5 Characteristics of Modern Leadership

5 Characteristics of Modern Leadership

The mission of MDI is to support leaders who strive for a better world.

Investing in leadership development and unlocking the development potential of leaders guarantees companies long-term benefits. Furthermore, they promote creative solutions in innovative change processes.

Therefore, with this article, we make MDI’s view of modern leadership even more transparent.

 

Mag. Gunther Fürstberger

Mag. Gunther Fürstberger

CEO | MDI Management Development International

Gunther Fürstberger is a management trainer, author and CEO of Metaforum and MDI – a global consulting company providing solutions for leadership development. His main interest is to make the world a better place through excellent leadership. He has worked for clients including ABB, Abbvie, Boehringer Ingelheim, DHL, Hornbach, PWC and Swarovski. His core competence is leadership in digital transformation. He gained his own leadership experience as HR Manager of McDonald’s Central Europe/Central Asia.  At the age of 20 he already started working as a trainer.

 

1. Modern Leadership is aimed at improvement 

  • Leadership provides a definition of meaning.
  • Leadership creates, develops and completes.
  • Usually a status quo can be transferred into a better future, sometimes maintaining a good status quo is a leadership task.
  • Leaders are disruption surfers: they are aware of the changes in their environment and choose the right disruption waves to ride. 

2. Modern Leadership deals responsibly with resources 

  • The goal is a circular economy and no longer unlimited growth.
  • Leadership always considers the consequences of its actions for people and ecosystems.
  • A responsible manager strives to leave the world better than he found it. 

3. Modern Leadership restrains itself

  • Only as much leadership as necessary.
  • Hierarchy is still needed, e.g. if the employee has little experience, if there is manager liability, if personal and organisational goals are contradictory.
  • Leadership goes in both directions, employees also lead their managers.
  • By exercising restraint, leadership creates an environment in which everyone is happy to contribute their own strengths and concerns.
  • Leadership aims at the self-management of the people entrusted to it. 

4. Modern Leadership is as cooperative as possible

  • Leadership does not see employees as subordinates, but as partners at eye level.
  • Leadership is based on agreements
  • Leadership tries to win over the commitment of employees for concerns and thus builds more on intrinsic than extrinsic motivation.
  • Just as companies are paid for services by their customers, employees are paid more and more for agreed and achieved results and less on the basis of working hours. 

5. Modern leadership serves the system

  • The Leader is more concerned with the collective good than with the individual good.
  • Leadership supports learning.
  • Leaders continue to learn on their own (When was the last time I did something for the first time?).
  • Leadership develops the potential of employees.
  • Leadership makes itself aware of the effects of its own actions and interactions in the system.
  • Leadership ensures that decisions are made on the basis of short- and long-term considerations.
All hands OKR meeting

Home office accelerates the overall trend from hierarchical to lateral management.

But what exactly is changing in lateral management?

Summary: Keeping it Short & Sweet

    • Modern Leadership strives for improvement
    • Modern Leadership holds back and lets others come to the forefront
    • Modern Leadership happens at eye level
    • Modern Leadership serves the system (and sees itself as part of it)
    • Modern Leadership deals responsibly with resources

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    Alexander Rehm has been working as an executive coach and leadership expert for many years already. He is originally from Munich but lived in Italy for a long time and is currently living in Switzerland. He works as a coach in both countries and knows the cultural differences between them. We talked to him about his work as an executive coach, the role of executives in the digital transformation and the future of face 2 face coachings.

     

    You have lived in Italy for a long time and still work there as a coach today. Currently, you’re living in Switzerland. Has your work as a coach and the expectations of your clients, the executives, changed over the past few years?

     

    Alexander: 20 years ago, coaching was not an issue at all in Italy. It was more the opposite: anyone who needed a coach was “sick” in the eyes of the others. Italian companies were usually very hierarchical and once someone made it to the top, the person was quite resistant to any “advice” or coaching. Unfortunately, this has hardly changed in many companies until today. Most of my clients work for international companies, therefore their leadership culture is obviously different. The reason for coaching is almost always a result from feedback, either directly from the supervisor or through 360° feedback. In that sense, my work has hardly changed, even though the expectation of me as a coach is going in the direction of consulting. Some clients are genuinely disappointed when I tell them that they cannot only get some advice from me about what they can do better. They actually have to work on themselves to trigger the desired change.

     

    What is the situation in Switzerland, what differences do you see between the two countries?

     

    In my opinion, the biggest difference between the countries is the attitude. In Switzerland, coaching is a perfectly accepted tool for personal development. I think that Swiss executives are more actively taking on further training opportunities than their colleagues in Italy. As a coach, you may have less need for explanation, but the topics are usually very similar.

