Never before have we needed more true and honest leadership to manage the complexity of our current business world. The reality is that leaders in organisations today have to cope with so much – not just long days, never-ending to-do lists and fighting the balance between short term demands versus longer term strategic direction but also the fragmentation of their teams, virtual working, dis-connection, the unpredictability of their marketplace, their business, the insecurity of their jobs.

We need 21st century leaders – but what kind of people do we wish to have at the helm?

In the press we read about self-serving executives, seemingly disconnected from their stakeholders, both internal and external.  One such topical case is that of Centrica, owner of British Gas which expects shareholders to back a proposed pay rise of 44% for CEO Iain Conn – to GBP 2.42 mn in spite of poor first quarter earnings, worrying customer churn rates and concerns about pension deficits.  What signal does that set for  Centrica’s employees and investors?

In times of uncertainty, what we most desire is some constancy and trust in who is steering the ship yet the corporate landscape doesn’t always afford shelter in the way it did in the past.  Reorganisations, mergers and buyouts are frequent, with changing teams and leaders. The Edelman Trust Barometer tracks trust in nations across the world and shows an alarming decrease in public trust of government and businesses. 

The majority of respondents in the 2018 survey thought that companies that only think about themselves and their profits are bound to fail and that CEOs are more driven by greed than a desire to make a positive difference in the world. 

The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) context in which we operate seems to promote a frenzied, unstoppable drive to acquire by doing.  Yet we are called again to remember that we are human beingsafter all. This simple four pillar approach to learning* underpins the work we run to develop 21stst century leaders:

  • we need to learn how to be,
  • how to be together,
  • how to know,
  • how to do.

How then do we develop 21st century leaders not just to manage but to thrive in such a context? It is not to dictate a list of competencies that need to be learned – to focus only on “skilling up” as we’ve heard some Learning and Development managers put it.  We note that when people think about the best leaders they have worked with, they reference qualities such as forward-looking, visionary, inspirational, trustworthy, authentic, credible, humble.

In the 21st Century leadership development work we run, we encourage people to bring forth their best by engaging actively with complex challenges.  This will happen when they find a sense of purpose in doing so and are therefore motivated to apply themselves – to “lean into” the messiness and all this involves, trusting in their own wisdom and insights as well as that of their colleagues.   

The pathway to learning and growth starts with being aware, to be able to reflect at the same time as doing.  It’s a rare capacity today and yet widely regarded as the necessary condition towards mastery and wisdom.  

What leadership qualities are you growing in your organisation? To support you to develop the right kind, get in touch below!

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