10 Leadership Principles for Next-Generation Leaders
“Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.” – Walter Cronkite
Principles are essential for leaders, as they give the leaders guidance and focus to navigate through the challenges leadership imposes on them. But leadership is in constant change, as successful leadership is a reflection of the world around it.
Therefore, the leadership principles for the next-generation leaders might not be the same as the principles of today’s leaders. In this guide, we’ll outline the ten core principles the future leader should focus on.
Principle 1. LEAD BY SETTING AN EXAMPLE
The most important principle for the next-generation leader is to lead by example. Leaders are not there to tell people what to do, but to show them how and why to perform the specific tasks. You essentially need to understand the difference between a leader and a boss. The core idea of leadership is the ability to inspire people and in order to do that you can’t just bark orders. If you want people to buy into your vision, then you need to show them why the vision is worth working for with your actions and behavior.
While you definitely need to draft a strong vision to guide you through, the vision should ultimately be built around your ability to do what you preach. A vision that the leader isn’t committed to work towards himself or herself, is as strong as a house of cards.
A leader leads – he or she walks in the front, while inspired followers follow performing and mimicking the behaviors and actions they see the leader do. You can’t expect the followers to behave in a specific way, if you go around doing the opposite or not doing anything at all.
Do you want your team to focus on excellence? Then become excellent at what you do and empower the others to do the same. You can implement true organizational change by changing the mindset and behavior of the team through example. If they can look up to you as the leader and see confidence, resilience, excellence and dedication, they will want to mirror this behavior.
Principle 2. SEEK OUT CHANGE NOT FAME
The next-generation of leaders has to focus even more than ever on setting out their vision of the future. You must be able to create a transformative vision because it’s the only way to get people on your side. You can’t inspire and motivate people to work hard, if they don’t know what they are working for or they don’t believe in the objectives you’ve laid out.
The vision you define should focus on change, not fame. Leadership is not about getting your place in the sun – it is not about you. A great leader is looking to change the course of an organization, a team or even society. It’s about changing and empowering the employees and growing as a person and as a leader while doing it. If you are in it for fame or the money, you are inevitably going to fail as a leader. You might have money, but you won’t have the backing and respect of the people you are controlling.
The above does not imply you shouldn’t think big. It’s not about hiding away from publicity or recognition, but it’s about focusing on the cause. The fame and the money might well come as a consequence of your leadership vision, but these are not the objectives that should drive your vision. Think about the greatest leaders in history, such as Dr Martin Luther King. Leaders like him didn’t seek to be famous, they wanted to dream big and break down the injustice they found in society.
To this day, these great leaders are studied and talked about because they had big ideas and they weren’t afraid to work towards their objectives. Ambition is not a dirty word. You need ambition to push your limits. But as a leader, you need to direct your ambition towards a vision that is not just about you, but which has the power to empower and transform the people, the organization, and the community around you.
You need to be clear about your vision and your values right from the start. It’s crucial to spend enough time figuring out what you are passionate about. Leadership requires perseverance and this is where going after your passion and vision becomes crucial. If you focus on a superficial objective, like fame, you aren’t going to be as committed to giving it your all and working those long nights to achieve it as you would by focusing on your passion.
Finding your passion and creating a vision you truly believe in can be the guiding light and support structure you need. Furthermore, it’ll provide you with authenticity, which you need in order to inspire your team.
Principle 3. FOCUS ON THE ESSENCE OF BEING A LEADER
Being a leader is not a position you gain; it’s not about having a special title or a specific role within an organization. Being a leader is about behavior and actions. You can be a leader, even if you aren’t in a senior level in an organization and you can find examples of people who call themselves leaders because of their position of power, but who in fact act more like bosses. Whatever you do, always remember the essence of being a leader: sharing your vision with people and inspiring them to follow your cause.
Examine different leaders, listen to them sharing their wisdom and discover the characteristics, skills and traits that make them successful at what they do. You can find many resources on leadership and being a leader. One great way is to watch interviews. For example, the YouTube clip below has Richard Branson share his views on the essential quality of a leader:
Use the information and experience to develop your own leadership style and strategy. Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, utilizing them as part of your chosen style. By understanding your own behavior and how it influences your abilities as a leader, you can continue developing your skills. But more important is how it can help you realize how your behavior defines your success as a leader, not your place within an organization’s hierarchy.
You can’t be complacent and expect people to look up to you as a leader when you gain a powerful position. Don’t lull yourself into thinking that people will follow you and buy into your vision just because you are at the top. Your actions and your attitude are the only ways you can convince people of your vision and ensure they want to follow you and help you achieve the objectives.
