What are the qualities of a good leader?
We know the world is changing. Businesses are being disrupted, entire industries are becoming obsolete, and some jobs will be lost. Indeed, a 2016 study by the World Economic Forum predicts that if current trends continue, we could see more than 5.1 million jobs lost to disruptive labor market changes by 2020, primarily but not exclusively in the office and administrative job family. The same study suggests there will be modest job growth (approximately 2 million jobs are expected to be added), but many of these new jobs will be in fields that are just emerging or don’t yet exist.
What is clear is that there is no doubt we are already entering a period of major change on the work front. This means steady and outstanding leadership is more important now than ever before. Leaders need to be able to manage change, including potential layoffs, understand and recruit workers in new and emerging job categories, and make strategic decisions for the present and future. But who are these people and what are their qualities?
In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is what many people are calling our current people of rapid change, leaders don’t need to be specialists. Given the speed of life, leaders must be able to absorb, digest, and think from many angle. They need to be able to quickly clarify critical issues and essential outcomes. This is why I maintain that if you want to be a great leader in today’s economy, you need to foster your agility, perspective, creativity, bandwidth management, and self-awareness.
In athletics, agility is often associated with your cross training. A runner who can also lift weights or swim a few miles is agile. In the world of business, agility is also about cross training but cross training on tasks. It means possessing the ability to digest a lot of information from many angles, the ability to absorb and distill essential issues, and the ability to separate the noise from the necessary.
I like to tell the clients with whom I work—many of who are leaders of large organizations—that sometimes, the best thing you can do is step off the dance floor, even if it is only for a few minutes. While being on the dance floor and more literally, down on the floor in the bullpen, may be where you think you thrive best, from time to time, it is important to step to the side of the action and get perspective. Great leaders do this throughout their workday, because when you step aside and see the field from a different angle, you can often more easily spot trouble spots, anticipate strategic next moves, and stay ahead of the competition.
The majority of professionals had creativity drilled out of them in elementary school when there was a high premium placed on coloring inside the lines. Today’s leaders must sometimes color outside the lines to survive. Indeed, there is no question that creativity is no longer just for artists. This is something that Richard Florida recognized over a decade ago when he first boldly claimed that creative labor is the future of work. In many respects, he was right. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, creativity reigns—creative workers of all kinds are changing the workforce and the communities in which they work and live—and creative leaders are rising above the crowd. This, I suspect, has everything to do with the fact that in our fast-paced global economy, creativity is necessary to troubleshoot problems, generate creative solutions, innovate, and distinguish one’s brand.
Demands on our attention have never been greater. As a result, leaders must also possess the ability to build bandwidth. After all, there is only so much time in the day and only so many days in a week. Building bandwidth is about generating the focus you need to do more in less time. It is about working at your peak in the time you have available, and as a result, doing more and doing more impactful work.
Self-awareness isn’t just for people seeking spiritual enlightenment. First, there is a growing recognition that leaders who lack self-awareness are stuck in a fixed mindset. They assume there is only one way to do things. But as Carol Dweck argues, to succeed, it is critical to foster a growth mindset, and self-awareness is part of this process. However, self-awareness is not only connected to mindset and personal growth. It is also linked to wellbeing. If you’re self-aware, you know when to slow down, how to take care of your mind and body, and how to manage your work-life balance. In a world where too many professionals are working long hours, ignoring their personal wellbeing, and even putting their personal relationship on the back burner to stay ahead of the competition, self-awareness is also a key to remaining healthy, happy, and ultimately passionate about one’s pursuits at work and in life.