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What’s the new definition of leadership in the future of work?

Redefining the purpose of a Corporation is great, but let's also look at how we define leadership as we head into the future of work.

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Leadership is one of my favourite topics to discuss and write about and one that has many definitions and perspectives.

Thought leaders such as Simon Sinek, Brené Brown and Tony Robbins to name a few have all shared their definition of what leadership is and in some cases (not always) it’s influenced by personal experience good or bad.

One of my preferred definitions of leadership is to lead by example. Easy to remember yet for some hard to embody. As we look towards the new ‘Future of Work’, I work with helping businesses shift the way they lead to creating a more humanized workplace culture. One that can support all professionals as human beings and not just an employee.

This past summer, Business Roundtable announced the new redefined purpose of a Corporation. One that includes more than just turning a profit and serving shareholders, but also includes other stakeholders such as customers, employees, suppliers and communities.

While this new definition replaces a previous one that read to primarily serve shareholders exclusively, like any initiative, the proof is in the pudding as they say.

A new definition of what the purpose of a corporation is are simply words until all organizations and businesses who seize to exist embody this. To “share a fundamental commitment to all stakeholders” is great however it’s in the hands of leaders in the organizations to make change happen.

Those that are up and coming and could be the next Apple or Google have the biggest opportunity to lead by example and demonstrate what their purpose looks like day in and day out.

More importantly, how will they sustain it?

In their commitment, I would have liked to see this new definition of the purpose of a corporation starting with investing in people vs. leading with delivering value to customers. It’s in investing in your people first that your customers will naturally be a priority and you’ll be able to deliver value. Your people make a business run and without them, without a workforce, your customers won’t have a product or service to buy.

With a ‘new’ definition of the purpose of a corporation, shouldn’t it warrant having a new definition of what leadership is? We’ve seen notable changes in the workplace over the years that has caused businesses to change the way they operate. As multiple generations are entering the workforce and holding new values and demands of what role work has in their lives, the long-term success of any business will have to look at a new way of leading.

There’s no one definition of what leadership is. While we can define leadership as leading by example or leading people to reach their fullest potential, what we have seen over the years by some of the most globally recognized companies is anything but that. Not all but many.

According to The CEO Magazine, HP lost half it’s value and thousands of employees under Carly Fiorina’s leadership as CEO. She was fired after 6 years and was known for antagonizing workers and investors while never doubting her rightness. The day she was fired, HP’s stock went up by US $3 billion.

Ken Lay of Enron, an energy company led the company to a US $100 billion business before losing 99.7% of its value in 2001. He was responsible for signing off on a massive accounting fraud designed to inflate the company’s financial health. Under his leadership, the corporate culture was focused on increasing revenue at all costs. After passing away from a heart attack in 2006 shortly before being sentenced, he was expected to face up to 30 years for his part in the deceit.

While poor leadership in corporate can still exist even with new leaders in the new future of work, the point is it starts at the top. At some point, you have to look internally and ask the hard questions starting with:

Do we have the right leaders and people in place that support what’s in the best interest of ALL?

Leaders set the tone for their organization and initiate change. When you don’t have the right ones in place, it’s difficult to envision a business that can truly serve all stakeholders according to that definition of a corporation.

What are your thoughts?

If you could offer one definition for what leadership means, how would you define it?

Let me know in the comments below.

For me, leadership isn’t a title, it’s a way of being.

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