     

    A very general question: In your opinion, what are currently the biggest challenges that managers in Italy and Switzerland have to face?

     

    Leadership has so many different aspects that answering that question could fill an entire book. Therefore, I would like to direct my answer to one topic – and that is the understanding of leadership especially in the context of differences between the generations. Nowadays, we have up to 3 different age groups or generations in a company. Very hierarchical structures and leadership styles are not up-to-date anymore. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a client who told me how difficult it would be to have a good friend as an employee. When I asked him why he thought so, he said that he would feel uncomfortable giving him instructions. So I asked him why he thinks that his other employees would like instructions. I think that’s when something happened to him…

     

    Executive Coaching in digital times

     

    We live in a VUCA world and digitalization has an impact on many aspects of our lives. In your opinion, how do you have to act as a leader to respond to this change? Is that an important topic for you in coaching?

     

    What does digitalization bring with it? Change! Changes or rather the fear of it or even the refusal to face it is always a key issue in coaching. Therefore, I do not see a big difference to a merger, a restructuring, an adjustment of the business model, etc. Something I notice, however, is the lack of understanding, which opportunities the digitalization offers for the companies. It is not (more) about the replacement of the typewriter by a computer, but the integration of all digital possibilities in the business process. In my opinion, many internal but also external change managers should do a better job here.

     

    Are you using many digital tools in your coaching and how do you see the future of face 2 face coaching?

     

    My coaching is always a mix of face 2 face sessions and short virtual sequences. Often it is about keeping the client involved in the process and therefore, Skype or Zoom calls are the ideal tools. But I am a bit concerned about the large number of offers on the subject of speed or telephone coaching. What makes us coaches, is the ability to hear between the lines – and that is not possible without the perception of body language in my opinion. So I think that also in the future, coaching will be a good mix of digital and face 2 face coaching sessions.

    Executive coaching

    Online tools can, of course, add some value to a coaching session but what makes a good coach is the ability to hear between the lines and this is not possible without the perception of body language.

    You have worked in an international environment in sales and marketing for a long time. What was the reason to start working in the field of human resources development and specialize in leadership development?

     

    At some point, everyone is wondering if this is it and what the reason is to get up every day. I was able to live out my passion for human development as the head of a European organization. The results were so encouraging that I – within the group – reoriented myself towards leadership development. The establishment and leadership of the company’s Academy inspired me to live my mission as an independent coach after many years.

    Where do you see the biggest challenges in leadership development in the next few years? On the one hand for coaches, on the other hand for executives themselves.

     

    Leadership development will (have to) go even more in the direction of personality development. Business schools like IMD in Lausanne or INSEAD near Paris have been recognizing this for a long time. They offer a good mix of management knowledge as well as best practice examples and intensive coaching sequences in their programs. In these sequences, e.g. the results of a 360 ° feedback are discussed in small groups. The coach has a rather moderating role here. The participants are taught coaching techniques based on current practical examples, which help them to strengthen their self-perception. I believe that all of us – leaders and coaches – will need to be even more flexible and willing to learn in the future.

    Our interview partner
    What are your favorite coaching topics?

    Life crisis, leadership problems, the lack of (self) motivation, reorientation, location determination and difficult top managers who believe they know everything but still feel that something is missing.

    What motivates or drives you in your job?

    I have a strong need to work with leaders, to help them find access to their own issues and to keep them involved in the process. I want them to not only think about possible solutions but accompanying them with the implementation of those solutions.

    Do you have a personal motto or slogan?

    My mission is to support leaders finding their own purpose

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    John livden leadership training in norway expert
    About the interview partner

    John Livden works as an executive coach and leadership trainer. His passion is to work together with people and help them succeed. He enables people to discover their uniqueness and possibilities, inspires them to take charge and full responsibility for their own lives and help them grow into their full potentials as leaders/managers and human beings.

    According to your opinion, what do you think are currently the biggest challenges for Norwegian companies when it comes to leadership and how can they master them?

     

    John: I think that the biggest challenge is actually the gap between management and leadership. Managing the projects, the people and the organization takes up so much time for leaders. My experience is, that a lot of leaders really feel this pressure. There so many things they have to do and the thoughts they have in their mind. I think that one solution to this problem could be the implementation of new agile leadership styles, where the leadership tasks are not only with the leaders but also with other employees of the company. This has a lot to do with coordination and cooperation between people and the way they work together. Successful leaders should be able to manage the complexity around them and still find time to actually build relationships, to communicate and to be there for their employees.

     

    You are working with international companies and leaders. What are the most important skills when working as a trainer on an international level?

