Based on traditional leadership theories, the leader is the captain or the conductor: the determined one who guides the direction of an organisation. In the past few years, however, the concept of leadership has experienced a revolution. Now the thinking is that leaders should not be overly strong and determinate, but should rather be self-aware, genuine, and just as human as everyone else.
In recent years – thanks to my studies in neuroscience and psychology – I have had to shake my own concept of what it means to be a great leader. Academic thinking on this subject has changed much, and we are also seeing demand for a new approach to leadership. Today, we need leaders who are not only able to set the direction and goals, but who can also boost energy levels and creativity inside organisations. This will enable companies to improve their ability to renew themselves so that they can enjoy continued success.
Three essential aspects of this new kind of leadership are:
1. Strong self-awareness
If you don’t know yourself, how can you lead others? A great leader is familiar with his or her own feelings, motivations, beliefs and worldview. He or she reflects and questions him or herself, accepting his or her own feelings and thus also being able to appreciate others. A great leader gets energised by the successes of others and also accepts their failures. Creativity flourishes when employees are not afraid of making mistakes and everyone has a right to be their own true self.
2. Permission to be confused
The value of charisma has been overblown. A leader simply cannot always control situations that change quickly and unexpectedly. Things do not happen on command or in a linear fashion, and change is not a direct journey from A to B. A leader should therefore allow him or herself and everyone else in the organisation to be puzzled from time to time. He or she should dare to take a time-out, ask questions and consider different options, as this kind of systemic thinking helps in understanding the big picture. Today’s leaders are captains who have to navigate in deep waters with thick fog. Too much certainty and charisma in such an environment can lead to the sinking of the ship.
3. Ability to be present
According to traditional thinking, the leader is always a couple of steps ahead of everyone else, and this ensures the success of the company. This is partly true, but a leader must also be present in the here and now. When leaders stop for a moment and concentrate on being present, they can make valuable discoveries. The answers to relevant questions and the keys for success can often be found by making observations in the present, as the future is built on today’s facts and encounters.
Being genuine sets everyone free
A truly present and genuine leader creates a relaxed and secure atmosphere, where employees can trust that they have a mandate for trial and error, and thus dare to seek creative solutions. In such an environment, people are ready to take responsibility, and to act boldly and independently.
In Finland, business success is largely linked with numbers, process descriptions and clear strategies; and leadership degrees put a heavy emphasis on technical and financial expertise. Thus, we have lots of strong managers who lack leadership skills. In the future, a more psychological approach and systemic thinking will significantly grow in importance, as will the emphasis on the leader’s own courage to be genuine and open.
If you got interested in the topic, read more about our The Integrated Leader programme.