Whether they’re planning to tackle pressing global issues, improving human health or pushing the boundaries of the capabilities of technology, the leaders of tomorrow will be moulded by the leaders of today. In today’s global environment of ever-changing trends and perceived instability, it is the responsibility of today’s leaders to instil inherent guiding principles that help breed success of future businesses and the success of the teams they are currently leading.
But what are these guiding principles and how can we encourage the leaders of tomorrow to embed them into their way of thinking, in a language they can understand and execute?
Four principles hold true to me as I continue to navigate life and its challenges.
1. Show Up as Your Real Self
The leaders of tomorrow are growing up in a social media echo-chamber of manufactured social profiles. A significant proportion of people online don’t authentically publish their ‘real life’– often using social channels as the ‘highlight reel.’ Depending on how deeply these individuals ‘live’ this life, they may begin to lose their authentic self. This coupled with today’s societal trends of generally reduced patience, attention spans, and lack of fact checking often leads us down a path of perception at face value, and the superficial rather than genuine.
We must teach the next generation of leaders to embrace the fact that everybody has strengths and weaknesses, even the greatest pioneering leaders. But that alone is not what matters. It’s the ability to recognise who you (and others) are and what drives the authentic self that will make the difference. In my rather eclectic career living in multiple counties across the globe, I’ve often found that the individuals who excel and thrive have clearly identified their self, passion points, and strengths – achieved through a huge sense of self-awareness. Recognising and understanding what authentically drives you, whilst making peace with your weaknesses and learning to fill the gaps with people or an environment that compensates this gap is a practice that great leaders consistently carry out throughout their lives.
Steve Jobs said, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room”. The Apple founder famously never wrote a single line of code, but by embracing complete self-awareness he knew his strengths lay in experience, design, simplicity and creativity and he needed to plug his gaps with outstanding talent.
2. Failure is Productive
If you never fail, you may never achieve holistic, deep personal growth.
Whether managing organisational change, developing a new business model, or extending a user experience within a service offering, we often speak about developing a “Proof of Concept” or POC, where we look to validate if our thinking is correct (or not) through some form of real-world testing.
The goal of a POC is to run a series of tests where we actively try to validate our thinking. The key in these tests is that we fail forward and continuously learn from the results of the test. Encouraging people to feel comfortable with failure reflects both the concept of a POC, but also the real world, and how our attitude towards hard learnings shapes the success of the next challenge. These learnings will always be carried forward to the next project or personal challenge that will need to be overcome.
So, if failing is a viable practice, why are employees today often still made to feel as though failure is unacceptable? Lack of freedom to fail is causing anxiety, stress and churn of talent when in reality failing is the fastest way to learn.
Encourage leaders to understand the difference between failing through negligence and lack of care, versus failing at proving a concept and or an idea. If negligence, clear guidance needs to be given on why this needs to be avoided. If failing from testing an idea, failure should be considered learnings, therefore value for the organisation.
As Malcolm Forbes put it “Failure is success if we learn from it.”
3. No Single Action Creates Success, Consistency Does
Consistency breeds habit, habit breeds consistency.
Success, and success in leadership particularly, doesn’t come overnight. Real success is a result of a culmination of small consistent behaviours and the ability to get numerous small things right every day.
Consistency can manifest itself in many ways, one of which is by habit. Being able to break your daily ‘to dos’ up into micro instances of daily ritual allows (over time) a consistent approach to the task, and therefore predictable results that reflect this consistency. Years ago, when I started in the corporate world, one of my manager mentors described the approach of doing one great thing a day (regardless of size or importance). Over a week, that’s seven great new things. Over a month that’s thirty-one optimised ways of approaching a topic/task. This process automatically begins to build muscle memory towards positive habit, which promotes consistency.
It’s the consistent delivery of small things that add up to a grand prize.
So, in the workplace, if leaders consistently deliver things such as empathy, understanding, time, education, encouragement and support to their workforce every day, you can almost guarantee a more consistently happy, thriving, highly functioning team who will work more effectively and stay with the organisation longer.
4. Empathy is a Universal Enabler of Success
Empathy is the ability to understand how people are feeling and the ability to relate and connect to them in a way which inspires positive action or behaviour – regardless of rank, social standing, or their relation to you. Effective practitioners of empathy can look beyond their personal feelings and views to place themselves in the shoes of another person.
Effective leaders wear many empathetic ‘shoes’ and can quickly place themselves in others’ situations. During a leader’s career, they have two large segments (or shoes) to fill, one of the team, and one of the customer. They know one is symbiotic to the other. Understanding your team and communicating in a way that will resonate with them to help deliver more effectively and with authentic purpose, and secondly understanding your customer to deliver what they need and want, when they want it.
Even though the future of business will look so different from our current reality, leadership principles will remain, and tomorrow’s leaders need to learn from their predecessors’ mistakes so that they can go on to make their own.