We expect leaders to behave very differently today than we did yesterday. That’s because the problems we’re solving today are different from the ones we were solving yesterday.
Today’s leaders need to unlearn what their role models taught them and replace that with a whole new set of mindsets, skill sets, and behaviors. Unlike previous generations of leaders, it’s not enough to simply follow the example their role models may have set. It’s time for a shift in paradigms for leaders who want to be successful now and into the future.
There are four key paradigm shifts for today’s leaders to embrace:
- Leader knows best vs. collaboration. Gone are the days where someone like Jack Welch would be lauded as a great leader. That kind of command and control hierarchical leadership has now been recognized as ineffective in the long run. Sure, he made things happen, but the human capital cost was extremely high.
Effective leaders today embrace growth and open mindsets. They recognize that they’re not the only smart person in the room. They understand that great ideas are often raised by unlikely sources… if the leader does a good job of creating psychological safety.
Effective leaders utilize a wirearchy: a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on trust, knowledge, credibility, and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology. In contrast to command and control, wirearchy is “champion and channel:” championing ideas and innovation while channeling time, energy, authority and resources into testing those ideas and innovations.
2. Profit first vs. triple bottom line. Milton Friedman was wrong: the purpose of business is not solely to make money. The purpose of business is to make the world a better place, and those that attend to their purpose find that profit takes care of itself.
In fact, there is a lot of data that shows that purpose-driven companies, those focused on the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits, significantly outperform those that are focused solely on profits. In their book, Firms of Endearment, authors Sisodia, Wolfe, and Sheth studied sixty-six public and privately held companies in the U.S. and abroad. They found that these companies outperformed the S&P 500 by fourteen times in the fifteen years between 1998-2013.
3. 5 year strategic plans vs. fluid, agile decision making. “Man plans and God laughs” (a Yiddish proverb). The rate of change and innovation has accelerated rapidly over the past 20 years and it seems to get faster every year. New technologies, new challenges, and new ways of thinking continue to evolve. Companies, and the leaders who run them, need to constantly evolve just to remain relevant. It requires a strong growth mindset to be effective in an environment like today’s business world.
Just look at what happened during the pandemic: the companies that emerged successfully were ones that were able to adapt and innovate quickly. They were fluid and agile. They didn’t stick to a 5-year strategic plan; they tossed that playbook out the window. Now, that’s not to say you don’t need to have an idea of where you want to be in five years, but think about it more like a wire frame, not a detailed playbook.
This paradigm shift can be extrapolated out to smaller decisions as well. Having strict rules that don’t take into account the nuances of human behaviors and needs is old school. To thrive in today’s environment, leaders need to be responsive, not rigid. And if that’s true today, it’ll likely be even more true in the future.
4. Separation of work and personal vs. bring your whole self to work. Baby Boomers were raised in a way that discouraged showing their feelings at work. They were also raised that children should be seen and not heard…along with a whole host of other related beliefs that really aren’t good for a person’s mental health.
We’re human beings, not human doings. Nobody wants to be treated like a cog in a machine. Everyone wants to feel like they matter—like the work they’re doing matters. And belonging is a core human need. But how can a person feel a sense of belonging if they have to leave part or parts of themselves at home? We spend far too much time at work to hide away parts of ourselves every day. While there’s a lot of lip service given to the idea of bringing your whole self to work, there’s a gap between the idea and reality at many companies. Leaders who want to encourage their employees to bring their whole selves to work need to “go first” and model it themselves. It might feel awkward and vulnerable at first, but it’s worth it.
All of these paradigm shifts are, at their core, about being more human, and about being the best version of yourself possible. They require a growth and open mindset, strong interpersonal (aka “soft”) skills, and the behaviors of leaders who embody the Learn Lead Lift Framework®. Learn Lead Lift leaders are focused on ensuring that the people they lead grow as humans, becoming wiser, healthier, more autonomous, and more creative. This style of leadership breeds innovation and inclusion, and creates a strong sense of belonging with their people. They inevitably create more value in everything they touch. This is 21st-century leadership.