Traditional leadership styles from the 19th and 20th Centuries tended to involve strict hierarchies, superiority, winners and losers. To lead, people felt the need to prove they are better than everyone else. Leadership was about “power” and its abuse, loneliness and affectations. In the latter part of the 20th Century, there was a gradual decline in hierarchies which is evermore the case in the first decade of the 21st Century.
So how does this impact business? What does it suggest about leadership and success in the twenty first Century? Facets of leadership in the 21st Century. From our experience, successful businesses (be they high quality start-ups or companies looking for rapid growth), recognise new values essential to their success. It is “out with the old” and in with: “flat structures”; inclusive management style that involves all people in the organisation, not just senior management; openness and transparency; genuinely equal opportunities, regardless of race, ethnic origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities etc.; empowering – i.e. committed to empowering each and every member of the team.
21st Century leadership is not about bullying and high-handedness or even intellectual or financial superiority. It is about playing to strengths, working around or minimising weaknesses, authenticity and not being fazed by challenges. Above all, it is about being straight in communications both internally and externally.
The new style is about “can-do” mentality and about avoiding disempowering language. Words such as “I’ll try to” or “I need you to...” and other indirect language undermine the communication: “trying” to do anything is preparing for failure, not taking personal responsibility for causing something to happen. Using language that suggests there is another reason for why someone should do something rather than simply that you want them to do it makes people look weak so, “needing” someone to do something is in fact rarely authentic – and should normally be replaced by “I want you to do X please” or some equivalent straight communication.
“Walking the talk”
Last but not least, leadership in the 21st Century is about “walking the talk” of the organisation. However, the organisation first needs to be clear about what it is “talking” about before it can walk it and then it needs to make sure that it is consistent in everything it does: this is anything from internal relations (with colleagues) through to external relations with customers, suppliers and the public at law.
Making it “real”
We believe that law is the “glue” of society, the structure behind relationships that either has them work or not. A leader has to make sure that all of his/her relationships work. Where the relationships are recognised as being important to the organisation (and we cannot conceive of an organisation where they are not), special attention needs to be paid to making sure that all documented relationships are consistent with the values of the organisation and the style of leadership. Are your communications straight, open, honest and fair? When did you last look at your employment contracts, shareholder’s agreements, terms of business, web site terms, partnering agreements and purchase contracts? Are they consistent with who you say you are?