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The mindset of a responsive and modern leader

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The world has changed. I’ve not met a single manager in the past five years, who was not aware of this, nor found it relevant and necessary to adapt to this ever-changing business landscape. However, few have actually managed to do so and even fewer have taken the step further, wanting not only to adapt to the situation but to shape the future for themselves and their colleagues

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The business world is unpredictable, with an unprecedented amount of changes, meaning that leaders and managers who seek a codex for behaviour and how to execute tasks by the book will fail. Only those who have the mindset deeply rooted within, will be capable of adapting behaviour and activities to the specific context, challenge, employee and application of technology. This is clearly mindset over behaviour and something that we’re not used to learn and nurture in the management teams.

The traditionally old-school management tends to focus on best practices, executing according to plan and hierarchical decision making. I’ve experienced this leading to deeply rooted anxiety for failure and a constant inwards-looking dialogue, almost like a glass bubble. However, this best-practice management style is steadily being overtaken by new demands from both market and employees, where a new mindset of distributed leadership, experiments and less planning is needed.

The building blocks of new-practice leadership

The modern, new-practice leadership has five but very significant building blocks or guiding principles:

  1. People first.
  2. Knowing your purpose, why you exist as an organization.
  3. Eagerness for experimentation.
  4. Insatiable drive for results.
  5. Distributed leadership.

The holistic application of these five guiding principles to the mechanisms and areas of the business fundamentally changes the understanding of how the organization engages employees and creates teams that are adaptable, problem-solving, and at times even self-managed.

This new-school leadership style focuses on purpose and meaning, on the networked organization, on transparency, on less planning, and on psychological safety. It’s a totally different and less predictable business constriction, than the old-school, best-practice oriented one. It’s an approach that is playful, experimental, risk-taking, and learning. And it’s a place where current practice is more relevant than best-practice.

Responsiveness is a very central skill

Now, there’s an inherent danger in this too. Too much new-school leadership can lead to a diffuse direction, longer decision processes, and under-average performance. I’ve seen this happen.

The key skill to the modern leadership is responsiveness, that is, understanding how – and when – to mix the old and new schools of leadership. More often, you should gravitate towards the modern, delegating, distributed leadership style. But, as a leader it is your right and duty to set the direction, make decisions and be old-school. The balance just has to be 1-to-5 in favour of the new style. You need to map and investigate what balances you have in your organisation and how to affect the when needed.

This is the new mindset. Responsiveness is a way of shaping your future, to stay relevant.


Erik Korsvik Østergaard, Author of The Responsive Leader; Partner at Bloch&Østergaard

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