Over the past year, we have seen global examples of leadership. Some have been impressive, others less so.
Many were decisive, and many were timid. Sometimes people stepped up, while others who should have led, dropped out of sight when things got hard.
It has certainly been a testing time, and leaders have had to react to an unexpected and unprecedented situation.
We have also seen the classic interpretation of management being questioned. Not being in traditional working environments has created new thinking about the efficiency of remote teams and remote working.
Change is inevitable, and leadership has always had to adapt and morph. During the last year, when things have been (in some cases), turned upside down, society has often looked to leaders to find direction.
Where There Is Challenge, There Is Opportunity
What can the events of last year teach businesses about the future of leadership?
We do not doubt that the business world will change. Everyone has adapted, pivoted, or improvised to keep their businesses afloat during the past year.
COVID-19 will be with us in some form for the foreseeable future, but there are other vital considerations for leaders too, such as climate change.
Climate change will affect every single person on this planet; in fact, it already has. From the changes to the seasons, the increase in extreme weather conditions, and the risks of rising sea levels.
All these have been exacerbated by the decisions leaders have made over the last 200-300 years, with a lot of these choices now being recognised as short-sighted and profit driven.
The leaders of the future need to be more conscious of the effect their decisions have. Not only on their teams, but on the planet too.
Value-Driven Leadership Delivers Value
In a fast-changing world, societal norms and values will shift. In this environment, leaders who work alongside their teams, understanding them and their needs and drawing out their best performances, will look at their teams as a group of individuals pulling together.
This creates an inclusive and crucial environment where everyone can perform.
Recognising the individual qualities of each team member, ensuring they respect and treat others well, and creating team values, will start the process of crafting more inclusive leadership.
Leaders of the future will become role models, with their personal values shaping environments and driving progress. They will be courageous and inclusive, and will be careful when making decisions that affect the planet and the people who live on it.
To paraphrase General Stanley McChrystal:
‘Leaders are gardeners – they cultivate, they foster positive environments, they are no longer the puppet masters, and now they need to be the crafters of cultures.’
Creating The Conditions For Teams To Thrive
Being a gardener means nurturing a team, feeding them, and developing their strengths and values while allowing them to develop their individual characters.
However, you don’t see a winning plot on the Chelsea Flower Show being made up of just one flower or plant. The winners are an array of different individuals, all giving something different, and all coming together to create a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns.
The same applies to a high performing workforce.
They need to be a mix of people of different ages, genders, races, ability levels, and areas of expertise. Allowing for this richness fosters creativity and learning, which ultimately produces high performance.
Gardeners work with the plants and the other gardeners to develop their vision, so that everyone takes part in the process and feels part of the final result.
The gardener who tries to force their will on a garden will ultimately fail. Plants won’t take, or disease will set in, and if they don’t adapt, then the garden will fall into disrepair or become overgrown and chaotic.
And ultimately, a gardener has to consider the wider environment – to be sustainable and to make decisions that impact on the entire landscape.
Where Will You Go From Here?
I want to leave you with some questions to contemplate.
As a business leader, how do your values lead to you making ethical decisions that benefit you, your employees, and the world we live in?
How do we all take lessons from the past year, and use them to foster success in our businesses and in our lives?
If you can answer these questions while remaining true to your individual values, then you and your team can reap the rewards of enlightened leadership.