Recently, the CEO of a company shared, “I want to improve as a leader but there are so many theories and books out there on how to develop your leadership skills – it’s mind spinning.” Leadership is different today than in the past. Pinpointing how it’s different is the challenge. Leadership is made up of core dimensions essential to success that are enduring such as integrity, genuineness, consistency, transparency and modeling what you preach. Today’s leader needs to develop additional traits to be skillful in the 21st century. What are some of these emerging characteristics?
Ability to build diverse teams – Diversity is not just about cultural and demographic differences. It’s about assembling a team that thinks differently from each other, challenges each other and is willing to find common ground. Research indicates that diverse teams may take longer to get to know each other and take action initially. However, innovation is more likely to happen when diverse groups learn to work together. The CEO and other leaders in a company need to set communication guidelines, make sure all team members are heard and challenge complacency together.
Adaptability – is the capacity of an individual, organization or system to adjust to external demands in a changing environment. An adaptive leader anticipates trends. He sees new patterns of behavior shaping the marketplace and uses his ability to problem solve or leverage opportunities to his advantage. While leading SABRE for American Airlines (its electronic reservation system), Terry Jones and his team saw the opportunity to cut out the travel agent by providing customer access to its electronic reservation system. Jones was part of the team that started Travelocity and is considered to be one of the pioneers of web-based disintermediation.
Agility – involves the capability of a leader to engage their team to stay nimble and act quickly in fast-paced environments. The highest performing organizations are quick to identify opportunities and dismantle structural or cultural barriers that impede effective execution of strategies and plans. Companies that install restrictive policies and procedures (too much bureaucracy) can miss opportunities to be agile and competitive. “Learning agility” has become a key leadership competency that organizations look for in hiring the right people. In her book, Becoming an Agile Leader, Victoria Swisher defines learning agility as “the willingness and ability to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first time conditions” (p.15).
The leader today and in the future needs to focus on how to work with diverse groups to maximize creativity and innovation, to look for unique ways to anticipate trends, and to be nimble and quick in responding to opportunities. On an individual level, learning new things is not good enough; the learning needs to be applied to new and different situations.