The new post GFC reality faced by organisations requires a balancing act between efficiency and growth. Current services and products need to be continually improved and delivered at lower costs while new markets, products and technologies need to be explored and developed. The cost of not doing so threatens the very sustainability of the organisation, such as those faced by Nokia and others.
The complexity of transforming organisations in the current environment means the leaders of the future need to build strong teams and distribute leadership in a manner that balances transformation and disciplined efficiency.
The days of the CEO playing the role of the hero are over, that is, the executive who used the ‘command and control’ style of leadership, to make all of the decisions and answer all of the difficult questions for his/her organisation. Yet, in the same way that the old ways of doing things and old ways of thinking have to be abandoned for organisations to transform and stay relevant today, old leadership traits must also be confined to history. A new style of leadership is needed.
Hay Group’s recent 2013 Best Companies for Leadership research identified a group of companies whose leaders are best positioned to thrive in the new business environment. These leaders are most aptly described as ‘ambidextrous’, simultaneously focused on operational imperatives and future innovation.
In short, to be an ambidextrous organisation, ambidextrous leaders are needed; multi-talented people who are adept at bridging the gap between achieving today’s priorities and realising tomorrow’s possibilities.
Not every leader has the skill set, emotional intelligence or capacity to succeed when strategic transformation is constant. Not everyone can lead an organisation that is both highly innovative and operationally excellent. It requires an unusual skill set and demands a completely different leadership style: the ambidextrous leader.
The, ambidextrous leader requires a broader repertoire of skills than those that would have been the foundation of their success in the past.
This new style of leadership is rarely seen, so not often modelled to others. So what does it look like? How can today’s leaders transform themselves? And what should we look for in the leaders of tomorrow?
Empower, don’t overpower
The future needs leaders with no egos. Many would consider this an oxymoron. When the ambition of the leader shifts from being a hero to being an enabler, someone who orchestrates rather than dictates, they find they get the best out of everyone. The new leader is not just the person who sits at the top of an organisation and gives a stamp of approval; they are a change agent and create a culture where anyone can contribute new ideas and drive improvement.
Collaboration not Control
Ambidextrous post-heroic leaders are collaborators not controllers; they recognise that command and control will not deliver enduring successes. They possess the emotional intelligence to influence – not control or bully – and can exert that influence simultaneously with people and teams who may have conflicting agendas. They build bridges, start conversations and narrow the gap between innovators and operators.
Soft skills above technical skills
These leaders understand that soft skills are equally important as hard numbers. The Best Companies for Leadership research learned that, in 82 per cent of top companies, leaders work hard to connect people with projects that are personally meaningful to them. The post-heroic leader inspires people by creating a meaningful business narrative and purpose that goes beyond quarterly numbers. The Top 20 Best Companies were also focused on creating an engaged and positive work climate, where the importance placed on soft skills results in well-organised teams, flexibility, cultural diversity and loyalty.
Emotional intelligence and resilience
Ambidextrous leaders are emotionally intelligent and resilient in the face of adversity. They are self-aware and aware of the world around them. This means they constantly change and match their behaviour in response to any situation, to steer through every day challenges and create positive environments.