As a leader, it’s your behavior and your communication, which guarantee people are inspired and respect you. It’s your ability to take responsibility for your actions, your power to change and transform things around you, and your empowering nature, which helps others unleash their own potential; these are the behaviors a leader shows and implements.
Principle 4. PLACE VALUES AT THE HEART OF EVERY ACTION
Leadership in the future will continue to emphasize people, the vision and the leader’s ability to change things around. The future worker is looking for different things; research has highlighted how the Millennials are extensively focused on flexible working opportunities and working with great peers, as well as proper remuneration and job security.
Furthermore, The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey showed that future employees are interested in the impact and value of the job they get or perform. While flexibility, work/life balance, and career progression are among the top priorities when searching for a job, things like “sense of meaning from my work” and “the impact is has on society” are increasing in importance.
Therefore, a future leader must have a strong vision to present to the followers to ensure they are inspired and motivated. If you focus on the values that matter to you, you show authenticity as a leader and this will attract people to your team. It’s essential to notice how the vision cannot just be about operational efficiency or profit.
The next-generation wants to focus on purpose and values. Ethics are becoming a core aspect of how job seekers prioritize their job search and applications, but also on how consumers spend their money. For a leader to create a meaningful message with an impact, his or her values must be at the core of the vision and the actions he or she takes.
You must carefully identify your values and place them at the centre of your vision and everything else you do in life. MindTools has identified the key steps to identifying your true values:
- Step 1: Find the times you’ve been the happiest in your career and personal life.
- Step 2: Discover the times you’ve felt the proudest.
- Step 3: Identify the occasions you’ve felt fulfilled and satisfied.
- Step 4: Determine your values based on the above experiences.
- Step 5: Prioritize these values according to the most important.
- Step 6: Take a moment to reaffirm your feelings about the chosen values.
Remember the above also means you need to be accountable. You can’t talk about the importance of sustainability, if you don’t follow it through with actions. As discussed in relation to the first principle, people will notice if you are just talking and expecting others to behave in a certain way. You need to lead by example when it comes to values or else you are just trying to fool the audience. As a leader, you can’t wear any masks.
Principle 5. HARNESS AMBIGUITY AND UNCERTAINTY
The world can be an ambiguous place, with its ever-changing systems. We’re developing new technologies, creating new markets and products, and industries. Conventional wisdom in many fields, such as business, is constantly being challenged by these changes. The pace of transformation will only increase in the future, as technological advances continue to pick up. Your job as the future leader is to harness this ambiguity and uncertainty to your advantage, instead of crumbling under the pressure.
Until we are able to develop real crystal balls, you need to find a way to prepare for the future. It’s essential to take a fresh look at everything around you and understand how it could all change, thus changing other areas, within a few months or years. You can already find plenty of examples of organizations that have failed in this task.
For example, Kodak didn’t prepare well enough for the rise of digital cameras and then smartphones. Although the company used to be at the forefront of photography and even helped shape the market, it then fell off the wagon. Clara Gaymard, president and CEO of GE France, said in a Focus Magazine interview that,
“If you are not able to manage ambiguity, and you need to understand everything before you start doing anything, you narrow everything and reduce your options and possibilities. This will not work in the future.”
The next-generation of leaders can’t pretend they can know everything, neither should they try to be on top of everything, but instead embrace ambiguity and use the opportunities uncertainty provides to their advantage. The Focus Magazine article, written by Tracey Keys, identified eight principles to help future leaders to control and to benefit from ambiguity.
- Instead of looking outside of the box, get rid of the boxes.
- Think both in terms of outside-in and inside-out.
- Focus on root causes instead of symptoms.
- Approach things through two-directional thinking.
- Focus on relationship/networks instead of transactions.
- Collaborate and co-create.
- Align purpose and profit.
- Steer away from complacent compliance.
Embracing uncertainty and thinking differently won’t be easy. But if you start looking at change as something positive and indeed necessary, you start removing resistance and fear around the concept. Continue exploring the world, the different industries, skills and people to get a bigger perspective on things and to challenge your own thinking. This can help you prepare for the future and take control of ambiguity.
Principle 6. CULTIVATE DIVERSITY AND COLLABORATION
Diversity is a huge strength for any organization and due to the increasingly interconnected nature of the world; embracing diversity should be at the core of your leadership strategy. Organizations today are not confined to a specific location, but people reach out and work with people from different countries and different backgrounds.
This provides huge opportunities, which you as a next-generation leader must be able to harness to your advantage. Diversity is a tool to cultivate deeper collaboration because it allows you to find different approaches and perspectives to solving problems, creating new products, and interacting with people. Cultivating diversity is a powerful tool for embracing ambiguity as well.
