Traditional definitions of great leadership need to change.Â In an agile market, things morph very quickly. Structures no longer follow historic practices. Clients and customers have more control. Therefore, qualities leaders need to demonstrate today are often very different, although the basis is broadly similar. We arenâ€™t necessarily throwing out the baby with the bathwater!
So what do we need to see in a leader that marks them out as great? And can we still rely on the usual qualities we find in most articles?
2. Exemplary character
4. Well organized
7. Committed to excellence
No one is going to disagree with this list but surely these qualities are just a part of the whole. Yes, these attributes form solid foundations. However, even using thatÂ â€˜foundationâ€™ metaphor can literally and metaphorically ground us in anachronistic approaches that donâ€™t fit with now.
â€˜Enthusiasm just creates bubbles; it doesnâ€™t keep them from popping.â€™Â Adora Svitak
What do I mean? Being lean, agile, creative, proactive and reactive are key characteristics of the contemporary business arena. Itâ€™s hard to be rooted in practice, history, tradition etc. when business decisions need to be smart, rapid, creative and futurist. How does a leader exude confidence while being capable of changing course at a momentâ€™s notice?
Radical solutions in aggressive markets need strong leadersÂ
For example, look at the appointment of Dave Lewis as Tesco CEO last year. At that time, straight from Unilever, he knew nothing about retailing. It might, therefore, seem a strange appointment. Were Tesco looking for radical solutions in an aggressive market. Unilever, however, were a leading supplier to Tesco,Â so, therefore, Lewis would have a keen eye for a price war.â€™
After a year in the job, what qualities of great leadership has he exhibited? Ruthlessness might be one. Having shut 43 stores and canceled future plans for another 49; as well as closing Tesco HQ at Cheshunt, stopped dividend payments and the defined pension benefit scheme the evidence is pretty clear. Tradition means nothing if itâ€™s not paying its way.
But this leads me on to the notion of leaders being very much one of the team. After the Black Friday embarrassing debacle, Lewis took overÂ the day-to-day running of Tesco. This comes from a man with no retail experience. How will he have carried this off? Imagine the controversy, gossip, and bad feeling that would have probably emanated at every level. However, when the whole team is honest, strong, provocative, knowledgeable and trusting final decisions are often accepted when thinking and discussions are crystal clear. Therefore, the ability of a leader to value other knowledgeable workersâ€™ experience, know how and/ or intellect is vital. The days of leaders appointing unthreatening colleaguesÂ have passed. Therefore, I am suggesting great leaders, and leaders in general, adopt other aspects to their list of required qualities.
Additional Leadership Qualities for the contemporary leader
1. Valuing alternative perspectives â€“ empower others
2. Being open minded about untried, left field solutions
3. Seek advice and listen to it objectively
4. A full team player
5. Trust emotions and instinct
6. Trust your creativity and be a risk taker
8. Be passionate to the point of obsession
11. Foolishness and humor
Leaders need to read people and situations rapidly. The need for self-knowledge has never been greater. Arianna Huffington is quoted as saying:
â€˜Donâ€™t necessarily stick to the strategies that enabled you to succeed in the earliest days of your ventureâ€¦.disrupt your own patternsâ€¦to encourage more opportunities.â€™
It would have been easy for Tesco to continue in the same vein.Â
Yet, after an accountancy scandal and falling sales, disruption was inevitable. Thus showing that no matter how embedded a business might be in a nationâ€™s consciousness their loyalty needs to be constantly hard â€“earned and that definitely is a change ever leader needs to acknowledge.
Look for the stories beneath the stories
Having the passion to see through an idea, in all its phases is a must, but most of all the ability to always ask questions and listen for connections and the stories behind the story will always mark out a great leader.
What do you think? What qualities have marked out great leaders in your experience?
Thompson G & Mellor D WÂ Inspirational Game ChangersÂ (Financial Times Publishing)