Why Tomorrow’s Leaders Shouldn’t Mimic the Leaders of Today

by  Hollis Thomases  |  Leadership Development
Why Tomorrow’s Leaders Shouldn’t Mimic the Leaders of Today

I’m a big believer in leadership development. Early in my career, I had a manager who noticed my potential and nominated me for training programs that kick-started mine. Then, as a newly-minted entrepreneur, I joined peer-to-peer counseling groups such as Young Entrepreneur’s Organization (YEO) and my local tech council’s Executive Roundtable to help me continue to develop my skills. In the time since, I have belonged to other organizations, attended conferences, seminars, webinars, and worked with business coaches to work towards continual improvement. So there’s no denying that I’m an advocate for leadership development.

But leadership development does not necessarily mean following in the path of the leaders before us, and I believe that in today’s fast-changing world, this couldn’t ring more true. I won’t try to broad-brushstroke the definition of a leader – there are many types and leaders of small and large organizations alike. Some leaders are incredibly innovative and think far ahead of everyone else; others have rock-solid skills at building strong organizations and teams. I’m not suggesting that we should dismiss the capabilities of these leaders or not try to emulate them. What I am positing, however, is that we need to be looking beyond what we see and expect of “typical” leaders in this day and age.

Born, Made, or Something Else?

We all know the long-running debate: Are leaders born or made? I’m not going to try to tackle that one here. Instead, I’d like to discuss what I see our leaders of tomorrow needing. Leaders of tomorrow will not necessarily be people who rise up through the ranks of an organization, sticking to some long-held hierarchical path to achieve a pinnacle. The pace of our world frankly can’t afford the time for this kind of trajectory.

Leaders of tomorrow need to be nimble-minded, adaptive, and forward-thinking. They have to be able to anticipate and predict what’s coming down the pike and start moving their companies towards those changes before they get here. That means they have to be bold and brave, especially if they have investors. There’s no room for complacency. I think of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who always takes the long view, a long view which constantly focuses on innovation and efficiency, and yet he seems to be regularly vilified by Wall Street for losses or lower returns than they would like. As of this writing, Amazon’s stock price is $525 USD. I don’t see anyone hastening to dump Amazon stock.

Have the majority of leaders today mastered the art of change? To me it feels like quite the opposite. For tomorrow’s leaders, then, do we look for people who have more traditional leadership skills and a strong ability to change; or do we first look for these foresight and adaptation skills and then try to teach (or draw out) the ability to lead?

I feel so strongly that tomorrow’s leaders need to have the ability to see, adapt to, and even seek out change that I believe it needs to be a Top 3 criteria for leadership, particularly if that leader is being hired into an organization.

So how many leadership development and corporate mentoring programs themselves lead with how-to-change coursework? It’s about time the majority do.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to the leaders of today?
Photo Credit: Fotolia stockphoto mania

About The Author

Articles By hollis-thomases
Hollis Thomases is founder of ReinventionWorks, a centralized platform to empower people and businesses to take control of their next future through tools, education, support, and marketplace. Reinvention is a Choice™. Connect with Hollis on Twitter @hollisthomases or LinkedIn.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mike Henry Sr.  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hollis, thank you for a wonderful post and challenge. There are some of us from the “old school” who don’t recommend as necessity “sticking to some long-held hierarchical path to achieve a pinnacle.” Some pinnacles can’t be achieved any other way. But I definitely agree with you that career satisfaction seldom comes with a gold watch any more. It comes more from pursuing your best and highest ideal with talent, either innate or learned. That’s why I like to write about character-based leadership. Often the pinnacle you mention is a position and, at least to me, positional leadership drains. People want to join leaders who are moving and changing, rather than protecting a position, like you mention above.

Thanks again for a challenging post. You got me thinking, which is what I enjoy most about Lead Change! Mike…

Hollis Thomases  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thanks so much for the feedback, Mike! I do agree with your remarks. What I’d also like to get leaders (current and future) thinking about is that it’s up to them to break the system. As you say, “some pinnacles can’t be achieved any other way,” and that’s because the system has instituted achievement as such. Systems are great — don’t get me wrong, I’m a big systems person myself — but staid and unchallenged systems are a danger to both progress and retaining a competitive edge. I’d like to hear more about how leaders push their systems to change…which might even be to the detriment of their own power. Then, of course, the discussion becomes about is the pinnacle about true leadership or power. Oh boy, that’s a hot potato!

Mary C. Schaefer  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hi Hollis. We’ve corresponded about each other’s work, so you know I’m all about capitalizing on the human element at work. As I have been thinking about it lately, not only are leaders not taught that, it is not modeled to them. And there is another element, you cannot give what you don’t have yourself.

So, to your point, how can leaders adapt and lead through change if they haven’t learned or practiced it. Thank you for bringing this up in this way. Compelling.

