Have the courage to create a better future, for you and your business

What kind of future do you want to create, shape and lead?

The future business will only emerge with your leadership. Leaders need the courage to step up, to envision and implement this future.

The new Leadership DNA

Having spent many hours with leaders, one to one, and with their teams – teaching, coaching and advising them on strategies and change – and explored the many leadership theories, and insights from today’s most inspiring leaders – it became clear that there are some common attributes.

In my new book Business Recoded: Have the courage to create a better future for you and your business, I define a new Leadership DNA.

The Leadership DNA is built on 12 attributes. These attributes form a pyramid, somewhat analogous to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the foundation are the essentials required to operate, and deliver performance. Above these are the attributes required for progress, to make sense of change, to find new growth, and drive innovation. At the top are the attributes required of leaders who want to transform their organisations, guided by purpose beyond profit, to create a better business, and a better world.

These 12 attributes collectively make up the “new DNA of leadership”, with 3 levels from the top to the bottom:

“Creating the future” attributes:

  • Inspiring… being guided by a purpose and passion
  • Courageous… daring to do what hasn’t been done before
  • Farsighted … looking ahead with vision, foresight and intuition
  • Progressive… pioneering, embracing challenge, seizing opportunities

“Making change happen” attributes:

  • Curious… making sense of new, complex and uncertain environments
  • Imaginative… envisioning a better future worth working towards
  • Adaptive… having emotional agility to survive and drive relentless change
  • Entrepreneurial… the creative spirit to explore new ideas and think differently

“Delivering everyday performance” attributes

  • Empathetic … engaging people, tapping into their human qualities
  • Collaborative … working together, embracing diversity, to achieve more
  • Resilient… sticking to the task, enduring turbulence, motivated and optimistic
  • Impactful… making a positive difference to business, stakeholders and the world

Leaders shape the future

In today’s world, organisations need leaders, more than ever, to look forwards.

Leaders don’t have to be strategists in the traditional sense of spending many hours analysing markets, developing rigorous plans supported by lots of commentary and financial projections. The strategic contribution of a leaders needs to be context setting – defining a clear purpose, envisioning what the future will look like, stretching mindsets of what is possible, articulating the ambitions, the big choices, and horizons to aim for.

Business performance is the measure of how well leaders do this. Warren Buffett will of course remind us that a CEO of a public company is legally responsible to deliver a return to shareholders, but he would also agree that this is more an outcome. Value creation is the framework to engage all stakeholders in progress. The challenge for leaders is not to become obsessed by financials, but to define purpose and be the moral compass of the organisation, to achieve more, in a better way.

Leaders earn their power from how they inspire people with ideas, influence people about what’s right, and the impact they have through their actions. This is quite different from the old power of leaders, which came through position, experience and expertise. Instead of leadership based on command and control, I see a leaders as a

  • Catalyst: the leader stimulates and stretches the organisation, asking the important questions, adding energy and urgency, focusing on insights and goals.
  • Communicator: the leader articulates purpose, vision and direction, listening and engaging with people, building empathy and trust, creating a better future together.
  • Connectors: the leader connects ideas, people, activities and partners; encouraging learning and collaboration; facilitating new capacity for innovation.
  • Coaches: the leader supports rather than commands; to think, act and deliver better; and encouraging them have the confidence to rise up.

The Performer Transformer leader

The “ambidextrous” challenge of a business leader has become increasingly important in a world of relentless change.

Leaders need to be able to deliver high performance today, and simultaneously transform the business for tomorrow. Not just occasionally, but continuously. Not just as a balance, implying a bit of each, but to do both effectively.

25 years ago I wrote an article called “leading in double time”. The same idea. Now it matters more than ever, because leaders are at the heart of economic value creation.

Economic value which is driven partly by performance today, but equally by what you do today to create the profit streams of the future. In the past, the future was not so different from the past, now it most likely is. That’s why transformation is essential, and relentless.

And that’s why leaders need to simultaneously be performers and transformers:

Anyone can be a leader

3.5 billion people will make up the global workforce by 2030, around half of who are likely to be self-employed. If we assume that in organisations people typically work in teams of around 10 people, then there will be around 220 million leaders in organisations over the next decade, plus many more who lead in virtual and collaborative ways.

However most surveys say that leaders are struggling. The majority of employees believe that they can do their jobs as well, or if not better, without their supervisors and managers (80% in one Gallup study). Only 15% of people feel truly engaged in their work, and many say that managers are one of their main reasons for leaving jobs.

Managing”, of course, is not the same thing as “leading”. Managing is typically described as using controls to achieve a task. Leading is about influencing, motivating and enabling people to contribute, and achieve more.  Managers do things right, leaders do the right things. Managers focus on methods to achieve efficiency, leaders focus on purpose to achieve effectiveness. Or managers have their heads down, leaders have their heads up.

Anyone in the organisation can be a leader. Not everyone in the business is a manager, although managers need to be leaders.

Not everyone is born a leader, but anyone can become one.

Leadership is your choice, not something which is given to you. Leadership is not a job title, a position of authority, or a magical gift.  It starts with having confidence. Having a vision that you believe in. Having the courage to step forwards. Engaging other people. And yourself, being the change you want to see in others.

