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What makes a great modern leader?

What makes a great modern leader?

Type ‘great leader’ into a search engine and you’ll be presented with a list of names including Caesar, Churchill and Bonaparte. Because when we think of leadership, we tend to think of power - and it seems, mostly men. People with big personalities or the loudest voice in the room. Taskmasters with the strength to make tough decisions that can’t be questioned.

But are these still the characteristics your business should seek in its leaders? If not, which traits should you be looking for? And how can you take steps to ensure you select the right candidates for your leadership roles?

What does social change mean for leadership roles?

The past five years has seen significant social change. Including the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter and #meetoo as well as greater focus on environmental and social governance and corporate social responsibility. 

This has led to a major change in what we expect from our leaders. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, customers, investors and employees want to see:

  • More leadership from businesses around societal problems. 

  • The prioritisation of long-term solutions over divisiveness and short-term gain.

  • Consistent, fact-based information that builds trust.

These expectations hint at the need for a different type of business leader from the individuals we’ve promoted in the past. People who can fulfil a broader mandate than making profit regardless of the cost.
We’ve already started to see the need for a broader set of attributes in leaders like Jacinda Aderne, Richard Branson and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. All of whom are the antithesis of the strongman (or woman) leader with their high levels of emotional intelligence.
Is this something we can expect to see more of as new generations enter the workforce? According to research, yes. 

While baby boomers accepted leadership traits like authority, hierarchy and tradition, Generation X admires competency and honesty. Millennials prefer more relaxed environments and the opportunity to assert strongly held views and want honest communication that includes both praise and critique. Whereas Gen Z expects greater collaboration, leadership without title and authenticity.

So, what does this mean for leaders who want to engage multi-generational workforces in a society that expects greater social leadership and high levels of trust? Will younger generations be happy to work with domineering, autocratic leaders who suck all the air out of the room? Will business leaders who aren’t able to authentically connect with social issues and provide solutions be welcome in tomorrow’s boardrooms? 

Which traits does a modern leader need?

With contemporary leaders being asked to show strength and depth on multiple fronts, you might think traditional leadership traits like passion, drive, vision, determination and courage are no longer needed. But they remain key in driving businesses forward. 

However, to create socially responsible cultures in which a range of generations will thrive needs people who demonstrate a broad range of leadership characteristics like:

  • The ability to build relationships with people at all levels.

  • Inclusivity and placing less importance on hierarchy.

  • Curiosity and mental agility.

  • Intuition and emotional intelligence.

  • An ‘everyone wins together’ mentality.

  • Self-confidence moderated by vulnerability.

Finding the domineering personalities we once wanted in our leaders was a fairly straightforward process. But uncovering these less obvious traits is more difficult. Particularly in a typical interview situation. So, what’s the alternative?

Uncovering tomorrow’s gems

If you’re hiring for a new leadership position, ask yourself these questions before you start writing your job description and advert:

  • What are the cultural and leadership requirements for your business in terms of where it is right now and where you want it to go?

  • Which competencies do you need to see in a leader to achieve your business’ goals?

  • Do you have an imbalance of certain traits among your current leaders? What sorts of characteristics could offset them and bring different perspectives or alternative ways of working that would benefit your organisation? 

  • What learning and development do you have in place to support new leaders landing successfully in the business?

Armed with these insights, think about how to assess these attributes in your search and selection process. Consider whether your hiring process is appropriate. Are you assessing a candidate’s previous experience as well as their future potential? Are you creating an assessment environment that helps them understand your culture and how they’ll fit in - and add to - your existing dynamic?

Competency based interviews, modern psychometric tests and predictive assessment tools can all play an important role in establishing how compatible a relationship might be. And using data-driven search methodologies will allow you to compare candidates fairly, equitably and without bias. 

In a social and political landscape that always promises more change, it’s time to refresh your outlook on what good leadership means for your business. Then adjust your tactics to find and hire the modern leaders with the traits that will help your business thrive. 

For support with your executive search and selection, get in touch with Morgan Philips today.

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