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The Power Of The AND For The 21st Century Leader

What defines success for the leaders of tomorrow? Is mere understanding of the criticality and the nature of this new beast “AND” good enough to make leaders successful?

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Everyone is a leader in his or her own right. Be it a politician wanting to build his country for the future, a teacher shaping minds of young students, an entrepreneur ready to launch his ideas and set the stage, a child aspiring to lead in his or her own domain and space or a CEO in the 21st century. Creating a meaningful impact and leaving an inedible impression in a world that is extremely complex, chaotic and ambiguous is a tough ask for any leader. The leaders of today are expected to know the “what” and the “how” in every given situation. The leadership journey that leaders embark on brings with it enormous success and a sense of accomplishment. However, it has its own set of challenges. Its trajectory is definitely not linear, the path sometimes unclear and many times untrodden and the terrain not necessarily that easy. All these seemingly disparate dots along the leadership journey need a strong thread to weave and that’s where the seemingly innocuous conjunction word “AND” comes to play and starts to wield its true might.

The leaders that have truly motivated and inspired me are the ones who have delivered sustained results over a period of time. They have used relevant business models and frameworks like The Balanced Scorecard by Kaplin or the Theory of Constraints by Eliyahu Goldratt. The common thread that I picked up among these leaders are their laser focus on multiple set of relevant metrics that defined their AND”.

For a leader, the role of the AND becomes a very crucial and important starting point as he starts to understand todays leadership landscape. The CEO has to lead in this age of upheaval AND master personal challenges AND be in the limelight continually AND make decisions under extreme uncertainty. He is expected to be the Visionary thought leader AND be the one who can create an organization built to last for the future. He is expected to understand the needs of the emerging workforce: primarily of the new millennials AND be empathetic as he hires talent and build high performance teams. The overall external and market context is equally important as all this has to be executed in a Global framework that’s hyper connected AND very volatile AND truly uncertain. In essence, it is no longer a choice between “This or That”. It is also not about an “Either / Or”. It is about how the leader is expected to deliver on multiple counts. For the next generation CEO it is indeed all about Strategy AND Execution, Results AND Recognition, Metrics AND Meaning, Courage AND Confidence, Local AND yet being Global, Flexible AND yet being Focused. The AND will become the new “daily chant” for the 21st century leader for he will have to unlock and unleash its true power to be successful.

What defines success for the leaders of tomorrow? Is mere understanding of the criticality and the nature of this new beast “AND” good enough to make leaders successful? It is certainly not. For it is now time to sift the wheat from the chaff. It is time to take that next step of narrowing down from the myriad of options and choose the relevant options and alternatives that the AND provides. I believe success will be defined by the Right Choices of the AND that the leader makes.

It’s never realistic to break leadership into a fixed set of essential competences. Still, there are a rich set of opportunities for leaders to boost their effectiveness. I would like to amplify and extend those AND themes by emphasizing three skills that can help leaders thrive in the 21st century.

For me personal Credibility, Humility AND Followership comes across as the first and most important dimension of the leader for tomorrow as it is time to fortify your character. Unblemished track records and success followed by many more success can be dangerous as one could start taking things for granted and get complacent. The true character of the Leader shows not only when the chips are down but more importantly when the going is extremely good. This is the time when leaders forget to be humble and grounded. The Gen Y & Millennials look for simple attributes that they can relate to and this will ensure followership. While presence of these attributes may not guarantee success, their absence could definitely be the cause for failure.

For me the best example that comes to mind about Followership is where employees voluntarily rate and rank their supervisors and choose their own mentors. While traditionally mentors are usually assigned by the HR department, when an employee makes a choice the likelihood of the relationship working is higher. It is Followership by Choice and not by Position or Power that determines success .Another interesting concept gaining ground is that of reverse mentoring as practised at Bharti Airtel

As we continue to define success and skill sets that will be required from a leader in the 21st Century, their ability to “Think" becomes very critical. Thinking “Breakthrough” AND having a strong bias for action becomes a key differentiator. Leaders of tomorrow need to make a deliberate and focused effort aimed at developing radically new approaches that overcome constraints, instead of making incremental changes in the older ways of working. Leaders need to create an environment that fosters breakthrough thinking and innovation. The next brightest idea may not necessarily come from a R&D unit but could come from a much simpler and more engaging customer interaction. Critical thinking with this breakthrough mind-set AND a strong bias for action is likely to result in high performance.

The best example that I can think of, is of Danaher. Here the leaders are assessed not only by monthly, quarterly and yearly results but also by the extent of innovation ( vitality index) and breakthrough business impact( use of X Matrix & Policy Deployment )they bring to the table.

As we move to the last theme, the critical skill set that will make a true leader for tomorrow is the ability to be “Flexible” in their thinking AND “being Agile” in the models they create. Leaders need to flexible in their mind, hear different perspectives and be comfortable with different points of view. They cannot have fixed points of view as references based on past experiences may not necessarily be valid in this changing new world. As leaders they need to be able to “bend & blend” easily as they embrace the rapidly changing internal and external landscape. The velocity of change is so fast that it is important for leaders to be nimble and fleet footed (both for oneself and for the business) that makes it easy for them to navigate and adapt.

As we continue this leadership journey we will realise that it is indeed an experiential process of redefining ourselves as a leader. The learning happens as we continue to challenge our current assumptions about leadership and discover what to keep AND what to change AND what to develop in our self as a leader. Having done the above one would assume that this will ensure success as a leader. However, this may not be enough. After all the most respected and most followed leader is the one who at the core is a good human being and leads with a purpose. That leader, who has the ambition for a cause greater than himself.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Jai Shankar Krishnan

The author is the Group President and CEO of Danaher in India

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