
Another important point is to learn how to set clear expectations, give clear feedback and to speak your truth. Too many leaders end up over-complicating, or pulling back, from offering clear, consistent, simple messages – it doesn’t take much effort to think of a leader demonstrating this right now…they are everywhere. But having your opinion (even when summating the opinions of others) and confidently and simply stating your own personal view, is another important facet of effective leadership in an information-rich, complex, unpredictable world.
Our fifth principle for effective leadership is Empowerment – to create an environment and to practice behaviours which enable the strengths of others and empower them to be their best. Four tips for this:
Become an avid strength spotter
Get good at ‘strength spotting’ – pinpoint people at their best and tell them about the qualities that you admire and value in them.
Encourage people to go beyond their comfort zone
Find ways that people can stretch their strengths. In this way, they can increase their contribution by developing in areas where they have natural talents.
Create the conditions for ownership
People need to feel responsible and accountable for delivering results in areas of strength for them. Be clear on your expectations and ensure that your people hold themselves to account for delivery.
Be a coach
Ask questions, listen and help your people to make their own decisions about the best way to get a result, their way.
Evolution as personal growth and development
Continue to develop and grow, reflect, consolidate, integrate, keep learning. Try not to get too comfortable in your knowledge and experience set, there’s always something new to learn. And that will keep you sharp, humble and will enable you to predict the unpredictable that much more effectively, to horizon-scan and to identify early where you may need to change direction.
The right mindset to evolve your team and organisation
Self-evolution provides motivation for team and organisational evolution too. The open mindset that you develop through your own learning and development opens you up to noticing changes in your organisation’s context. This allows you to continue to build your team and organisation to be flexible enough to deal with change, ultimately staying ahead of the change and becoming truly change-able.
And now put those principles into action
Those are our six guiding principles for effective leadership for the future, for now, and for yesterday. To get the most from them, ask yourself on a scale of 1-10, how well you’re delivering each right now – you’ll be higher on some and lower on others. Make sure that you take action on both…strengthen your strength areas by stretching them further. And find ways to get closer to a 10 in those areas where you find it less straightforward. Good luck on your journey. It may be long….lifelong in fact, but it’ll be well worth it.
Gartenberg, C. M., Prat, A., & Serafeim, G. (2016). Corporate Purpose and Financial Performance. Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 16-69, Retrieved from https://repository.upenn.edu/mgmt_papers/274