Hollis Thomases  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

“…you cannot give what you don’t have yourself.” Bingo, Mary. You said it!

Bud Brown  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

The biggest single challenge today’s leaders face is first of all personal: are they willing to endure the pain required to lead their various organizations through the change management initiatives that are required to insure survival?

In this rapidly changing society – and the pace of change is accelerating – leaders must be adept change agents. But leading change exacts a significant personal price; it is very painful because the system will push back and try to maintain equilibrium.

Hollis Thomases  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Agreed, Bud. It’s a systemic problem. In case you didn’t catch my reply above to Mike Henry, Sr., you’ll see my point about that, too. Apply this context not just to business but also to government, and no doubt you’ll see why there are so many problems here in the U.S. (not to get political or anything; just pointing out the issue tends to exist wherever big systems do).

Michael Miller  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Really interesting points, Hollis. I recently read a great article in the New Yorker on leadership that made me rethink how we define leadership. It talked, in part, about leaders who came came up through the ranks and those who were brought in from outside. Worth a read. On the subject of change, we just completed a global research project with HR pros and “embraces change” was #4 on the list of traits they felt were most important for leader to possess. I don’t have a final report at this point, but if you’re interested, I’d love to send you a copy when I do.

Hollis Thomases  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Fascinating finding, Michael. Yes, I would really appreciate a copy of the final report when it’s done. You can email it to me: hollis@reinventionworks.com. Please reach out to me regardless. I’d love to chat about a few other things.

Paul LaRue  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hello Hollis,

As Mike said, a very good post that challenges our thinking!

I think that leaders are tethered to the previous generation of leaders, and while they innovate and change generation upon generation, there is that “older school” foundation that he incumbent wave of leaders starts from.

Without sacrificing principle and solid interpersonal truths, our leaders now may need to leapfrog a generation in their thinking and build their base from the next generation forward, instead of the prior one to today. We can learn from our past great examples, but times, application, and situations today’s leader face are more intricate and far-reaching.

All that said, you’re correct that leadership development must seek change and get ahead of the curve – even in developing leaders. Adaptability will rank even with credibility in the future wave of leaders.

Thanks for a great post Hollis!

Hollis Thomases  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thank you, Paul! I find your last statement thought-provoking: “Adaptability will rank even with credibility in the future wave of leaders.” Pausing for a moment (with my cynic’s hat on, mind you), I wonder if credibility will even rank as high as adaptability. I believe we’ve all seen our share of leadership with not nearly as much credibility as they ought to have…and yet, if they’re clever and *make claims* about being able to change an organization, they may yet get the job.
Change for mere changing’s sake is also not the solution, and change does not equal “fix.” (Department store chain JC Penney’s last failed attempt comes to mind)

So I like to go back to your word, Adaptability. I suppose to me the word implies an accommodation rather than something radical, and being radical isn’t always necessary to lead.

Joe Myers  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hollis…You are spot on! Having consulted to a number of organizations. I would offer that a challenge of paramount importance is what to do with ineffective “old school” leaders. Many organizations ineffectively attempt to inject change into their organizations by convincing themselves that they can effect desired change thru ineffective, worn out, old school leaders. Common result seems to be that the younger, hard charging employees leave for greener pastures. That said, be sure to keep in mind that the leaders at the top continually extol the strength, knowledge, enthusiasm, that their younger employees display, and they are truly the future of the company. Explain that disconnect? Keep contributing your insightful commentary…Joe

Hollis Thomases  |  29 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Joe, a few follow-up thoughts:

1) Your comment reminds me of something my Mega Reinvention 2016 Keynote speaker, Jim Lee, said in his presentation on The Future of Work. To paraphrase Jim, since Boomers — the oldest generation in the workforce — feel younger and are healthier than the generation preceding them, they feel they can work longer. Couple this with the fact that many of them don’t think they have enough savings to actually support a longer retired life, they also feel they NEED to work longer. So they don’t leave their long-standing positions at companies, which leaves very little opportunity for advancement among younger generations. As you noted, younger employees then leave for greener pastures. In the case of Gen Xrs, Jim said, many of them are leaving corporate America for entrepreneurial endeavors, and this flight is going to leave companies with a big doughnut hole of a brain drain when Boomers finally do decide to leave.

2) Take a look at this great infographic, The Generations in the Workplace: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CGZHzLpUcAEmHgQ.jpg. It really does also support your remarks/what companies ought to be concerned about.

Milton Ayala  |  27 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thanks Hollis,

You got me thinking this morning,

It reminds me of the old adage of some of these so called leaders , if is not broke – don’t fix it. It is my opinion that their mind set is what actually fails to innovate. Which is really not a bad thing for us, in fact it makes us more viable. :)

Hollis Thomases  |  29 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thanks for weighing in, Milton. IMHO, failure to innovate is closely tied to fear of failure for which much of traditional business doesn’t actually allow for.

