What does good leadership look like?

Today’s leaders are in a strange and uncomfortable world

An increasingly turbulent and fast-moving economy has pushed leadership to a critical turning point. In the past, leaders were the ones who developed the strategy, set goals for their teams and closely monitored performance. They led from the front with their teams behind them. Business has become so unpredictable that this approach just doesn’t work anymore.

Leaders today need to recognize that they no longer have all the answers. Instead, they need to surround themselves with people with the right skills and attitudes who will work together to produce innovative solutions to problems.

We think that there are three things that define a good leader in today’s ambiguous world.

An agile approach

It’s a tough shift to make from the familiar leadership models of the past, but in a world that is so fast-moving, leaders have no choice but to be agile. Empowering your staff to ask for forgiveness over permission means that they can make decisions and act on their ideas, so long as it goes along with the overall intent of the business. Actively encouraging your employees to experiment and find acceptable levels of risk will enable you to be more innovative.

Be warned. Agility is not the same as speed. Making rash decisions without thinking them through does not an agile leader make. Remember that big project that went wrong because you rushed it? (who doesn’t?) - The ability to pay attention to detail is just as important as being able to think on your feet.

Giving others a voice

As a leader you need to create an environment where people feel comfortable to speak up, regardless of their status in the organization. Our own research has shown that most leaders are quite blind to the fact that others find it difficult to speak up to them. Truth and power are intrinsically linked – people beneath you in the hierarchy will always censor what they say. You have to break down these barriers to make sure that you really know the truth about what’s going on in your organization.

Platitudes like “my door is always open” won’t cut it here. Encouraging people to speak up is a complicated balancing act, and you need a sophisticated understanding of the impact of power differences on what is spoken and what is heard.

Remind yourself that your junior members of staff might find you scary. Be mindful of the subtle signals you give out daily and facilitate open and honest discussions across all levels of the business.

Read our research report on speaking truth to power for more on this.

Building resilience

Thriving in a VUCA world needs high levels of resilience – we’re talking physical, psychological and organizational here.

As a leader you need to pay attention to your physical health, develop confidence in your abilities and willingly seek the support of your colleagues and friends. More research of ours shows that regular mindfulness practice goes a long way in helping you to become happier, healthier and more prepared for the challenges work inevitably throws at you.

Hult International Business School
Hult International Business School
Ashridge Executive Education