Let’s think about Steve Jobs and Genghis Khan.
Both were great leaders. Whether it was turning around a failing software company or unifying the Mongol hordes, Jobs and Genghis did good. They made their mark in history with their ability to lead.
Now, imagine what would happen if you dropped Genghis into Job’s office, or left Steve charge of the Mongols. Things wouldn’t go so well, right? A Khan warlord isn’t going to come up with the next iSomething. A skinny guy in a turtleneck isn’t going to convince a band of nomadic tribes to take over Asia.
Good leaders aren’t all alike. The qualities we need to organize, inspire, and mobilize groups are in constant flux, changing with time, culture, and environment. So what about our time? Our culture? Our environment? What is a good leader today? And do we even have them?
Today, our conventional ideas of leadership are upside-down. Mark Zuckerberg makes millions for giving people a free service. Jimmy Wales made Wikipedia a household name, despite the fact that it’s a non-profit and completely volunteer-based. In politics, stuff is even more upside down: the biggest names of our generation aren’t individuals, but groups with no leadership: protestors in Tahrir square, Anonymous, the Occupy Movement.
Do we even need leaders anymore? We do. Whenever people organize to get a job done, they need a guide. However, our ideas of good leadership are going through another shift, the same kind of shift that turned Steve Jobs into our version of Genghis Khan. And if we want to be effective leaders by the time we end up in the boss’s chair, we need to know what’s shifting and how to take advantage of it.
We interviewed three experts on leadership. We asked them how leadership has changed, what leaders today need to do, and what young people can do to accelerate their leadership skills. You wouldn’t take an iPod to Mongolia. Don’t bring outdated leadership to today’s workforce.
“The number one thing a graduate has to get through their head,” Sheahan opens, “is that they don’t get paid for input, they get paid for output. They get paid to do something.”
Peter Sheahan is a millionaire Australian entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and author. His books include Fl!p, which outlines six unconventional ideas that shape business today. Sheahan, and his consultancy firm ChangeLabs, has worked with big-business names like Apple, Google, and IBM, to overcome blocks and start innovating. We spoke with Sheahan just after he finished a speaking at the HRPA Annual Trade Show Conference in Toronto. He emphasized that leaders need to understand their impact on their team, and ask the right questions to get the most bang for their buck.
What hasn’t changed? Sheahan explains, the market is more competitive than ever (think all those Chinese and Indian companies making things better, cheaper, and faster). Things are more complicated than ever (think government regulations, stakeholder relations, and branding). And to top it off, we live in a market where ideas, not products or services are the make-or-break quality in business.
This creates a problem when traditional leaders try to manage their staff. Every project manager can figure out how to produce more products, but this is a knowledge economy. “I can command you to come up with fifty widgets,” says Sheahan. “I can’t tell you to come up with creative ideas.”
WHAT LEADERS NEED TO DO
One of the most important skills leaders need, according to Sheahan, is “The ability to understand your impact, separate to your intention. What I mean by that is some leaders who say they don’t want to annoy their staff or frustrate their team, do so anyway. All. The. Time. What you’ll find is that you didn’t mean to be an asshole (sic), but you were. You didn’t mean to be annoying, but you were. You didn’t mean to slow things down, but you did.”
To separate what you meant to do from what you actually did, Sheahan says there are a number of mechanisms for feedback, from formal reviews to just asking around. The important thing is to do it soon to get used to the idea. “Getting into the habit of feedback, early, is crucial,” says Sheahan. “I’ve been involved in major graduate programs around the world ... and these students try to find excuses and deny the feedback.” It doesn’t matter what you were trying to do but what you did. If you can understand your faults and have the maturity to address them, you’ll be on track for developing your leadership skills early.
Another thing Sheahan says to keep in mind is that a leader isn’t a dictator. “If you talk to Emannuel,” says Sheahan, “he’ll tell you — correctly — that leadership has gone from a directive activity to an activity of influence and engagement.”
The “Emannuel” that Sheahan speaks of is Emannuel Gobillot, another leadership expert. And do you know what? We talked to him, too.
“There are two questions people always ask me,” Emmanuel Gobillot writes in an email to Jobpostings. “The first is ‘How do you pronounce your name?’ (“Gobio,” if you’re interested). And the second, once they find out what I do, is ‘What do great leaders do?‘“
Speaker, author, and consultant. Emmanuell Gobillot first made waves with his book, The Connected Leader. He piqued our interest with his other book: Leadershift. This book describes how mass collaboration doesn’t just change leadership, it changes the nature of business itself. Gobillot was travelling Europe when we contacted him, but he still gave us some time to answer a few of our questions.