There’s a quote going around I’ve seen a bit lately that’s attributed to Michael Jordan, the basketball great: “I can accept failure…[sic], but I can’t accept not trying.”

If you ask me, THAT’s the tone organizations (and leaders of organizations) need to put out there. Hey, I don’t like to get it wrong myself either, but I’d rather try, suffer the consequences, be corrected, and try again, then never try at all.

Calvin K. Lee  |  28 Feb 2016  |  Reply

I like your post. The world is changing so rapidly these days, and new leaders must adapt to change and their leadership style should reflect that and be flexible.

Hollis Thomases  |  29 Feb 2016  |  Reply

And I appreciate you dropping me this note! :-)

Courtney Gifford  |  29 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Good post. I agree with Joe Myers above in that a big challenge to innovation is the, “this is how it’s always been done” mentality. Leaders have power and expertise they achieved thanks to the status quo, and it makes sense that they would defend it against new ideas lacking the sure return of their tried-and-true methods. When you think about it that way, which many leaders do, you can see how younger, less experienced colleagues fail to implement any changes because they don’t have the clout to influence those who would hold on to the “standard process.” So, how do we go about changing minds that see change as a risk to the comfortable status quo?

Hollis Thomases  |  29 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thanks, Courtney. I responded to Joe’s comments, so try to read those, too.

To your remarks, I have an idea that I recently proposed to a university alumni organization I’m working with: I would love to see reverse mentoring (or perhaps call it mutual mentoring) programs put in place. I think younger people — “digital natives” — in the workforce have a lot to offer in terms of tech savvy and their particular world view. They lack the work-world experience that a seasoned veteran has. Pair the two together on equal footing (teach me, and I’ll teach you), and imagine what kinds of ideas these pairings could come up with!

If anyone out there reading this post is already doing this or knows of a company or organization that is, please contact me. I’d love to discuss this further, thanks!

Dennis Devaraj  |  01 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Great article and great thoughtful responses. Lot to learn from each response and adapt them in our daily work place.
I would go with a balanced approach, wherein you take the fundamentals from the older gen and take the innovations from the yournger gen, then mix it up to bring the balanced receipe. I have seen the older gen base their leadership on strong fundamentals like ethics, people, culture, experience, approach, etc, while the younger gen base their leadership on speed, creativty, out of box thoughts, technology, etc. When these are blended and implemented, it creates a strong leadership band. These are my few cents.
Will continue to read the responses and enrich my knowledge and understanding.

Thanks once again


Hollis Thomases  |  06 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Thank you for your contribution to the conversation, Dennis. A balanced recipe would, of course, be ideal. That gets me thinking about ideals and what interferes with them in the workplace environment, and that then makes me think of SILOS. So many people complain about silos in their work environment hindering progress and success. In the context of your balance recipe idea, I wonder too if there are “generational silos” in work environments that would also have to be challenged and broken down in order for balance (and progress) to be achieved? Perhaps all the more reason why today’s long-standing businesses, with their institutionalized processes and departments struggle the most to keep pace with change?

Emeline ALexis-Schulz, ABD  |  01 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Great post Hollis,
I share your opinion Mary regarding the importance of the human factor at work . Emotional Intelligence (EI) can also considered by some as an important predictor for leadership success. Leaders with high level of EI will adapt more readily to leadership expectations. Many scholars believe, Emotional intelligence (EI) is connected to leadership effectiveness because of the leaders’ ability to monitor his or her own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide their thinking and actions” (Salovey & Mayer, 1993, p. 443). These skills enable individuals to gauge accurately the effective responses in others and to choose socially adaptive behaviors in response (Salovey & Mayer, 1993). Hence, more organizations should hire leaders who practice and sharpen their Emotional Intelligence skills

Your thoughts!

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1993). The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence, 17(4), 433-442.

Hollis Thomases  |  06 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Intuitively, I agree, Emeline. ;-)

Dennis Devaraj  |  07 Mar 2016  |  Reply

I agree that there is a trap of people working in SILOS, and this is the biggest enemy of Participative Leadership. SILOS make leaders feel they are the greatest and also close themselves to receive from what other have to offer. They would like to get all the attention and recognition and will be more trying to close themselves from sharing their thoughts and ideas with others. This is dangerous, even when they need HELP, they will tend to struggle within themselves, rather than ask for HELP. This way they place their aspirations more than the organizational aspirations, which in other ways is determintal to the success of an organization.
But what I meant when I meant blend of older and newer generations, is that they learn from each other, they adapt to each other, they accept each other, they move in perfect synergy rather than with divisive energy. Both the generations feel valued for their contributions, both the generations bask in their successes, both the generations create a legacy and both the generations create value to the community. This way, it is not only the organization but also the surrounding community which gets enriched.
I would like to hear from you and others on what you feel about my thought process.


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