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The New Leadership

As a young boy, I had always been attracted to those shiny lights. Trying my hardest through my school years as I strived to be like these kids who would make the end of year stage collecting their Merit reward. Each year I was told how hard I worked and yet I was never on that stage. I was striving for those straight A’s which would lead me to that textbook career; through a top tier University before landing that graduate accelerator to be the leader of the future, post my gap year in Vietnam to find myself of course! 

But no, I didn’t end up with those straight A’s, top graduate accelerator and nor did I find myself whilst trekking through Vietnam or climbing the Himalayas. Instead I found myself in that of a 50+ year old manufacturing workshop learning skills that I didn’t know existed; And I don’t mean that of using an engineer’s rule, a CAD machine or how to make the most perfect cup of tea for each of my now, extremely friendly, polite and respectful “colleagues”. As my old man had always said “nothing like learning the fun way son, in at the deep end and see how far you can swim”.  

All those years at school and I never made that top Merit stage, however what I had not realised was that although I never made the stage I never gave up and always tried harder the following year. Fast forward 17 years and now having had, what I would say is, a reasonably successful career to date all whilst more recently as homo sapiens we have been tackling some unprecedented circumstances that we have never seen ourselves in before; Limited / no human contact, self-isolating in our homes and complete industries have been forced into hibernation. 

It has led me to my thoughts on leadership and if these unprecedented times could be forcing us into a new way of leadership? James MacGregor Burns; a 1700’s political sociologist who saw leadership qualities falling under two types: 

  1. Transactional leaders who influence others by what they offer in exchange for their help.  

  1. Transformational leaders who are connected to their followers in such a way that it raises the level of motivation and morality, committed to a collective good. 

Having performed a number of global roles over my career I have certainly faced the challenge of building relationships remotely alongside those long lonely flights, but what if this is the new norm?  

Whites of the eyes 

How can we govern ourselves long-term and will looking in the white of those eyes still be the powerplay at those monthly or quarterly board meetings? Those traditional, often referred to as, old school styles could be put to the test as the command and control personas struggle to connect through the screen of a laptop. 

Trust 

How will leaders adapt and gain the trust of their employees? Having failed my attempt at walking onto that merit stage, thanks to my IQ. In my early career I quickly learned that of emotional intelligence instead, largely due to those failed attempts of 2 sugar and white vs no sugar and black please – led to that of a, far from exciting, negotiation of egos as opposed to my school day competitions of brightness. As a result of the early character building, I have always found I have leaned on my emotional intelligence as opposed to IQ throughout my career to date. 

Looking to our recent new ways of working could emotional intelligence be the key to this new leader who are able to connect with their teams, peers and followers in a way which almost makes a video chat personable. Inspired by those natural YouTubers that look down the lens of a camera like they are sitting in your front room, is what it will take to connect with people on an emotional level that quickly builds not only trust but allows people, teams, organisations and governments to operate seamlessly agnostic of those traditional boardroom days.   

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