The changing face of leadership

The dust has settled and New Zealand has settled back into life after the election, we have voted, made our political statement and gone back to whatever version of normalcy we all live.

This isn’t a political broadcast or to demonstrate my political allegiance to a particular party, but the public demise and poor performance of David Cunliffe and the Labour Party respectively made me reflect on the power, opportunities and ultimately the challenges and pitfalls we can all face as leaders in business if we don’t stay connected to our people or market.

As the marketplace increasingly becomes more competitive, fast moving and change is the constant norm of every workplace and industry, how we as leaders adapt to ensure that not only our organisation, but our people are best positioned for success and performance is a significant and daily challenge.

In a global paper by Korn/Ferry International “Building the Leadership Skills that Matter” it identified that the emphasis on the skills needed by leaders is changing. The report detailed that leaders need to be master problem solvers and recognise the importance of bringing others along as they lead people through tough and challenging situations.

The paper documented a “strong theme for leaders to inspire people. If a leader can frame up the mission and vision for the organisation, articulate how people’s activities or skills fit into that picture, and engender trust and hope in ambiguous times, the employees will be more engaged and more likely to expend extra effort to achieve the organisation’s goals.”

How do leaders in New Zealand organisations view the changing face of leadership? What has changed in recent years in the way they operate as a leader and remain connected and engaged with their people? Here are some insights shared by a number of New Zealand leaders on how they see the leadership landscape.

What do you see are the key characteristics required for leadership and management in this fast paced competitive environment?

Chris Meade, Executive General Manager, Downer:  

Technical skills are no longer sufficient to bring expertise to bear. In today’s world the ability to work effectively with others, apply EQ, keep continually learning and be able to live with ambiguity is imperative. Some issues today are so complex that there is no option but to work collectively and collaboratively for solutions. And be prepared to change tack, constantly!

Craig Robertson, General Manager – Operations, The Briscoes Group:

You have to be real, be in touch with your people, be prepared to listen and create opportunities for your people to provide feedback how they want and when they want. It is also beneficial to utilise a platform where your team can join a conversation to share ideas with a focus on learning from each other centered on what well, what did not go to plan and why and what you should do differently.

Andy Graves, Director, Anchor Coaching:

For me, it’s having the courage to make accurate key decision based on the information you have to hand (which may not be much). It’s also about identifying out of the box opportunities and grasping them, then transitioning them into unique business opportunities.

Andrew Bhimy, Head of People Support – Operations, The Warehouse:

The ability to evolve quickly is key. Leaders need to be comfortable not knowing all the answers, bold enough to try new things and resilient enough to cope through failure.

 

Do you believe that this has changed in recent years?

Chris: The pace of change has increased dramatically with new technologies. This means organisations based on hierarchies struggle to keep pace and we are increasingly required to work up and down and across organisations and traditional boundaries in more matrixed and fluid structures. Young people are now being trained through the educational systems to work in more collaborative ways but there are many in today’s workforce who are challenged by this need for agility. Keeping up with new technologies, emerging trends, new ways of doing, it is essential to keep pace. The challenge is to sift through the chaff to find out what you need and move quickly to adapt and to adopt.

Craig: Yes – a more collaborative leadership style is required to gain momentum. Directive styles fail to work especially when dealing with a younger more transient work force that are far more self-centred than the traditional more stable and compliant workforce of the past.

Andy: Change itself is increasing more and more and we, as leaders need to adapt and drive change more effectively than ever. We also, need to engage and motivate our people to bring them on those journeys with us.

Andrew: Every day we are dealing with things where there is no proven formula. I believe that the digital revolution and its impact on commerce has accelerated this challenge. Most companies have to be digital in some way now; very little of the workforce has practical experience in this area to draw on.

 

What do you believe is the biggest challenge for leaders/managers right now?

Chris: Leaders need to survive constantly living with ambiguity and not being certain of their own future – both in terms of strategies employed that constantly need to adapt and change to market place and customer changes to thinking about their own career path and seeing traditional moves up the hierarchy disappearing. Leaders are expected to lead others through constant change and demonstrate confidence in direction when at times they themselves may be questioning their own ability to cope and understand the changes required.

Craig: Keeping abreast of all the communication methods we are now confronted with. We run a lean operation and I do not have the time to be constantly on email, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. When working across all aspects of the business at a detailed level, it is important to build great teams around you to deliver great results as you can’t do it all yourself.

Andy: The challenge is keeping up with and recognising new innovative ideas; not just around technology, but in everything we do. There is information overload especially now with so many channels of communication that are available.

Andrew: Productivity – leaders must help their people adapt to a new trading environment and do more with less to achieve challenging targets. Doing this while keeping a team engaged is a big challenge for the modern leader.

 

For leaders to stay connected and engaged with their people what skills do they need?

Chris: Leaders need empathy and not forget that it is the simple things that bind people together – the personal touch, the feedback of a job well done, the opportunity to involve their teams in the direction and implementation of strategy. It’s an old adage but employees work for managers, not organisations so investing time in relationships in a constructive way always pays off.

Craig: You have to be able to adapt to your audience, be tech savvy enough to engage via the media they choose to operate with, as well as stand in their shoes working alongside them in their environments. You have to do as you say and keep communicating the key messages backed up by demonstrating the behaviours you are wanting across the business.

Andy: Skills for leaders today will have to be entrepreneurial and inspirational along the way. Coaching is a key skill to engage and motivate those around you and persistence to deliver a successful project, even when things are not going according to plan.

Andrew: Listening; knowing when to get involved and when to ‘let go’; ability to understand an individual’s needs and personalise an approach that helps them achieve their unique aspirations, an ability to create meaning for people that gives them a vision even if the day-to-day is rocky and challenging.

 

 

Reflecting on what has been said, reconfirms to me that the challenge for all leaders to lead and manage well will be constant and no matter what happens in our own organisation or marketplace, we not only need to be agile, but just as importantly we need to stay connected to our people and prepared to adapt our own skills and thinking to suit.

 

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