Leadership reimagined – empowering the collective

As we continue to come to terms with the pandemic, our approach to leadership (at a political, organizational and individual level), is being carefully scrutinized.


While we don’t have all the answers, there appears to be an acknowledgement that, in the famous words of Marshall Goldsmith, ‘what got us here won’t get us there’.


The paradigm shift in leadership


The protests we see across the world are part of the paradigm shift that we are experiencing. A move from leadership being hierarchical – about rules and control, to a new emerging paradigm where leaders empower the collective to deliver on the purpose.


At an organizational level, there are five components to this shift:


1. Leadership being business first, competency-based and contained moving to leadership being people first, character-based, conscious and mindful;

2. A preferred style that is self-controlled and private transforming to the rise of the open, authentic and empathetic leader;

3. Technical skills build credibility and determine success changing to emotional skills create followership and predicate success;

4. Management by walking around shifting to inspiring and motivating distributed teams;

5. Positional power within a leader’s function or area of expertise transforming to having organizational influence across teams and the enterprise.


New skills and mindsets


There are numerous perspectives on the new skills and mindsets required for the new world of work.

In Jacob Morgan’s latest book, The Future Leader, he identifies nine skills and mindsets required to succeed in the next decade. Based on interviews with 140 CEOs, the four mindsets include Global Citizen, Servant (practicing humility and serving others), Chef (balancing the ingredients of humanity and technology) and Explorer (embracing the unknown).

The five skills include Coach (inspiring and caring for their team), Futurist (the #1 based on the interviews), Technology Teenager (keeping current), Translator (great listeners and communicators) and, for all those Star Wars fans, finally Yoda (high emotional intelligence, empathy and self-awareness).

Other, somewhat overlapping, thinking from Marian Temmen (Rethinking Leadership in a New Reality), makes the compelling argument that our future leaders will need to be compassionate and emotionally intelligent.


Challenges to introducing new leadership capabilities


The world needs better leaders now more than ever and I am optimistic about the positive change that could result from this heightened awareness of more human leadership qualities.

There are plenty of challenges to reimagining leadership – where do you start, what competencies are required, how do you develop them and how do you hold leaders accountable – to name just a few. As part of The LeaderSharp Collective we are building a new leadership experience so for now, I’ll focus on the two challenges that I have been recently reflecting on.


1. We think leadership development is about acquiring skills


We need to need to challenge our way of thinking when it comes to how we develop leaders. It’s not about simply acquiring skills. It’s a never-ending journey, comprising of deep, soul-searching work that requires time and investment.

This is brought to life in the book Mastering Leadership (written by the creators of the assessment tool The Leadership Circle) that introduces the first ‘Universal Model of Leadership’.

One key feature of the framework is that it includes five stages of progressive leadership development: Egocentric, Reactive, Creative, Integral, and Unitive. As leaders progress through each stage, they are able to deal with a greater level of complexity and deliver higher performance. I’ll provide some detail on the first three stages which is where most of us spend our time.

Surprisingly there are still plenty of examples of Egocentric leadership – the stage where ‘our needs are primary’. I had to chuckle (while a little bit of me died inside!) at a recent example – a senior (egocentric) leader who formed disparaging views about people if they wore brown shoes, rolled up their shirt sleeves or had suntan lines from their sunglasses.


Research suggests that 70 to 80% of leaders operate at the Reactive stage.


This is where we leverage core strengths that have been developed during our adulthood around relationship (heart), intellect (head), or results (will). It’s very much an outside in view of our leadership based on external expectations, where the exaggeration of a strength becomes our weakness. For example, a high control leader may get things done but at the expense of others.

As we develop to the Creative stage, we experience a more authentic version of ourselves by letting go of some of the biases and assumptions we have had. We start to recognise that the Reactive skills we have become reliant on, won’t help us lead in a more complex, team orientated world so we start to dig deeper by asking – Who am I? What do I really want? What do I care most about? What do I stand for? How can I make my life and my leadership a creative expression of what matters most?

When I coach leaders, the model is one of a number of tools I use to help them build greater consciousness of their leadership style and the impact it has on others and on results. It’s not about acquiring skills. It’s about guiding them through the stages of development and building a heightened sense of self-awareness to ensure they are able to meet their potential and meet the demands of an increasingly complex world.


2. We implement leadership programs without overhauling the whole system


I’ve never been a big fan of those leadership programs where high potentials are identified (somewhat randomly) and sent off for some sort of ‘immersive program’. We spend billions on leadership development, but research from Gartner (on high potential programs specifically), shows that only 25% of HR leaders consider them to be successful.

The program isn’t effective because the whole system isn’t supportive. When people go back to work nothing has changed so they can’t successfully and sustainably put their new learnings in to practice.

Harvard professor Michael Beer identifies six steps to improve the success rate of leadership development programs by making changes to the whole system.


I. The senior team is engaged and clearly defines the organizational values and an inspiring strategic direction;

II. The senior team takes time to understand the barriers to strategy execution and learning and uses these insights to reimagine roles and responsibilities that will support the transformation;

III. Coaching is introduced to help people become more effective in that new design;

IV. Only then does the organization add training as required;

V. New metrics for individual and organizational performance are introduced to measure the impact of the behaviour change that allows people to be held accountable;

VI. Talent management processes are changed to reflect and sustain the changes in organizational behavior.


Reimagine leadership


The events of 2020 have created a paradigm shift in the qualities required by leaders. Depending on the starting point, the changes could be significant and challenging to introduce at both an individual and organizational level.

But the world needs better leaders now more than ever so we need to dig deep and reimagine leaders who can empower the collective to deliver on the purpose.

Mark Edgar

Mark Edgar – a recovering CHRO and Founder of Goat Rodeo Project, a consulting firm designed to help you predict and avoid train wrecks. For the avoidance of doubt, we’re in a goat rodeo. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for more HR-related ramblings. It would be great to catch-up.