Workplace diversity has been studied extensively, with the findings supporting the statement: diversity breeds innovation, with innovation boosting success. Forbes study identified diversity, together with inclusion, as a key driver of business growth. Harvard Business School has found multicultural networks promoting more creativity and McKinsey’s research pointed out how organizations with a diverse executive board have been able to achieve not only higher earnings, but also increased returns on equity. As a leader, you need to ensure your organization and team is built on a diverse mix of backgrounds.
Another important point to understand as a future leader is the requirement for collaboration. The next-generation organization is unable to exist on its own. Knowledge is also becoming more shared, with businesses increasingly providing access to the information they have. Tesla is among companies that apply open source philosophy to the patents and technologies they use. Open source information will provide plenty of opportunities for organizations, but also for leaders to collaborate with others.
Co-operation and collaboration should become a key focus for future leaders and reaching out to other organizations shouldn’t be considered problematic. In the future, organizations should be able to co-exist while still maintaining a level of competition. The key to remember is from the previous section that profit should align with purpose. The organization’s vision shouldn’t just centre at the heart of making money, but creating meaningful change.
Principle 7. FOCUS ON HARNESSING TECHNOLOGY
Tomorrow’s leaders cannot avoid the fact the world is becoming more technology-driven. Technology is growing exponentially, which means the rate of new technology innovations is becoming shorter. Not only is this going to change the way organizations operate, it’ll also transform leadership. As a next-generation leader, you must embrace and harness technology as part of your leadership strategy.
As technology develops, it can continue to provide two benefits you need to harness as a leader. First, technological advances will undoubtedly provide organizations with plenty of opportunities to improve operationally. Technology can boost productivity, create new markets and generally make it easier to achieve the organization’s vision. New technologies could also be used to empower subordinates, through provision of development opportunities.
But there’s another benefit to technology, which will specifically help the leader’s ability to lead. As a future leader, you will be able to harness different technologies that make leadership easier, perhaps by providing you more resources and opportunities to develop your skill. Already, the way we communicate with the workplace has changed, with technology allowing teams to work with each other across the world.
Harnessing new technologies won’t be an easy task and as a future leader, you must allocate enough time to understand the opportunities and challenges of these technologies. Klaus Schwab, the founder of and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, wrote about the leadership principles required during the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the article, Schwab said:
“For a prosperous future, we must ask how all of us, and the technological systems we design and build, can serve the proper ends and not be confined to the means. Our efforts must focus on the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on human beings, society and the environment, and not just focus on technological progress or economic productivity.”
Schwab identified four keys future leaders should focus on:
- Prioritizing systems instead of technologies.
- Empowering societies and avoiding a fatalistic and deterministic view of progress.
- Prioritizing futures by design instead of default and focusing on collaboration.
- Include values as a key feature of new technologies.
As a next-generation leader, you should ensure you learn more about technologies operating in your industry, but also outside of it. Stay interested in the possibilities technology offers now, but also about the future visionary ideas out there. Keep your focus on the industry because its importance is only going to grow in the future and its impact will be felt across the organization, as well as society.
Principle 8. EMBRACE VULNERABILITY AND ADVERSITY
Leadership is not about being perfect. You will face challenges and you’ll undoubtedly make mistakes during your leadership journey. Instead of focusing on being perfect, you should focus on moving forward even when things are challenging. You can’t avoid mistakes; you need to accept your vulnerability. Perhaps more crucially, you can’t just accept your own vulnerability as a leader, but embrace it in your subordinates.
Don’t treat your subordinates as machines; people have needs, desires and wants, and even though they might not make sense to you, they are still real emotions to the person experiencing them. By understanding the vulnerabilities and imperfections in yourself and in others, you can approach people more empathetically. This empathy is essential for creating strong relationships. If you feel you can fully trust someone, then you are more likely to work hard to help the person achieve his or her vision.
Vulnerability in principle is about the ability to admit your mistakes, as much as it is about being able to withstand failure. To understand why admitting your mistakes can actually be a good idea, watch the famous TedTalk by Kathryn Schulz:
By admitting your failures, you can create an environment where employees aren’t afraid of failure, which can unleash a more creative workplace. In this open environment, people aren’t avoiding decisions or trying to stay away from the radar, but instead they put their heart and soul into working harder.
Through your example, they understand that mistakes can happen, but they aren’t the end of the world and can, indeed, teach them something valuable and help them grow. Studies have shown how tomorrow’s leaders could benefit from embracing their softer characteristics, such as vulnerability. In fact, a person’s ability to lead can improve if he or she isn’t afraid of these ‘feminine’ emotions.
