What is the future of leadership? How must leaders embrace change? How will our leadership role models evolve or remain the same in coming decades?
As the global landscape shape-shifts, society experiences rapid changes with the confluence of technological breakthroughs, economic and cultural tremors, and tectonic geopolitical transitions. If we are to leverage the opportunities that such volatility presents, our concept of leadership and our notions of how leaders operate must be tested and updated accordingly.
In a recent Create New Futures webinar I was asked what I admire about women who are in leadership positions. In addition to sharing my response in this article, my intention is to encourage you to build your own coaching and communication versatility by demonstrating how I apply framing and reframing skills to provide context for my responses. This is why the article’s format is different from my usual approach. Rather than report my comprehensive reply, I offer relevant value by sharing the thought process that led me to my response.
In most situations, the way a question is worded defines a playing field with a set of parameters and a map of meaning that outlines the reasons for the question. The first principle that guides my response is to improve the client’s condition and outcome. In that sense, answering the question is secondary to placing it inside a broader context by reframing it.
Listen Here: The Future of Leadership
To deliberately serve the first principle of addressing the situational need and offering the highest and most sustainable value, I reflect on questions such as:
· What are the beliefs that frame the question?
· What other inquiries are concealed within the stated question?
· What is the deeper need and/or unexpressed request conveyed in the question?
· How might we elevate the question to unleash a new versatility in the inquiring person by addressing the need inside out — so that the problem is disarmed and no longer poses a challenge?
Let me show you how this process plays out in my work with executives by examining the question I was asked and the process by which I addressed it.
“What have you found to be common traits among female leaders you admire?”
My first response is a reframed version of this inquiry: “Let me first answer a broader question: what are the traits I admire in leaders, both female and male?”
Here is what guides my thinking in this reframe. I believe humanity is in a gradual process of resetting centuries of patriarchal tilt with masculine dominance, and that women hold critical keys to the leadership transformations the world urgently needs. My observation is that a more effective path to facilitating this shift is found when the first guiding principle of the conversation is leadership and its requirements. Thus, I ground my response in this broader context by saying: “Let me first address a broader question: what are the traits I admire in leaders, both female and male?”
Here is how I proceeded to respond to the re-framed question:
1. The first trait I admire in leaders is that they demonstrate that they are works-in-progress. They are on a journey of learning, growth and development, and they invite us into our own transformation and growth by exposing their own.
2. The second trait I admire in leaders is self-insight. So much of history is the story (his-story) of the harm caused by leaders, mostly men. A key requirement for the future of leadership is to do no harm. For leaders to meet this imperative, they must have deep self-knowledge and the capability to build on their strengths while compensating for, and balancing, their weaknesses. Such leaders must be guided by the needs of the ecosystem they serve rather than by their ego’s needs. These two characteristics — self-awareness and the ability to be deeply attuned to the ecosystem and the purpose they are called to serve — must be present in those at every leadership level.
3. The third trait I admire in leaders is the capacity to address issues at the vision and strategy level as well as at the practical, pragmatic level. Leaders must see both the forest and the individual trees. Those who do so inspire me with their ability both to frame global issues and to address local needs and be relevant with their capacity to connect and integrate the universal with the personal. I admire their ability to articulate sophisticated concepts and to address head-on the simple and the obvious with focus and clarity.
Here is how I progressed to respond to the original question, building on this broadened context:
I appreciate these three traits in leaders regardless of their gender. However, I believe that unlocking the future of leadership will largely come through women. This transformation needs women and men who together are able to help humanity move beyond its current state of crisis by leading large and small organizations to whole new levels of collaboration, reciprocity and consciousness.
One characteristic that I’ve observed in women who lead is the strength of character and confidence in their leadership that derives from their being free of the need to compete with men in a masculine way. I am inspired by their presence, vision, capacity to integrate multiple inputs, and ability to demonstrate principled, adaptive, intuitive and analytical responses. I am fortified by their fearlessness in approaching tough situations, by the readiness to be vulnerable, and by their resilience, persistence, discernment, wit, humor, and kindness.
Because no one person can have all the above characteristics as well as the other skills and competencies required of leaders, self-insight is an essential leadership aptitude. Moreover, effective leaders bring intuition and insight into others’ talents and strengths and encourage these natural gifts.
In short, my observation is that the future of leadership is found in the above traits, as well as in the knowhow and capacity to inspire others to lead, and to promote self-arising and self-correcting, distributed leadership at all organizational levels. Increasingly, leaders must be able to catalyze, convene, and facilitate these processes and possibilities. Naturally, many women are at the forefront of this shift towards more enlightened and sustainable leadership. I expect we will see a growing percentage of women in leadership positions as this shift gains momentum in the coming two decades.
Now it’s your turn. What are the traits you admire in leaders? How will you evolve your leadership? What opportunities are available for you to inspire others to step into their leadership roles?
You can listen to an audio version of this by subscribing to the Create New Futures podcast