Globalization, communication, and fragmented markets. You can get a university-quality education for free online. You can buy samurai swords off eBay. And generationally and culturally, our workplace is more diverse than ever. “This is important for anyone in a leadership position as we tend to lead out of experience.” Gobillot says without a shared experience, leadership becomes that much harder.
So what changed in leadership? The whole world changed. And we need to change with it.
WHAT LEADERS NEED TO DO
So, how do we become good leaders? “In many ways that’s the wrong question,” says Gobillot. “Great leaders are people who have learned to be a skillful version of themselves, not a poor copy of others. My advice for anyone starting out is always the same: stop asking what great leaders do and wonder instead what great followers want? The latter will help you a great deal more by gathering the energy of the people around in order to succeed.”
Good leaders are not revolutionaries rallying crowds to victory. They’re not generals trouping their team through hostile territory. Instead, they’re more like urban planners. According to Gobillot, a good leader creates a stable community for a team to work in and then lets that group channel their energy to complete a task. In an ideal environment, this ideal team will be able to orient, manage, and motivate themselves. This, Gobillot argues, is how Wikipedia (a non-profit, volunteer organization) became everyone’s first stop for knowledge. The Wikipedia community is a great example of how a properly-constructed environment lets a mission succeed.
But that doesn’t mean an executive should be fetching coffee. “Leadership is not about control, but that doesn’t mean a leader isn’t in charge. [Good leadership requires us to] co-create a picture of what the future could be with your followers. … It’s then about holding an umbrella over their heads to ensure the vision can be achieved.”
Then what about mass collaboration? Can you turn an accounting firm into Wikipedia? “Every organization is a dormant Wikipedia,” says Gobillot. “The job of a leader is to awaken it.”
“Organisations are fundamentally two organisations. One is formal with its lines and boxes and processes. The other is what I call the real organisation, the networks of relationships that give the formal its energy. If you think about the real organization then you have Wikipedia. It’s about releasing the energy of people to ensure they want to contribute to the outcome of the organisation. The mistake would be to try to create the real by changing the structure of the formal. You may have a more straightforward process (which would be great), but it is still a process.”
President and CEO of his own firm, Dr. David Weiss is also currently an affiliate professor at the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, and a senior research fellow at Queen’s. Weiss is the author of many books, most recently Innovative Intelligence, published in 2011. During a phone interview, Dr. Weiss’ told us that the primary task of leaders today is to bring the innovation out of their followers.
Dr. Weiss conducted a study on innovation with his firm. He found that 80% of senior leaders and executives said innovation was important. But only 30% were actually satisfied with the innovation in their organizations.
He called it “the innovation gap.” And the reason we have it is because leaders now have to address different problems.
“Leaders are asked to take on leadership roles because they have knowledge and experience to do the work” says Weiss. “Over the last ten to fifteen years, there’s been an increasing number of issues that are far more complex. Complex problems, more ambiguous problems, and ultimately, the past knowledge and experience usually aren’t sufficient to find the proper answer.”
WHAT LEADERS NEED TO DO
Today, leaders need to innovate to solve problems, and to do that, they need innovative intelligence. According to Weiss, “Innovative intelligence is the capability we have to gain insight into problems and to discover new and unseen implementable solutions,” says Weiss. This innovative intelligence, combined with analytical and emotional intelligence, is what makes an effective leader today.
But that doesn’t mean leaders need to be the creative genius type. Instead, Weiss says, “Leaders need to become leaders of innovation. There’s an attempt to make leaders innovative leaders. And although it’s great to have innovative leaders, sometimes when a leader is very innovative, they don’t know how to work effectively with their teams to draw insights from where the complexities are.”
So, instead of dragging your team through the twisted machinations of your mind, Weiss recommends that innovative leaders form a culture of innovation. “A culture of innovation is characterized by an organization where innovation is a priority. A culture like this has leaders who embody innovative thinking, who communicate openly, and aren’t afraid to do things differently.”
Weiss wants to underscore that innovation goes beyond technological change: “What’s important for young people to be aware of — and many are —is that innovation, ultimately, is not about products.” Innovation can happen everywhere: from the way a product is delivered to the underlying assumptions about the business itself.