What Executives Need to Know for Their Day-to-Day Business
It’s 2023, and new leadership should be a household concept by now. At least you would think so. But among managers and companies alike, myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions about what new leadership truly means are still running riot. Konrad Holleis, Head of Executive Education of the WU Executive Academy, has dissected the most proliferated myths and shares valuable tips for C-levels on how to do away with these misunderstandings once and for all.
Globalization, digitalization, and multiple crises in a BANI world: as ongoing disruptions are turning the economy and the world of work as we know it upside down, new leadership offers a modern and comprehensive set of tools that serve people’s needs in the 2020s wherever traditional leadership with its rigid hierarchies hits a wall.
The term “new leadership” subsumes modern managing approaches that seek to promote the flexibility, agility, and technological development of a company. In doing so, they not only focus on profits and customer benefit but also on purpose, i.e., ways in which the company can prove beneficial for society at large.
Apart from sales, the triple bottom line zeroes in on social and environmental causes, focusing on the protection of our planet and the happiness, health, and motivation of employees – in short: profit, planet, and people.
What puts the “new” in new leadership is a participatory, cooperative, and team-oriented management style that affords employees more responsibility and autonomy, which in turn boosts innovation and creativity and helps establish an open culture of communication. New leaders don’t view their employees as subordinates but as proactive thinkers on an equal footing who are accountable for their own actions – people who wish to make a valuable contribution to the “big picture” and add diversity to a company, driving innovation and coming up with solutions for ever more complex challenges.
Unfortunately, misunderstandings about what new leadership is and what it can achieve run deep.
Konrad Holleis, Head of Executive Education of the WU Executive Academy, has put the most die-hard misconceptions under the microscope:
Very often, the notion of new leadership is mentioned in the same breath as new work, transformation within a company, and technological advances and the digitalization of business processes. While there is some truth to that, it doesn’t mean that new leadership aims to do away with tried-and-tested processes or successful business models. In fact, it is all about keeping things that have proven to work well and combining them with new elements to the company’s benefit at all levels, be it in operational management, on the organizational level, or in team development.
Practical tip: Think evolution, not revolution. Draw on specific examples to show how well-established practices can be combined with new ideas and technologies in your company: implement pilot projects and emphasize the added value gained by tracking the changes over time.
Young managers with a “modern mindset” and so-called “natural leaders” are often believed to represent the archetype of new leadership, implying that some have what it takes to be a new leader, and some just don’t. This disregards the fact that anybody can study and practice the underlying principles of new leadership – the focus on relationships, results, collaboration, and innovation – independent of their age, experience, or individual knack for leading. New leadership is an attitude that comes with a special set of skills anybody can learn. But, and now for the bad news: it cannot be imposed. It requires awareness and reflection as well as a close examination of one’s management principles and values.
Practical tip: Leadership has a lot to do with empathy and less with age or experience: it’s all in your individual leadership style. The needs of your employees are just as diverse as their talents. Try to consider that in the way you lead them. There are things you need to give to some employees that will hurt rather than help others. What is more, the oft-quoted customer centricity also applies to managers. Consider the members of your teams to be your customers (“servant leadership”) and treat them accordingly.
Whenever we talk about self-organization and delegating responsibility and decision-making to employees, many fear that leadership will become obsolete and chaos will ensue. But nothing could be farther from the truth: leadership is needed more than ever to provide a framework, direction, and orientation, to support processes, and keep track of the grand scheme of things. New leadership equals more efficient leadership, more responsibility and agency for employees, and thus also a more motivated team.
Practical tip: Make it clear to everybody that new leadership does not do away with leaders but re-defines what leading means. Offer training and coaching to support executives as they are stepping up to their new tasks of providing guidance and orientation to their employees, and come up with concrete examples to show how this new leadership style will benefit staff development and motivation.
This assumption is in fact a complete myth. New leadership is a holistic management style striving to reconcile the needs of the people with the perks of modern technology. But in the spirit of digital humanism or corporate digital responsibility (CDR), technology should always serve the people and the company, not the other way round.
Practical tip: Emphasize the fact that new leadership is a holistic approach that keeps both human and technological aspects in mind and is sensitive to, for instance, the needs of the people who work for a company, corporate culture, and the organization’s strategic goals. Provide examples of where technology has been used successfully to improve processes and boost efficiency, and encourage your team members to provide feedback on the use of new technologies and to think about how they can best support them in their work.
Some people believe that this form of leadership concentrates too much on empathy, cooperation, and integration, making it weak or ineffective. Modern leaders, however, are able to balance these qualities with a focus on results and readiness to make difficult decisions. Studies show that empathetic leaders are better equipped to get their companies through rough patches thanks to their ability to align with people inside and outside their organization. And that has many advantages for the entire team: more resilience, better efficiency, lower burnout rates, etc.
Practical tip: Show that you have what it takes to make difficult decisions while keeping track of the needs and well-being of your employees. You can always share your reasons for a decision and make your team members part of the decision-making process.
New leadership is often associated with the tech industry or start-ups. In reality, this leadership approach can work for every industry or company wishing to become more agile, human-centered, and efficient thanks to new technologies. That goes for the global tech corporation just as much as your neighborhood plumber.
Practical tip: Present best practices and success stories from different industries that illustrate the benefits and workings of new leadership. Generally speaking, new leadership will be especially effective if you and your team arrive at a shared understanding of leadership, agreeing on which management style is the best fit for the organization, the team, and the individual employees. When you think about leading, think of communicating vessels: it’s about giving just as much as it is about receiving, and we should never stop finding ways to make sure everybody’s happy with the way it is being done. Just as organizations and humans are constantly evolving, our views of leadership should continue to mature through continuous efforts to understand each other.
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