I was training a group of leaders when one of the participants mentioned he had read that what would have earned you a grade of “A” as a leader in the 70s and 80s, would earn you a “C” today.
That comment really stayed with me. The face of leadership has drastically changed. Yet a lot of people are still operating under an old leadership approach, where being outstanding will still only get you a C.
What’s so different? One of the things that haunts me is the multiple forms of communication that we all need to deal with every day, between email, social media, texts, chat programs, and even the occasional old-fashioned telephone call! While they all serve a purpose, for so many of the leaders I coach they’re a distraction amidst so many distractions and interruptions.
It’s not that it felt easier to be a leader in the 80s. As we’ve discussed before, the command and control approach can be just as hard on leaders as it is on the team. Today there’s no place at all for this approach.
In many ways, I think it’s good that what got you an A then, when things like respect and inclusion weren’t honored, won’t get you an A today. The bar has been raised. Being nice and sitting down for coffee with people is not enough now. Nor is it what people seem to want. “Just send me an email/text/chat and I’ll get on with my work.”
I started thinking back to what I did as a leader in the 80s. I’d have coffee with people, cast a vision, check in with some key leaders, and always be available to plan that next step. Would those things not work today, or just be harder to implement?
As I was pondering this question, a Harvard Business Review “Management Tip of the Day” email (free HBR account required) revealed a clue. It was an excerpt from an article by Dan Cable, about the importance of helping people feel purpose in their work. He says we can do this in two ways:
First, help them feel the impact of their work firsthand, rather than just describing it to them. And second, do this in an authentic way so they can trust you. They must see the pursuit of purpose as your routine, rather than a one-off initiative.
These ideas reinforce the need for everyone to work with a coach or some kind of leadership consultant professional. It’s not enough to read the books or sit in the classroom, you’ve got to have someone with you in the field so you’re exposed to continuous, experiential learning.
As I step back and read over these thoughts, I wonder what grade I am getting as a leader today, and whether I might still be using an outdated grading scale.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think has most changed in what we need from leaders today compared to the 70s and 80s? And what are the things that would earn a leader an “A” from you?
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