In addition to embracing vulnerability, you should also approach adversity as an opportunity, rather than something negative that should be avoided. It’s not to say you should create chaos and challenges out of nothing, but you definitely shouldn’t try to move on afterwards without examining what happened. Mistakes are inevitable and by focusing on learning from them, you can turn the events into a positive rather than a negative event. You might have messed up a big contract, but on the other hand, you learned a valuable lesson in negotiating, which will boost your chances next time.
If a difficult situation is facing the organization, you personally, or a member of your team, Dr Fab Mancini recommends focusing on three key things:
- Find lessons to learn from adversity.
- Persevere and remember the moment won’t last forever.
- Instead of fearing the situation, have faith in a positive outcome.
Principle 9. BE WILLING TO DEVELOP
Never allow yourself to become too satisfied as a leader. You shouldn’t ever reach a point where you feel fully satisfied with your leadership and the organization’s position. Now the statement doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate the things you’ve achieved or feel unthankful about the success you’ve had. But instead, you want to have an inner feeling where you know you have more to give and to achieve.
Without continuous improvement, you can’t reach your potential or inspire your followers to push themselves forward. Focusing on development doesn’t mean you are somehow unqualified or bad as a leader the way you are. It simply means you understand how much knowledge there is in the world you still don’t have.
As mentioned above, none of us is perfect. You must be willing to challenge yourself and the skills you possess, instead of trying to just excel and get along with what you already know. Approach your career and leadership as a journey of development, with the end station somewhere in your retirement future.
You should embark on leadership development as soon as possible and continue to improve your leadership skills even after you’ve obtained a senior position. There will always be skills you don’t yet possess and characteristics you can improve on and strengthen. Furthermore, development is not just about focusing on the things you know or the skills relating to your industry. Spend enough time exploring ideas from other sectors and broadening your understanding of the different leadership styles, despite which strategy you currently use.
By embracing learning, you set an example, which will resonate across the organization and that will create an environment where development is always seen as a positive strategy.
The world offers plenty of resources for development. You can read leadership books, get involved with conferences and seminars in your field, and take courses in subjects you find fascinating. But beyond these traditional learning mechanisms, you also want to surround yourself with people. Learning from others is among the most powerful ways to learn. You should also listen to famous leaders, such as Bill Gates, and find yourself a coach or a mentor.
Leadership is not an easy walk in the park and by having a coach, you can increase your chances of staying resilient. Mentors offer support during tough times, but also ensure you don’t get comfortable in your position and leadership strategy. They will give you a deeper perspective in how you can improve and focus on the essentials.
Finally, remember that development should focus on both personal growth as well as operational improvements. You need to stay on top of the organizational matters, including the market and the customer, because you can’t succeed as a leader without proper business acumen.
Principle 10. NURTURE THE NEXT-GENERATION OF LEADERS
Leadership is a continuum and your job is to ensure someone will be there to follow you, just as you followed in the footstep of today’s leaders. The organization will need to fill your shoes one day and it is your job as the leader to ensure the organization has a proper succession plan in place. Not only does nurturing the next-generation of leaders make it easier to find a leader to take your place one day, the whole organization will benefit from leadership development. Employees, who are taught more about leadership and the skills required to lead, will be more motivated and more knowledgeable.
As a leader, you need to take enough time to ensure everyone in the organization has the opportunity to continue developing their skills and to define a career path that suits their skillset and abilities. The ideal situation is one where every employee performs better each year they work in the organization. To achieve this, you need to invest your time in mentoring and nurturing the talent within the organization. As a leader, you want to be involved in the grassroots; in areas such as hiring and monitoring the employees. This gives you a better understanding of the current leadership and talent pipeline.
A study conducted by the PDI Ninth House examined the efficiency in which senior-level leaders were able to develop employees within their organization. The startling findings suggested that as leaders move higher within an organization, their ability to train others decrease. This happened even though leaders at higher levels recognized how essential leadership development is at all stages. So, what should you do as a leader to ensure this doesn’t happen? There are a few essential ways to create a culture of talent development within your organization:
- Instill the value of learning in the organization. Move beyond focusing on results and use every assignment and task as a learning opportunity.
- Focus on being the role model. As discussed earlier, leading by example is an essential part of leadership. This also applies to learning; teach others about the value of development by continuously developing yourself further.
- Make development an organization-wide process. You should ensure each level of the organization is committed to developing employees and supporting each other to improve.
- Use problems as opportunities to develop. Every organization will face difficulties, but as a leader, you want to leverage them as opportunities to learn and improve.
You should also remember the challenges and principles of the leaders following you would be slightly different. Just as these ten principles are aimed for the next-generation of leaders, by the time you are developing leaders some principles might have swapped places with others. It’s essential to ensure you identify the talents of the future.
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