Leaders amplify the potential of others

I also love the definition of leaders as “amplifiers” – they amplify the potential of people. And equally of organisations and all their stakeholders. They open up new spaces to go for, and through inspiration and influence, they create a belief and confidence that it is attainable. Amplifying is about increasing the capacity to succeed, and therefore about transforming your potential, personally and organisationally.

Leaders amplify potential by enabling teams to achieve more. They do this through a more collaborative and coaching approach, rather than top-down management.

Their starting point however, is the future. Leaders are the drivers of vision and change, but also enablers of innovation and growth. They create an inspiring vision of the future, make sense of change, build a sense of possibility. They make new connections, bringing together diverse talent, activities and partners.

Elon Musk leads through inspiring vision. Jack Ma leads with cult following. Mark Parker leads with collaborative innovation. Mark Zuckerberg leads by doing stuff. Every leader leads a little differently, and leadership itself can be found at every level of the organization.

Developing better leaders

As leaders progress in the organisation their roles changes, from technical to functional, tactical to strategic, management and leadership. With these role come changing perspectives and responsibilities:

  • Short term to long term
  • Transactional to transformational
  • Managing tasks to managing porfolios
  • Limited stakeholders to multiple stakeholders
  • Getting the job done to optimising value creation

Whilst we might think of leadership as one approach, the styles of leadership are different as we progress in an organisation. The “six passages” of leadership was developed by  Walter Mahler in the 1970s, based on leadership behaviours and successions in GE, and focuses on the “critical crossroads” that leaders face during their career.

Here are the 7 “levels” of leadership, and the 6 “passages” or transitions from one stage to the next, and the change in skills and mindsets which the transition demands:

  • Leading self: individual contributors, professional staff, driven by tasks and expertise, establishing credibility, delivering results.

Transition 1: from skills to collaboration, from doing work to getting it done

  • Leading others: leaders of small teams or projects, recruiting and developing, resolving conflicts, delegating, adapting to cultural differences.

Transition 2: from personal to team agendas, from organising to coaching

  • Leading managers: leaders integrate teams, managing trade-offs and politics, problem solving, negotiating and risk taking, engaging people.

Transition 3: from activities to functional strategies, from tasks to complexity

  • Functional leaders: aligning resources, developing leading practices, driving and implementing change and innovation, managing dispersed teams.

Transition 4: from current to future thinking, from costs centres to profit centres

  • Business leaders: developing vision, balancing short and long-term, aligning with organisation, working across functions, exploring new business models.

Transition 5: from managing business, to a strategic portfolio of businesses

  • Group leaders: managing performance across businesses, for today and tomorrow, catalysts of change and innovation, exploring new ventures and renewal.

Transition 6: from internal to external stakeholders, managing whole systems

  • Enterprise leaders: top executives, engage all stakeholders, set direction and build leadership team for today and future, shape culture and reputation.

In time, leaders assume greater responsibility, and leadership roles increase in their challenge, breadth, and complexity. As leaders advance, they reallocate their focus to help others to perform effectively. They learn to value the work of leadership and believe that making time for others, planning, coordinating, and coaching are imperative in their new responsibility.

One way to consider the evolution is as a “T” shape, moving up the vertical when roles are largely built around function, to the horizontal where are role are much broader and cross-functional. As the leader moves from an area of expertise to general management, they shift from needing to have all the answers, to being able to ask the right questions.

Of course, many leadership attributes, such as accountability, engagement and delivery – are common at all stages although executed in different ways.  Also as organisations shift from tall hierarchies to flatter networks, then there are less stages of leadership, from seven to maybe only three.

Peter Fisk on leadership

Peter Fisk inspires leaders to think bigger, think different and think smarter. As a corporate leader or entrepreneur, innovation leader or market leader, he helps you to see things differently, to think different things. He works with you to make sense of change, to build winning leadership teams, and to then develop the plans, drive the innovation that will drive performance today and tomorrow.

Examples of recent leadership clients include

  • BNP Paribas: How to develop courageous leaders, who can make sense of change, and drive innovation and growth in today’s every-changing world
  • Deloitte: Making sense of change, to drive innovation and growth. Exploring the megatrends towards 2020, and how to embrace them in new and interesting ways.
  • Lastminute: Building a digital business, inside and online, having acquired various business, and to grow as a leading online retailer across Europe.
  • MMI: Helping South Africa’s leading insurance business to develop the leaders of the future, ready to drive change and retain agility, organisationally and mentally, for an ever-changing world.
  • Raifeissen Bank: What is 21st century leadership? Working with the top 250 managers to understand their role in building a successful business, today and tomorrow.
  • Skanska: How to be Market Makers, creating new markets together. Leaders rethinking their role, based around what they enable customers to do, and ways to win together.
  • Time Warner: Developing innovative leaders for the digital world. In a convergent media markets, how to engage customers, form new partnerships, and drive value creation.

Peter Fisk is Academic Director of IE Business School’s flagship executive development program, developing leaders with the mindset and skills to develop a better future, and lead their organisations forwards. His key program is a 4 week “Global Advanced Management Program” that brings together a stellar faculty including global business leaders, academics and authors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

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