The Face of Leadership is Changing

God is good! I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to participate in the Project Diversity Leadership Program which focuses on providing participants with the leadership experience and training needed to become effective board members in the non-profit sector. We have orientation tonight where I’m sure we’ll get to meet each other and begin to capitalize on the amount of brilliance in the room.

However, we had homework first. We have been asked to read an article entitled “Today’s and Tomorrow’s Leaders” by the Harvard Business Review. Here are my biggest takeaways and insights.

We might not recognize the leaders we really need because of who they are, where they’re from, or how they behave.

  • The definition of leadership is changing as the world is shrinking. Companies need to recognize that leadership isn’t always directly transferable to other parts of the world.

The war for talent in these countries is fierce, so the name of the game is finding individuals with leadership potential, sometimes in unconventional places, and preparing them for senior positions.

  • The example given was of the African National Congress and the leaders that emerged during the fight against apartheid

You don’t launch an revolution without leadership and organization.

Leadership is about making emotional connections to motivate and inspire people, and our effectiveness at doing this has strong cultural overtones.

  • Next we hear about the story of HCL, an Indian-based information technology company which focuses on attracting the best talent in India and providing them with leadership opportunities to be innovative. Each sub-unit in the company competes for internal funding to support their ideas, thus allowing them to take on more ownership within the company.

Since necessity is often the mother of invention, I suspect some of the more disruptive leadership practices will come from those parts of the world. And I don’t doubt that over time, more top executives will as well. Right now, though, I fear that some of the most-promising global leaders remain largely invisible to us, just as many have long been invisible in their own countries. p. 3

  • We then are introduced to the idea that different markets have different limitations to leadership; they may be implicit in developed areas and explicit in developing areas. Some people aren’t recognized as leaders because of circumstantial attributes (e.g. race, gender, SES, etc.) vs. some are just overlooked based on their personality.

It’s also becoming clear that today’s complex environment often demands a team approach to problem solving. This requires a leader who, among other things, is comfortable sharing power and generous in doing so, is able to see extraordinary potential in ordinary people, and can make decisions with a balance of idealism and pragmatism. p. 3

“A leader, [Nelson Mandela] said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” p. 3

To me, this take on the shepherd image embodies the kind of leader we increasingly need: someone who understands how to create a context or culture in which other people are willing and able to lead. p. 3

  • Basically, a good leader creates opportunities for others to utilize their natural abilities so that they can lead at different times in their areas of strength. They have to be proactive and recognize their own talent in order to have the courage to step up and lead.
  • I think it’s very interesting that the age of leaders keeps coming up in conversation. At IBM, they started something called the World Development Initiative in which volunteers from across IBM came together to end poverty through global business development. Most of these folks were in their 20’s and 30’s. What a coincidence, eh? And the leader basically let them run their own show. Got to give the people what they want!

There’s one area in particular that calls for leading from behind, and that’s innovation. By definition, you don’t know exactly where you want to go. And innovation is almost always a collective process, the harnessing of the creative talents of a diverse group. p. 5

The people on the teams we’ve studied are often stars in their own right, and if you try to lead them from the front, they simply won’t follow. You have to create an environment in which they are engaged and in which the collective talent of team members is tapped by having everyone take the lead at some point. p. 6

“You have to create a world in which people want to belong.” One key is getting the stars that you’ve brought together to realize that their collective output can be more than the sum of their individually impressive parts. p. 6

If we’re trying to identify people who can lead from behind, we must be on the lookout for other indicators- for example, the extent to which individuals on a leader’s team are taking risks or the willingness of leaders to ask for help from the people on their team. p. 7

I’m not saying that if you simply go out and find the right people, your leadership problems will be solved. It’s not just about selection; it’s about development. Leaders of the future must be nurtured by their leaders, who need to make space and provide opportunities for their team members to grow and lead. p. 7

People may also acquire lead-from-behind skills working in volunteer settings. p. 7

The people on this team are inspired by its ultimate mission and aspire to get where they need to go, whatever the path they collectively end up taking. p. 7

  • Overall, leaders are not born. They are developed. And then they are given a chance to unleash their potential. Leaders develop other leaders.

About Ernest Levert Jr.

Aspiring Servant-Leader studying engineering principles, financial stewardship, business management, and psychology fundamentals in order to cultivate passionate leadership, disseminate positive energy, uplift the community and ultimately create a brighter future for generations to come.
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