In the past couple of decades, leadership skills have been under the magnifying glass as society and people’s expectations of work have changed. Even in April 2019, less than a year before Covid-19 impacted the world, Deloitte was highlighting the new challenges that leadership faced. Those at the top need to be inspiring leaders who can guide the business, while their management teams are hands-on in facilitating the processes that direct the business towards its organisational goals. The difference between leadership and management is that leaders tend to be big picture thinkers, while managers implement their leader’s vision in realistic and practical ways that result in measurable success.
Traditionally, leadership teams may have had very little interaction with employees, leaving that to line managers. However, as hierarchies have flattened, senior leaders have had to become more visible and available to teams in the working environment. While our expectations of leaders may be greater, there is still a gap between that expectation and the reality in most organisations. How leaders engage with stakeholders and progress with their leadership development is a hot topic that continues to evolve.
Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report lists perennial leadership skills including the ability to manage operations, supervise teams, make decisions, prioritise investments, and manage the bottom line. It also recognises vital new management skills such as leading through ambiguity, managing increasing complexity, being tech-savvy, managing changing customer and talent demographics, and handling national and cultural differences. Some of these competencies can be taught, but others come only from experience.
The age of the outspoken CEO
As CEOs have felt the need to be more demonstrably involved with the day-to-day lives of team members, they have also felt the pressures of taking a stance on political, environmental, and cultural issues.
Previously, there was a feeling that getting involved in current affairs could be detrimental to the reputation (and the share price) of companies. However, those companies and brands that have taken strong stances which authentically reflect their core values have increased their reach and traction with key audiences. An example of this was Oreo’s rainbow cookie image which was posted on Facebook to support Pride. At the time, this was one of the most overt demonstrations of support for the LBTGQ+ community from a global corporation. Responses were both positive and negative with a lot of debate erupting on social media. Despite the controversy, parent company Kraft set a precedent, and many other brands followed suit.
Patagonia is an American outdoor clothing company renowned for its environmental and political activism. The company has also led on family-friendly human resources policies, including paternity and maternity leave, as well as providing on-site childcare for parents.
While many companies rely heavily on their social media teams to plan and strategise their messaging, some CEOs are becoming bolder in voicing their beliefs and goals. This includes Ryan Gellert, CEO of Patagonia, who has stated that there is “a special place in hell” for those corporations that claim to be going ”all in” on climate change and yet do not back this up with their actions.
What is a servant leader?
Servant leadership has been popularised through agile working methods in which scrum masters support teams in organising themselves rather than telling them what to do.
The servant leader is different to a traditional leader in senior management; they are seen to put their teams first and themselves second. It is a democratic leadership style that has similarities with transformational leadership. Leading by serving is a mentality that can be effectively adopted at all management levels.
The circle of influence
With so much on the to-do list of today’s inspiring leaders, how do they manage to stay focused? Many issues that are important to CEOs straddle the line between personal development and professional development, and so learning resources such as podcasts or books on topics such as emotional intelligence are all legitimate continued professional development (CPD). Great leaders are usually life-long learners who are interested in constantly upping their game and remaining relevant
The 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is still much read, quoted, and referenced by leaders. It seems that people’s appetite for understanding what makes someone effective and therefore successful has also influenced many articles on the habits of CEOs. Morning routines provided a particularly popular point of discussion on LinkedIn with high achievers and their waking times cited. Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) apparently rises at 3:45am, Anna Wintour (Vogue editor) plays tennis at 5:45am and Howard Schultz (former Starbucks CEO) reportedly gets up at 4:30am.
Whether you wake before 6am or not, Stephen Covey’s Circle of Influence is almost certainly a contributing factor to the high productivity of many successful CEOs. Covey states that proactive people focus on what they can do and who they can influence in any given situation. This focus on their immediate circle of influence actually causes the circle to increase. Those who are reactive focus their energy on things which are beyond their control, which only acts to shrink their circle of influence.
Putting your energy into the things you can change is undoubtedly a route to productivity. It results in a sense of satisfaction in what you can achieve, rather than frustration in what you can’t. This seemingly simple approach can be applied to everything from problem-solving and decision-making to mentoring and staffing.
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