I count myself fortunate to be one of those individuals that is both idealistic enough and naive enough to believe that we can improve the world of leadership and leading one person at a time, and make a big difference for the better along the way.
This belief in a better approach built upon a foundation of solid values and supported by an attitude of serving is a binding force for those of us at Lead Change. While new to the group, I find the mission and the ideals powerful and important.
I learned from my parents that anything worth pursuing is worth working hard for, and this mission to change and improve the practice of leadership for the better is no exception. Progress will be measured in small steps over decades, and success is truly in the hands of our children and their children. However, those of us practicing leadership and supporting new leader development owe it to future generations to provide a solid foundation to build upon as they assume their responsibilities as leaders.
A Glimpse of the Future of Leadership:
In my recent essay, The Great and Perilous Leadership Journey Ahead, (a guest post at Tanveer Naseer’s blog), I shared a description of a young engineer that to me characterizes the challenges our next generation of leaders face in this always-on and interconnected world.
This engineer, a citizen of India, is working here in the U.S. for a German software firm with offices along the banks of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. He is responsible for leading a cross-functional team spanning four countries on three continents. Of the ten members of his team, only three report directly to him. If this weren’t challenging enough, this gentleman is a participant, not a leader, on two other global teams.
As I express in the Leadership Journey essay, the core practices and ideals surrounding effective leadership are timeless and universal, however, the context changes over time. Consider the staggeringly complex cultural, communications and motivation issues faced by my engineering friend. His work is several orders of magnitude more complex than many of our own early leadership roles. This style of business is increasingly the norm for many firms.
There are ample opportunities to create magic by working with a diverse, cross-cultural and globally distributed team. There are also a remarkable number of opportunities to flail and fail in this setting. Tomorrows leaders will be tested and challenged in ways that are perhaps difficult for us to relate to.
The Times Define the Leaders:
The times define the leaders and the challenges that upcoming generations face are considerable, even when compared against the backdrop of human history. From environmental to economic to geo-political forces to the distance and cultural issues faced by my engineer friend, I suspect that the next few generations will be fighting harder for peace and prosperity than any generation since the the one we named The Greatest.
In that spirit, I offer my attempt at guidance for our future leaders. Please add yours as well.
Nine Suggestions for the Next Generation of Leaders:
1. Always lead with grace, humility and strength. All at the same time.
2. Technical skills will help you earn a living. Leadership skills will help you make a difference. Learn to lead.
3. People and ideas are the motive power behind organizations. Harnessing this motive power is your goal as a leader.
4. The best leaders build their careers on a rock solid foundation of leadership principles that reflect fairness, strong values, unshakeable ethics and the recognition that leading others is a privilege. Build upon a solid foundation.
5. You will work and live in a world where leadership is interchangeable with followership. You will lead when your team believes you are the right person to help the team succeed, and you will need to follow when someone else is the best for the mission at hand. Learn to pivot between leadership and followership.
6. Your world will be nearly borderless, and while there is strength and opportunity in diversity, you must respect the differences and learn to manage and lead with and through them. Learn and appreciate cultural differences.
7. Your best opportunity to influence others as a leader will come from being influential. You will need to seek and cultivate power and influence. Do this fairly, ethically and always for the advancement of your organization’s cause, not your own.
8. From time-to-time, you will fail to live up to these lofty expectations and noble sounding points. The best approach for coping with failure is admitting your mistakes, dusting yourself off and moving forward.
9. Remember to make friends, share laughter and camaraderie and remember that the true joy in leading doesn’t come from numbers or successful programs, it comes from making a positive impact on the lives of those that you touch.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
I see glimpses of the future leaders in my sons and their friends, and in the students that I teach and I am encouraged. However, for those of us helping to build steps towards this future, our work is far from over. It’s time for us to redouble our efforts in support of creating the next generation of effective leaders. It’s time to lead change.