I have had the good fortune of working with many inspiring leaders in recruitment and continue to coach both established and emerging leaders. There are of course endless books about leadership that we can all learn from, but one thing I do not read much about at all, may in fact be THE most important leadership trait that the best leaders seem to possess.
Last week I conducted a webinar for RCSA on the 21st Century leadership skills that you need to have in your toolkit to be a powerful and effective leader as management and leadership has changed dramatically from when Baby boomers and Gen Xs followed instructions and simply did what we were told. What has changed is that Gen Ys and Gen Zs are questioning more and want more. The internet has also enabled the free flow of information for anyone who is curious enough to search and learn. No longer are managers and leaders seen as the oracles, they once were regarded as. Now anyone can access the same information. Furthermore Gen Ys and Gen Zs have a right to be cynical about corporate loyalty as many would have seen their parents been made redundant, so following is done voluntarily, not something you can demand as a leader.
Management traditionally was very outwardly focussed on the team member in question i.e. what's wrong with them and how can we motivate them to do what needs to be done. Leadership now is more than ever about authenticity and being genuine. Followers would rather know who they are dealing with than someone they sense is being who they think they should be, rather than who they really are. This means that being a good leader is first and foremost being inwardly focussed; getting to know who YOU are, what makes you tick and what sets you off, so you can work on yourself to become the very best version of yourself. This is not easy as it requires a willingness to look at your blind spots, to engage a coach or mentor, to be vulnerable and to show that you know, you have much work to do. When President Obama teared up during his gun control speech, did you sense that this is the real man? Did you in fact see him as a vulnerable, yet strong leader?
Is it not far better to role model what you want your followers to do than 'do as I say, not as I do'? It becomes a joint journey into becoming better people and better professionals, where you can celebrate your strengths and learn to complement & enhance each others' skill sets. When your followers see you working on yourself, this will propel them into wanting to work on themselves. And leadership at the end of the day is about being able to influence someone's behaviour, beliefs and attitudes.
When you look at leaders, you admire, my guess is that a common trait they share, would be their humility. Humility comes from knowing that whilst something may be working well, they can always do better and must do better. So what is this most important trait that 21st Century leaders possess? The ability and willingness to look inward and work on their blind spots, so they can become the type of human beings, that people actually want to follow.... voluntarily. Are you a 21st Century leader or willing to work on becoming one?