The Evolution of Leadership


In recent years, business leaders across the world have been put through their paces. From dealing with a global pandemic to the rising cost of living, not to mention a series of geopolitical conflicts, it takes a special kind of talent to be a leader these days. On top of all these challenges, the workforce is changing in ways that are difficult to keep track of.

How exactly is leadership evolving among this volatile, erratic and ever-changing world? What does a future leader look like?

To answer these questions, it is important to acknowledge the three biggest challenges facing leaders today.

1- Engagement

We expect leaders to engage with their people. After all, we hear most people don’t quit jobs. They quit their managers.

The phenomena of the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’ (working to rule) have caused a headache for leaders. Such issues can be mitigated with better engagement, by making the employee feel valued and giving them a sense of purpose. Leaders must also clearly communicate the company’s values and what it stands for.

For now, the best talent has a range of options open to them. Strong employer branding is critical, but when a good candidate gets to the final stage of an interview, they want to feel a chemistry with their future boss. They also want to see that you respect the well-being of the team and are giving them plenty of opportunities to unleash their potential and develop their strengths.

2- Managing Team Cohesion

Keeping your team together has been made more testing with the advent of hybrid working – a model that is being adopted by a growing number of companies.

Traditional team structures no longer apply. Those who have taken a role such as ‘office manager’, for example, now find they must develop a new set of skills to manage remote workers. How do they communicate effectively with people who are not physically together? How do they keep staff motivated? How can they monitor performance?

The aim should be to maximise effectiveness by introducing the best tools for remote collaboration. From a leadership point of view, it is essential to develop a sense of belonging among the team, as well as a more diverse network to encourage innovation.

3- Establishing Trust

Rapid global transformation means leaders operate in a totally different context than they did, say, twenty years ago. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to dealing with younger generations within the workforce, who have a set of expectations unfamiliar to older colleagues.

Sometimes, the younger generation speak in a language we don’t understand because they have grown up in a much more connected, diverse, competitive and conflicted world than previous generations. Today’s leaders should take time to understand what motivates young people rather than simply dismiss them. We should be open and humble, always remembering that what brought us here won’t take us there. Avoid being or even resembling an authoritarian, which has proven to be an obsolete and ineffective style of management.

Modern leadership paradigms

So, how can current leaders adapt and respond to these challenges in a way that has a tangible and positive impact on their employees?

Leaders need to display a healthy level of honesty and transparency. They should also aspire to learn from the team, rather than adopt a top-down approach. They should focus on the ‘why’ and create opportunities for individuals to develop their skills and talents. That said, they will inevitably have to communicate what they don’t want to happen or give negative feedback. Leaders still need to be assertive.

This model works well when leaders have a high degree of autonomy. It can be more challenging when they are instructed on how to lead from higher up. That is why it is crucial for leaders at all levels to understand how to lead in an inclusive and pragmatic way without compromising their integrity.

Another need is to develop a strong awareness of the digital landscape, particularly when using data. Managers are bombarded with data, so the challenge is to somehow make sense of that data in a way that translates into good decision-making. Artificial Intelligence can do some of the leg work, but having a high level of data literacy certainly helps.

It is important to be both practical and pragmatic when navigating data and the digital world in general. You need to change your methodology to reflect the new ways of working, while selecting digital tools that foster team collaboration in your own style.

Social media is yet another issue that leaders need to get to grips with. While social media management is something that can be left to the team, leaders must be aware of its impact on their work and how their company is viewed by the world outside. Nonetheless, leaders should not get too distracted by it.

Keep learning

The best leaders acknowledge there is always something to learn. Thankfully, there are some simple steps they can take to develop a skillset that is relevant and aligns with the demands of the modern workplace.

You just have to embrace evolution, both in terms of style and your use of technology. Remain curious and always make space to learn. Managers tend to procrastinate their learning because they say they lack the time, but they must do it. Whether that’s through formal training, coaching or being mentored, focus on developing the skills you are missing. It’s also worth considering ‘reverse’ mentoring. That’s when you get mentored by a junior colleague who may have a much better understanding of modern thinking or the latest technological release.

Leaders should also learn to accept and welcome feedback. Listen to people and always ask if there are problems or if they need support. Showing humility and openness will encourage colleagues to open up when they have problems, which always benefits leaders in the long run.

A portrait of tomorrow’s leader

What traits should the perfect future leader embody? Here are just a few:

Humility: reflect that only others can recognise you as a leader
Receptiveness, empathy and self-awareness: understand yourself and others
Creativity: innovate, plan for the future and improve performance
Audacity: dare to get started, take risks and embrace responsibility
Assertiveness: take action, reassure and convince others
Integrity: take ownership of your actions
Endurance: maintain consistent effort over time

This trend is already inspiring transformation across leadership development programs, which now focus on the whole person.

The evolution of leadership continues, and nobody can afford to ignore it.

Should you wish to develop your leadership or the skills of your teams we invite you to contact our experts.