Leadership is all about dreaming big with an audacious vision, ability to inspire others, taking full responsibility for everything, generating results and finally leading by example. One of my favorite books on leadership is “On Becoming a Leader” by Warren Bennis. In the latest edition of the book he identified 13 things all the next generation leaders will have in common. Here is my take on each of them.
Broad education: Once we finish our formal studies that’s when the real education starts. So, we should all be on the lookout for additional information that can help us on our leadership journey. The generalist leader is more in demand now than the specialized leader with a narrow focus. So, keep on learning and reading broadly across diverse topics. One of things I do is to scan all NY Times Best Sellers and read anything interesting. Sometimes even book reviews are enough to keep us well-informed.
Boundless curiosity: To me this is all about asking open ended questions and having a growth mindset. Leaders need not know everything as long they know the people who have the answers. Always be open to additional information that can help you change your decisions. Flexibility is the name of the game for the 21st Century leader.
Boundless enthusiasm: This is all about having high energy. Leadership is exhausting and dealing with people across boundaries and geographies is not easy. The only thing that can keep us going is our energy and enthusiasm. For me it all starts with appreciating how valuable out life is and all of us can find meaning with whatever we are doing at this specific moment. Take care of your physical life by exercising and having a good diet. Take care of your mental life by reading, journaling and listening to inspirational books.
Contagious optimism: Leaders are generally optimistic about the future and that is what gets the team running towards the vision. We cannot imagine a successful leader without optimism. The Leaders job is to paint a picture of exciting possibilities even in the bleakest hour. This is exactly what Churchill did to unite the nation during the second world war. Here is my article on developing optimism. The Optimist’s Manifesto – 10 Commandments
Belief in people and team work: People largely rise to meet the expectations of the leader. So, keep encouraging your team by having them work on their strengths and help them strengthen the areas of their weakness. Encourage everyone to be a team player. Here is my article on building winning teams. 7 Steps to Build Winning Teams. I like this quote from Steve Jobs “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Willingness to take risks: A leader always takes calculated risks and as some says plays out on the edges. You can start by taking small risks and once your confidence is built up you will be able to take some more risks. Risks must be evaluated against the cost. Some risks can end the game for the organization, so we must be careful against taking fool hardy risks. As the legendary Jim Burke of Johnson and Johnson said “We don’t grow unless we take risks. Any successful company is riddled with failure.”
Devotion to long-term growth: This means focus on the long term and make sure every decision you take is aligned with the end in the mind. Don’t engage in something to get short term profit. Focus on the future and keep your ethical books clean. This quote from Adam Smith hits the message home “You will make better decisions once you begin thinking long-term rather than short-term.”
Commitment to excellence: Excellence is a journey not a destination. Commit yourself and your team to achieve excellence in every activity they undertake. Everyone feels great on a job well done. I love this quote from Thomas J. Watson “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.”
Adaptive capacity: This is the most important quality of a 21st century leader. This is all about managing relentless change and adapting to it. It is all about grit and hardiness. You must be totally adaptable if you want to thrive in the turbulent waters of the 21st century. Develop your grit muscles and that’s when the true leader is revealed. I love this quote from Jim Burke “The key to why things change is the key to everything.”
Empathy: This is all about what Stephen Covey said, “First seek to understand and then be understood.” Empathy is what leaders show that they care. As it is often said people don’t care how much you know but they know how much you care with the way you treat them. Treat people with respect and kindness and watch them grow to their best selves. This is an excellent quote on empathy from Stephen Covey “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
Authenticity: This is one of the qualities that is always talked about. This is all about being true to yourself. It is about aligning who you are with the way your present yourself. When you are authentic your team listens to you. Everyone likes people who are themselves than trying to be someone you are not. Authenticity is the key because no one will follow you if you are like everyone else. We all have a distinctive voice and it is our duty to find that and express it to others. As Stephen Covey said the eighth habit is all about finding your voice and helping others find their voice. Voice is where your talents intersect with a specific need.
Integrity: We have seen what happened with Enron or any other scandals where top leaders lost it. It is better not to try to go too high too fast and fall. Rather it is better to build your inner strength so that when you do become a top leader you have built yourself so much that you don’t take any shortcuts. Being honest and truthful with everyone around you is a wonderful way to exhibit integrity. If your deeds match your words your life will speak loudly.
Vision: This is all about having the vision that uplifts people to their greatness. You need to find that vision which will move you and others. John F Kennedy’s vision of putting a man on the moon is one of the best examples of an audacious vision. The best part of it was it was so compelling that it outlived the visionary. Vision is the first step to becoming a great leader. Similarly, in your personal life you can imagine that you arrive at 2040 and decide what you want your life to look like. Having this picture of an ideal vision will motivate you to align your actions to get you where you want to be 20 years from now. Somehow, we think vision is only for CEO’s, but my point is all of us can create an exciting vision for our lives which will increase joy.
There you have it the 13 keys for the next generation leaders. I am sure if we implement some of these and incorporate them into our leadership we will do well. Thanks for reading this post.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.