Tuesday, February 25, 2014

21st Century Leadership

Expectations for leadership are changing out there in the working world. The most sophisticated and successful organizations no longer rely on what I call the "John Wayne" school of charismatic (dead white) male leadership. They crowd source their problems, consult deeply among their employees, and, more than anything, listen.

This was always true, surprisingly, during my military career. I worked for military organizations (specifically the Royal Air Force engineering trades and the RAF Mountain Rescue Service), where the officers had to rely on the inherent leadership in the enlisted men and NCOs, because the work we did was so difficult technically that "John Wayning" was always a recipe for disaster. You don't expect the military to be a place where rank matters less than knowledge and ability, but in my career it was.

This from Tom Friedman's article in the NYT this morning on how leadership expectations are changing in our top organizations. The raconteur is Laszlo Bock, head of HR for Google:

“...the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”

And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

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