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Is the nature of effective leadership changing?

Absolutely, say today’s leaders.

And it will change even more in the next five years, according to a recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership.

Leading is more complex and requires new approaches, new mindsets and new skills. So now’s the time to take a good, hard look at whether you’re learning what it will take to be effective down the road. Chances are you’ll find yourself learning to lead … again.

“Leading is ultimately about learning,” says André Martin, a faculty member of the Center for Creative Leadership. “What worked well in the past may not do the trick in your next job or when it’s time to solve the next challenge.”

Martin describes the process of re-thinking what it takes to lead effectively as one of creating a new map of leadership. “The context, the landscape of leadership, is changing for a number of reasons — complex challenges, increased expectations, technology and so on,” Martin explains. “Therefore, we must remap leadership’s place within this new landscape and re-think the skills needed to navigate though it.”

In simple terms, the balance of bottom-line to relationship skills is shifting. Relationship and connection-based skills are not optional; on the contrary, they are increasingly viewed as primary or pivotal. Center for Creative Leadership research has identified four requisite skills for leaders of the future:

They include leading employees; managing change, building and mending relationships and employing participative leadership.

Of the four leading employees is the most important skill for leaders. Leaders who are effective in this area excel in the following three ways:

  • Number 1…Leaders “delegate and develop”. They are willing to delegate important tasks and decisions. This is done as an effective management technique, but more importantly, as a means to develop employees. Providing challenge and opportunity builds skill, experience, and confidence. As a result, effective leaders surround themselves with talented people.
  • Number 2…Leaders “give feedback”. They are honest and consistent in communicating expectations and results. They provide prompt feedback — both positive and negative., and
  • Number 3…Leaders “motivate”. They reward hard work and dedication to excellence. They willingly explain, answer questions and patiently listen to concerns.

Another critical skill is managing change. Effective leaders are skilled at facilitating organizational change and overcoming resistance. They do this in four important ways:

  • Number 1: By “being a role model”. Leading change by example sets the tone and pace for others. Effective leaders approach change in a positive and realistic way.
  • Number 2: By “adapting”. Leaders are flexible, adapting plans as necessary. This includes adjusting management or leadership style to changing situations.
  • Number 3: By “including others”. Leaders involve key people in the design and implementation of change. Aware of the impact change can have, they take into account people’s concerns., and
  • Number 4: By “being direct”. Leaders are straightforward about the changes and consequences of an expected action or decision.

The research also identified “building and mending relationships” as critical for success. Effective leaders are skilled at interpersonal relationships. They are able to negotiate and handle work problems without alienating people. They show they understand others’ perspectives and are able to gain cooperation, trust and respect. Managers who are successful at building and maintaining relationships do three things well:

  • Number 1: Leaders “keep their cool”. They avoid creating adversarial relationships. Conversely, they can handle an unfair attack from peers with poise.
  • Number 2: Leaders “act diplomatically”. They get things done by finding common ground. They use good timing and common sense in negotiating – making their points when the time is right., and
  • Number 3: Leaders “relate to all”. They can develop rapport and relationship with all kinds of individuals — from shop floor to top executives.

Finally, the research showed leaders succeed by employing a participative management style. Strong leaders use effective listening skills and communication to involve others, build consensus and influence decisions. Participative leaders do three things:

  • Number 1: Leaders “engage before acting”. They involve others in the beginning stages of an initiative and work to gain commitment of others before implementing changes.
  • Number 2: Leaders “inform”. They keep individuals informed of future changes that may impact them.
  • Number 3: Leaders “listen”. They encourage direct reports to share and listen to individuals at all levels in the organization. They consistently listen to employees — not only when things are going well.

By cultivating your ability to lead employees, manage change, build relationships and employ a participative management style, you will better position yourself and your organization to tackle complex challenges.

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