To lead effectively requires many competencies. To be a great leader in the 21st century means you are also looking further out, valuing the diversity of thought, and are brave enough to let go of your tried and true assumptions.
Roselinde Torres, senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, found that performance reviews, leadership development programs, hiring practices and executive coaching just aren’t working well enough anymore. Many companies continue to fail, fall behind and are simply unable to succeed.
In her widely-watched TED Talk “What it Takes to be a Great Leader,” Torres reported her findings on what successful leaders are doing. She says leadership in the 21st century is defined and evidenced by three essential questions: 1) Where are you looking to anticipate change? 2) How diverse is your network? 3) Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?
As an executive coach focused on leadership development, I thought I’d delve into each of these questions with a take on what I’ve witnessed in my practice and some potential action steps forward.
Where are you looking to anticipate change?
In 1995 Bill Gates anticipated the impact of the Internet to completely redirect and refocus the company’s efforts in order to keep Microsoft on track. In 2007 Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, moved his company from shipping DVDs via the mail to streaming movies, TV shows and original content to now reach more than 180 million subscribers worldwide.
Did you anticipate this year’s popularity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement? How will this widespread support change how you hire and promote people of color? What other cultural or consumer trends are you noticing beyond the scope of your business that will have an impact on it? What will be the next big change that impacts your business: meaningful action on climate change, regulation to reduce income inequality, health care reform?
For you to anticipate what’s coming, you need to make a practice of looking beyond where you usually look and what your usually do. This is about adaptive leadership to anticipate what’s coming and respond with agility as the business environment changes.
How diverse is your network?
I know of several companies where diversity in boardrooms rarely extends beyond including women. The same could be said for those in the C-suite. How about your professional network? Does it include people who look, speak, act and, most importantly, think differently than you? If not, I suspect you are limiting your ability to lead effectively as your employees, vendors, customers and community represents more than those similar to you.
When I joined a professional organization a couple years ago, I was disappointed that it was dominated by middle-aged white men. My goal is to find ways to add more women and people of color so we’re adding to the conversation rather than limiting it.
Diversity in professional networks enable us to move beyond confirmation bias, which is so prevalent in our chosen news sources and social media feeds. Studies have repeatedly shown that adding diverse opinions and perspectives to the conversation leads to better decisions. By increasing the diversity in those we reach out to for advice and counsel, we will expand our understanding and challenge our assumptions. Both will serve us in leading into the future.
Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?
We are all creatures of habit, especially when these habits have served us so well in the past. It’s hard to let go of what’s worked previously because of the confidence you have in it. But if continuing to do so is no longer effective, it’s time to let go and move on to something else.
This requires curiosity and a beginner’s mind so that you can find solutions that would otherwise remain hidden. Adopt a lifelong learning perspective to read beyond the business journals and books everyone else is reading. Seek out new conversations and develop relationships with different people.
Make the time and summon the courage to challenge your thinking. Try new approaches that requires breaking out of what you have done in the past that is no longer suitable for the present. Your resistance to risk may prevent you from reaching success.
To be a successful leader in the 21st century you can no longer rely on the tried and true methods of yesterday. It’s time to shift your mindset and respond to Torres’ three questions in a way that raises your leadership competency to what is required today and in the future.