2017 will not pass into history books unnoticed. A cast list of technologies, tyrants and technocrats have conspired to make it a red-letter year, and surely one that future generations will study with some curiosity.
Against this backdrop, for us at Visible Leaders it’s been a year of growth and opportunity, as well as one in which we’ve learned a thing or five that will shape our work in 2018.
1. Leadership needs to play the generation game
Generational gaps are widening across the whole of our society, and nowhere are they more marked than between those coming in to the world of work, and those steering large organisations. These gaps are changing the role of leadership... how leaders influence, connect and inspire. ‘It’s hard for me to identify with these people – none of them are very inspiring’ says a recently employed graduate to her manager while watching a global broadcast of middle-aged white men explain the corporate strategy. Leaders must explore two-way communication that is spontaneous, personal and accessible and less formal, broadcast and hierarchical.
2. Don’t allow ‘here and now’ to eclipse ‘there by then’
Arguably it’s the inevitable consequence of capitalism... organisations, and the leaders within them, are being pushed to deliver more, and at pace, usually without a comparable increase in resources. This pushes the focus onto today, this week, this month at the expense of longer-term thinking and the big ideas needed to move a business forward. Leaders need to carve out at least a couple of hours a week to think, reflect and shoot the breeze if they want to breathe sustainable life into their stretched organisations.
3. Causes get things done, change projects not so much
‘Working the matrix’, ‘cross-functional projects’, ‘collaboration models’, ‘disruptive transformation’... the everyday language of the modern organisation. And yet, most organisations experience destructive friction when their departmental silos need to work together. One way to rise above these tensions is for leaders to build purpose-driven causes that overcome differences and celebrate common ground. Big and meaningful ideas can make a tangible and worthwhile difference, inspiring and motivating people to get behind them while keeping the negatives of ‘change’ at bay.
4. The machines have made the mainstream
Machine learning, AI and digitization became this year’s buzzwords, often used but seldom wisely. 2017 was the year the mainstream began to see just how fundamentally things are going to change, while waking up to the fact that we haven’t even started debating the difficult questions. Leaders are in the box seat, and will have to work out quickly how to address the massive reshaping of organisations, the creation of value, and what it means to be an employee. In the face of this uncertainty, leaders must provide both a compelling vision and a sense of purpose at a time when the reference points we use to define much of our very identity are under threat.
5. Leading to learn
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing organisations in 2017 was what to do with all that empty floor space in the Leadership Development Centre. Rather than days or even weeks of classroom-based learning, leaders are looking more for bite-sized interventions, on-the-job development and of course, learning leadership from others’ experiences. Gamers, fighter pilots and neuroscientists (among many, many others) have insights and ideas that are challenging convention and shaping corporate leadership. The best incumbent leaders are playing a more active and integral role in developing the next generation, and while they do, can harvest some powerful learning for themselves.
It’s impossible to predict quite where the world will be in a month’s time, let alone a year from now. But one thing we do know is that we can’t wait to see the challenges our amazing clients have in store for us. We look forward to a fascinating 2018, and wish you a happy and restful break in the meantime.
Merry Christmas, from all of us at Visible Leaders.
I remember vividly my first digital transaction (don’t we all!). Sat in a slightly unhinged ad agency, I could barely suspend my disbelief that ordering a case of wine on my laptop would result in it being delivered to my front door the next day. Even though that was over 15 years ago, only now is the debate about what the digital age really means for leadership beginning to take shape.
A lot of our work is angled towards the C-suite and senior leaders, with a healthy dose of development for emerging talent thrown in for good measure. But I’ve been asked several times in the last few months about communication support for frontline leaders, and when that happens, it usually means there’s something going on that’s worth exploring.