HomeTalentLeadership DevelopmentWhat does it mean to be a leader in the 21st Century?

What does it mean to be a leader in the 21st Century?

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Has the role of a leader changed? If so, what does it mean to be a leader today? HRD Connect explores what is required of a leader in the 21st century.

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A leader has and always will have a huge impact on the way a business operates, but what specific impact they have on a business is the part that is shifting. Many employees look for recognition and collaboration in their leaders.

The 2020 Global Culture Report from the O.C. Tanner Institute found that only 26 per cent of employees feel their leader encourages collaboration, highlighting today’s sorry state of leadership.

“Great leaders aren’t about power but exhibit humility. Rather than being a ‘boss’ or ‘micromanager’, an effective leader collaborates with their team, shares leadership and provides mentorship,” explained Robert Ordever (FCIPD), MD of workplace culture, O.C. Tanner Europe.

“The best leaders show their appreciation, regularly give recognition and continually provide support, encouragement and advice. And employees with great leaders will understand their value to the business and how they contribute to the ‘bigger picture’. They’ll be encouraged to reach higher and dream big. Ultimately, great leaders will leave an inspirational legacy and a thriving business.”

The behaviours of a leader often go unnoticed; however, it can be paramount to the success of a business.

“Research shows that companies which maintain traditional leadership approaches have poor employee experience and engagement scores. They are poor in all areas of workplace culture including company purpose, opportunities, organisational success, appreciation, wellbeing and of course, leadership,” continued Robert.

As the leaders of today face new challenges, a change in ethos is needed to solve current issues in business. In the study ‘Leadership for the 21st century by Deloitte, they found that ‘The Ability to lead through change and ambiguity’ was the most sought-after trait of the leader, followed by ‘the ability to lead through influence.

Leadership development is imperative to ensure that a business leader is fully equipped to be effective in their role.

“Developing leaders with new competencies requires more than an evolution in the competencies themselves. Equally paramount is for the organization to have the culture, the structure, and the management processes to cultivate these leaders,” said a spokesperson from Deloitte, commenting on the report.

To develop an effective leader, there are three main points to improve:

Transparency: Today’s age of uncertainty and diversity requires a leader to understand the needs and demands of their employees, being transparent with updates such as the gender diversity, and the future of the business can heavily aid the effective impact of a leader.

Internal Collaboration: Transparency and Collaboration go hand in hand, for leaders to find out what their people want, they need to be continually looking for ways to communicate and collaborate with them. Further studies by Deloitte found that “83% of respondents told us their C-suite executives rarely collaborate or do so only on an ad hoc basis.”

Performance management: Measuring success is an important factor when understanding the impact of a business leader. Doing so will aid a business in deciding what the most important traits are.

Being a leader in the 21st century requires adaptability and consciousness to be effective and positively impact people. Managing change is a key role for businesses today, and leaders play a pivotal part in thriving in this age. Adaptability is crucial, leaders that still act with traditional models could see a negative reaction from doing so.

“Today’s employees are rejecting traditional models of leadership outright. Leaders who exert control over their teams are not only alienating today’s employees but are negatively impacting all aspects of the business, from staff turnover and productivity through to revenue growth,” continued Robert.

Organisations that permit traditional styles of leadership, therefore, risk jeopardising their entire businesses.

Ben Hunt-Davis, Co-Founder, Will it Make the Boat Go Faster, believes that adapting to technology is key for leaders today.

“Technology is an important language that leaders in every industry need to understand and embrace. Effective leaders need to know in detail the technology changes that are happening – or if not he/she must have a huge handle on the people that drive it,” explained Ben Hunt-Davis, Co-Founder, Will it Make the Boat Go Faster.

Ben went onto discuss that leaders will always be more comfortable in the ‘doing’ part of the job. However, leaders today require a range of behaviours and styles to push initiatives forward and drive business effectiveness.

“Behaviours and techniques are critical in creating an open high-performance culture where the authentic self of the leader can be shown no matter what the situation, leveraging the very best qualities of those around them,” concluded Ben.

As every role in businesses undertakes rapid change, leadership development is key to ensure that leaders are ensuring that employees are working to the best of their ability and growing within the business if this is prioritised for the get-go, then a leader can thrive in a disruptive age.

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