The Challenge of Being a Leader in a World of Disruption
A common belief about leaders is that they should be the most knowledgeable member of a team. To lead is to be able to answer all the questions that need answering and find solutions to every problem that arises. But does this classic definition of leadership actually hold up in a world of disruption?
The competition we face on a daily basis at work has created a jack-of-all-trades culture. Account managers are now photographers, art directors and writers all at once. IT specialists need to be savvy in software, as well as expert electricians. As an innovation professional, I’m expected to know about everything from blockchain to business to culture and back. But ultimately, it's not possible to have a handle on every detail of every hat we’re expected to wear. The same goes for people in leadership positions.
Career complexities are just one piece of the puzzle, though. Another is employee access to information. Thanks to global connectivity, team members will always have access to the same information as their leaders. If your goal is to be a successful leader, you'll need to seek resolutions elsewhere. In other words, knowing the answer to every question is not only impossible for a leader today, but also irrelevant in many cases.
Forget the Fake Confidence
For a long time, “good” leaders were ones that played their roles well. They showed confidence in their knowledge base even when they couldn’t answer a question themselves. They proposed solutions with conviction even if they weren’t sure those solutions were viable.
But faux confidence in leadership is problematic in a world of globalization and technological disruption. The expectation that a leader can master everything in their wheelhouse is now unrealistic and irresponsible. It ends up fostering unhealthy negativity towards learning new information and moving forward.
What It Takes to Be A Great Leader
Instead, we should encourage humility in leaders, and ask that they own up to their shortcomings in knowledge and understanding. The new great leaders are the ones who admit to their limitations. They actively seek answers from their team and think critically about those answers to offer innovative solutions to problems.
Team leads should engage with and learn from their own employees to better their processes and solve problems. Where a leader may lack knowledge, a team member may have it in abundance. Acquiring knowledge from every resource possible and seeking opportunities to grow together is a skill most successful, innovative leaders have today.
In our world of disruption, great leaders must have the courage to say, “Teach me how,” and “Help me find an answer.” Some may have called this weak in the past, but a leader who can admit to their shortcomings is now demonstrating the epitome of strength.