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.

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