What reality are organizations facing right now? What is the impact on leadership?

  • Is leadership fundamentally transforming or just adjusting?
  • What is leadership really, really about, now?
  • If leadership is transforming, should we think about a fundamentally new way to consider leadership? Is the term “leadership” still valid at all, as it comes from a different time (or not)?
  • Who needs a leader? How can leadership add real value?
  • Can we substitute leaders with an algorithm or a smart operational system?
  • Why is there so much talking about leadership and so few great leaders?
  • Do we need leaders, or rather leadership teams? The world is so complex and volatile and quick; how should any person be able to lead at all?

So, what are the key responsibilities that can be only performed by a human leader?

The more I think about it, the less I know. So, I am using a widely-used tool: I will formulate my ideas as theses.

#1 – Leadership is more important than ever AND it is fundamentally different

There was a time when it was obvious for organizations where to go and what to do. Linear growth informed by the past and the present. Just more of the same, just a little better, cheaper and faster.

Today the situation looks like this: We actually have no idea what has happened, what is happening and what is going to happen. So, we either continue with what we are doing and hope for the best, or we make active new choices in an unpredictable world. The Digital Age is the age of creation, imagination and invention rather than of continuation. The future is no place that already exists – it is being created, imagined and invented out of the present moment. This is what leadership is about right now.

#2 – Leadership provides orientation by creating and speaking a new future

Reality is carved out of an unknown future by words. “Words create Worlds” – they are the most powerful tool leaders have. With their description of a future world, they create reality for the rest of the organization With their power, they create a new future to which their organization can strive. Their message becomes reality when it is consistent, conscious and authentic. When people start to believe and enact this new reality. This is how words create worlds.

#3 Leadership fosters freedom and creativity

If you put more pressure on already-stressed and overwhelmed people, what do you expect as a result?

One role of leadership is to provide enough freedom to spark our given and innate creativity. Without trust, there is no freedom; without freedom, there is no creativity. Without integrity, there is no trust. Here we come back to very basic human needs: feeling safe, feeling connected, having freedom to develop.

#4 Leadership provides emotional connection

Digital connection is the new normal. We cannot be not digitally-connected in different ways and forms. To open up and develop a new practice of digital connection is indispensable. We can ask our kids and interns to coach us – there is no way out. The best way is to embrace the new possibilities. But there is another aspect to connection: the emotional connection. And it becomes clearer and clearer that while we are increasingly connected on an informational level, we are terribly disconnected on an emotional level. Research shows that there is a negative correlation between the number of Facebook friends and “real friends” (what is real anyway…).

Feeling isolated creates anxiety and a tendency to play small and hold back. What we need right now are people who feel safe to contribute fully. Leaders create conditions for emotional connection. There are many ways to do that, but for me, the most important one is to be present, physically and mentally and emotionally for each other and to help others do the same by listening, asking, sharing.

The more digital the world becomes, the more spaces we need to feel, smell and listen each other. After all, we are humans, and trust is created only when we know each others’ intentions, strengths and personalities.

#5 – Leadership is a team effort

“The next buddha is the community” is also valid for leaders. While we were used to relying on singular and shiny leaders, the world has become too complex for individuals. This is a new game we are now entering. We need strong and aligned leadership teams, creating all of the previously-mentioned conditions for themselves.

#6 Leading means: “We go first”

With whatever we want to create. Leadership is about Being Your Word and this is what Leading really is about. People hear you talking, and they see you acting. Leaders are not telling others what to do, but rather they inspire by who they are and how they act. Everyone can be a leader.

Austria Connect / Julia Culen / June 2017 / Leading in the digital age