The Evolution of Leadership Skills: Don’t Become Extinct


Leadership and management practices are evolving in today’s workplace. As the world becomes flatter through technological advances and agile processes, the traditional hierarchical structure for running a business is becoming an outdated method for achieving business success.

Leadership is no longer finding effective results through the command-and-control approach to executing a company’s strategy. Today’s successful organizations are developing and emphasizing the importance of leadership at every level of the organization where highly cross-functional teams effectively collaborate with efficiency and measured results. According to “The 2016 Mercer Survey on Absence and Disability Management,” 33 percent of millennials in the workforce site a collaborative environment where they feel they are part of a team as one of the most important factors in job satisfaction.

The Workplace is Changing

New generations of individuals raised on technology and rapid social-political change are entering the workforce with the expectation of a collaborative and team-based work environment. The manager/employee relationship has become more of a business partnership than supervisor- and-subordinate execution of ideas and strategy. Today’s managers are becoming more intimately involved in the details of projects as facilitators and coaches while individuals are becoming more autonomous self-leaders, creating a partnership to achieve business results.

Organizations can strategically address the needs of the changing workforce by evolving their approach to leadership development through a natural shift in mindset in a few key areas.

Upgrade Traditional Leadership Skills

While working environments are rapidly changing, there are still common leadership skills and behaviors in each organization that need to be practiced to ensure key results are achieved.

I’m not suggesting leaders don’t bring their own personal experience and unique personality to the way they lead within an organization, but today’s leaders need to know how to adapt their personal knowledge and experience to the needs of today’s individual contributor. Today’s leaders need to continually engage the individuals they are attempting to influence through regular, focused, one-on-one conversations where fundamental leadership concepts still apply.

For example, leaders still should give feedback, but they must learn how to effectively give that feedback in a way that addresses the needs of the specific individual or team receiving it. Effective feedback in today’s environment is more of a process of discovery rather than a reprimand for not doing things the way you, as a leader, think they should be done.

Today’s leader could say, for example, “I noticed you approached the project like this; can you tell me more about your approach?” Rather than, “I wouldn’t recommend going about a project this way. I’d like to go about it this way.”

In short, leaders can no longer think they have the answer to every business problem their people face. Rather, they should cultivate a culture of facilitating problem-solving through collaboration and iterative improvements.

Develop a Common Leadership Practice Across the Organization

The old approach to developing leaders operated like an exclusive country club membership. Only individuals who had high performance within their specialized role or knew someone already sitting on the top floor would be given access to the leadership philosophy of the organization (assuming the organization even had a defined philosophy.) This type of opportunity to develop and advance leadership skills created a system of first- and second-class corporate citizens who had no way of cultivating a culture of leadership.

Today’s successful organizations develop a common leadership philosophy across the entire organization. From executives to managers, team leads or individual contributors, everyone needs to understand a common language of the leadership used to achieve business results within the organization. Everyone should have access to the foundational skills necessary for leading in any context within or beyond the organization — including leading yourself to achieve desired outcomes.

Provide opportunities for new employees to improve their leadership capabilities by developing fundamentals in self leadership that are aligned with the leadership philosophies in other contexts within the organization. Seventy percent of employees say they’re not engaged at work, according to Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report, primarily because they don’t know how their day-to-day work contributes to the strategy of the organization or they don’t feel they have opportunities to grow and develop regardless of whether they want to assume a leadership role in the future.

Equipping and developing individual contributors with leadership skills and knowledge not only improves their performance, it helps prepare them to align with leadership at every level while cultivating a pool of leadership who will be ready to step into management roles at any time.

Flex Your Leadership Style

Old-school leadership was a one-size-fits-all approach to getting things done. It was based on the mentality that leadership is done the same way, all the time, and a good leader never waivers from their style of leadership.

Most leaders naturally gravitate toward one style of leadership — they either dictate or delegate tasks to the people they’re attempting to influence. But research-based organizational psychology reveals a very simple truth: Everyone is different. Individuals have varying natural dispositions that cause them to give, receive and respond to information differently, across different contexts and in different situations.

While dictating execution of strategy from the top down may have worked in an industrial economy, organizations today are concentrating on a flat approach to help distribute the responsibility of executing strategy throughout the organization to more effectively and efficiently meet rapidly changing market needs. Today’s leader cannot afford to operate with a default style of leadership. They need to be more intentional about how they lead, moment by moment, remaining flexible and in tune with the various phases the people they are attempting to influence are going through in pursuit of their key objectives.

Today’s leaders need to move from:

Dictatorial to democratic, where leaders listen to their people and use team member input to create strategy and make collaborative decisions.
Transactional to transformational, where leaders inspire and help develop their team members to become self-leaders or step up to leadership when necessary.
Generate Leadership Intelligence

Technology is the foundation of how we work today. Whether it’s to communicate, access information or consume entertainment, we live through technology to experience many aspects of life today.

Old-school leadership was based on announcing strategy at an annual meeting. Not only were the key objectives of the organization quickly forgotten after the company announcement, leaders had very little ability to systematically stay aligned to the corporate strategy throughout the year. There was very little way to know if leaders were effectively aligning their unit or team with the strategy of the company. The only real way leaders were measured as successful was through bottom-line business numbers. Even then, the connection to what was causing the success was vague and subjective. And when it came to investing in developing leaders in the old world of business, it was like placing a blind bet in stock; you could only hope your investment would pay off based on financial gain.

Today’s leaders use technology to access real-time information about shifts in the market, customer needs or performance throughout the organization. Great organizations require leaders to use their skills to produce data on real-time performance related to the company’s mission and strategy. Successful leaders are using software to follow the progress of team goals and help their contributors achieve excellent results through collaborative technologies. Those who are responsible for developing and recruiting leaders are using leadership behavior analytics to predict and choose who will be able to fill in leadership gaps within the organization. In turn, this use of technology now effectively produces data to link the investment in leadership development to tangible business results.

Today’s great organizations leverage modern technologies to not only improve collaboration and performance but also to analyze leadership behaviors to influence great performance and bottom-line business results by generating leadership intelligence. If you’re not using technology to effectively develop and apply leadership skills in your organization, you’re guessing if and how the investment will pay dividends to the organization and the clients you serve.

2020 Leadership

The world will continue to rapidly change in the next few years. Successful organizations can’t afford to allow leaders to operate with outdated leadership behaviors or in a silo. Today’s leaders need to continually upgrade their skills to effectively collaborate and meet the development needs of today’s knowledge worker.

Don’t allow your organization to go extinct through outdated and ineffective leadership methods that no longer match the demands of today’s business environment.

Jason Arnold is a certified consulting associate for The Ken Blanchard Companies and consulting partner for Inspire Leadership Genius. He can be reached at


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