With the undercurrent of rapid change and increasing pressures in the workplace, it’s hard not to ignore the feeling as if we are running fast in a hamster wheel. We accelerate our pace, work more hours, juggle more priorities, but we’re not necessarily seeing different results.
As a leaders today, many of us choose to keep our heads-down and run faster, demanding more of ourselves and our teams and squeezing out every last ounce of productivity. Unfortunately, running faster is not the answer.
Employees are getting disengaged at alarming rates, customers are churning as disruption hits almost every industry and complexity creeps out of literally everywhere.
There are no old roads to new places, so in reality, we need to accept that we are operating in a new paradigm. One where the pace won’t slow down as the expectations and desires of our customers, employees and partners will continue to rapidly evolve. Just when you think you’ve solved one problem, 5 new ones emerge.
What we need is to rewrite the rules on leadership and find ways to not only lead through turbulent times, but to actually thrive and succeed. While none of the traits below are easy to change and practice, boiling down the top leadership qualities that leaders for this new age need to exemplify, the following key attributes are representative of leaders who thrive in this new paradigm:
1. Be Imaginative and Creative
The dynamics between creativity and business are ever changing in response to a hostile economic climate. Despite all pressure to work on the business and deliver for today, you need to remain very aware of the future and harness the creativity of those around you to paint a clear picture of the future and what must be done to be ready for it. You are not only focused on today, but also rather always challenge yourself and others to see things through different lenses.
2. Be a Culture Builder and Culture Shaper
You see company culture as part of your business model and as a core competitive advantage. You understand that shaping culture is not the job of corporate or HR departments, it’s yours! Given the choice between focusing on culture and strategy, you choose culture. To you, it is the single most important attribute of being successful for today and tomorrow. You know and understand why culture matters and work hard day in and day out to foster cultures that collaborate, connect and exemplify purpose.
3. Be Authentic
While this is likely the most over-used buzzword in business nowadays, there is a huge premium on leaders can continuously exemplify that they are human. People choose to be led by humans not titles or credentials. Through actions, you constantly remind people you’re human; true to your principals, you’re willing to admit mistakes and accept responsibility. Most importantly, you always show your own flavor of what makes you unique and connected. Authenticity does not get adapted from the latest leadership best seller. It means exercising your own unique style and perspectives.
4. Be an Eternal Newbie
Gone are the days where a leader is expected to have all the answers. You show insatiable curiosity and are always eager to learn from everyone around you. The notion of being the smartest person in the room is old-school. You know and openly acknowledge that your success depends on the collective intelligence of your people and want to learn as much as you can so you can bring out the best in people. You believe that curiosity and naiveté are critical conditions of leadership and you regularly put yourself in beginner mode, asking questions, soliciting help, and helping others develop.
5. Get Out of your Comfort Zone
We all like to spend time in our Comfort Zone. It’s the place where we feel in control, we know our strengths, can minimize our weaknesses. We can apply our previous experience to solve problems and handle most of what comes our way masterfully. You know that real growth occurs only outside of your comfort zone. You’re not afraid to stand apart from the crowd, to be different, and risk all for what you believe in. You develop their employees much the same way – by challenging them to take on new challenges, by allowing people to fail and make mistakes, but becoming stronger for it. The magic only starts at the end of your comfort zone
6. Be Respectful – Treat every person with warmth
Jerks always self-destruct one way or another. Being nice makes you a better leader. A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence and to lead is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. If you have an addiction to being right, break it. You show empathy and caring, treating every person you meet with the same enthusiasm you’d show if you met one of your heroes.
7. Balance and Emotional Agility
Have you ever stopped mid-way through writing a scathing email, realizing it might be the wrong thing to do? It is perfectly natural for any leader to feel anxiety about priorities, distress over perceptions or fear rejection. You don’t buy into or try to suppress your inner experiences. Instead you approach them in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way, developing what Susan David and Christina Congleton call emotional agility, develop the ability to recognize your patterns, label your thoughts and emotions, accept them, and act on them based on your values. People always appreciate and work better with those who are balanced emotionally and won’t “loss it” in the middle of a meeting.
If you’re a leader of a team or organization, what do you think about these eight traits? As an individual contributor, would you value these traits in your leader?