     

    I think you need to have a good radar. You can’t know everything because you are not native. You have to be aware that you are working together with people from another culture. Try to find connection points and try to understand the differences. And probably most important, always pay respect for their culture. Keep in mind that there could be cultural elements that are inhibiting the learning process which leads to conflicts. In this case, sometimes cultural differences can be a hinder for development. As a trainer and consultant, you have to be aware that you have challenge things from time to time. Make sure to know how to do this in a good way.

     

    What would you tell a trainer who has her/his first training in Norway? Do you have any tips?

     

    I think, when we are specifically talking about Norway, it is important to understand, that the Norwegian culture and the Norwegian working-culture is very different from, for instance, the German or even the Danish one. Actually, many people see the Scandinavians as one entity, but there are differences between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark as well. We should definitely be aware of this. It is really interesting to see the differences the way people make decisions, how they approach problem-solving, discuss and handle conflicts. For example, the difference in the overall picture between a Norwegian and a Danish, when it comes to a business setting is following: The Danish has a much more continental influence on their business style and is more business oriented, as well as a little bit more formal and hierarchical. Of course, we do have hierarchies in Norway as well, but we have a much more egalitarian view on the work life. The power distance between the managing director and the genitor often seems lower. This is as well a difference to Germany or Austria. They are much more formal in the way they are working and how they are addressing each other. But I think this will also change with generations. In Norway, we are very informal in general, also in the workplace. Some people can also experience it a bit rude, when you really meet in eye level and people speak their mind, in some cases more freely.

    leadership development in norway hierarchy

    The working-culture in Norway is very different from, for instance, the German or even the Danish one. The power distance between the managing director & genitor often seems lower and the view on the work life is much more egalitarian.

    The influence of e-Learning in leadership development

     

    So you said that this informal/formal way of addressing will change with generations. We can already see many changes between the generations in companies. Keyword: digital natives and digital transformation. How do see this? How does the digital transformation influence the work life in Norway already?

     

    I think, when it comes to the Norwegian society, we are in the middle of the shift. Sometimes I am a little bit surprised when I am working in Germany for instance, and see that they are not there yet. Online we are connected, this is the way we live. But this can be very stressful for leaders, who are for instance 50+. Much more stressful than for a 20-year-old, who is growing up as a digital native and who is working seamlessly with different online platforms and systems. For a leader who did not grow up in this digital time, it could be challenging. It creates some tension between the way how his/her generation is doing things and “the new way of doing things.” All in all, I think that in Norway, we are really getting along with the digitalization on all levels of society. Public services, social security, taxes, the medical system, etc. – everything is online now. It is getting more and more digital and people are getting used to it. When they don’t, this will be a real problem. I have been putting a lot of effort, also in my interest, to use more digital tools.

     

    This is something you probably also see as a training and development guide. Are you using a lot of e-learning during your training?

     

    It really depends. In this case, I am kind of more a “classical trainer” who loves one-to-one-interaction: physically in the classroom but also in some group-settings. I know, that there are more and more courses available on the internet. E-learning is a component in almost every company. Many companies have e-learning platforms for many different skills, not only leadership skills. Our business world is very digital already, all of it and I think we will see more of it in the future. Besides that, I think that you cannot rely on digital solutions at 100%. For me, leadership has a lot to do with who you are and what you do. You can learn the theory, you can study the method, you can have check-lists but you cannot substitute the factor of human leadership. Leadership development is very closely connected to personal development. It is also about a leader being responsible for his or her behavior, attitude, communication and the way they come across. You can read this in theory but basically, you need to do it in practical life.

    So when we are coming back to e-learning, I think that you can study the theory with the support of e-learning but the human interaction is missing. I really embrace the digital shift and I see a lot of positive things and, as I said before, I think that we have just seen the start of it. But we still need the human element. You can automate things and use things such as artificial intelligence but things can go crazy if we leave leaderships just to algorithms. As a leadership trainer, team trainer and organizational development consultant it is very important to have this human factor. This factor is based on relation, experience and knowledge – theoretical knowledge is not enough. This is perhaps also the deviation between leadership as a technique and leadership as an art. There is no 100% right answer to this. It takes a person and a character. In my experience, the most giving leadership development programs are the ones, where we go so close to the person, the leader and where we challenge them on a very personal level. This can be quite deep actually.

     

    So would you agree that e-Learning is more an add-on and can be used for theory or as a follow-up?

     

    Yes, it can be a real add-on. Also in my consultancy, I have an online platform, where we communicate, share things and thoughts, where I can show videos and so on. But this is something in addition to the personal contact and the group exercises. 

     

    How do you think that this will be in the future?

     

    I think it will definitely change and we will probably see much more of the digital tools and the digital way of making learning opportunities like virtual reality. Of course, this is something positive. But I also think that we can lose ourselves in being human beings when we just rely on the digital things. Leadership is very practical and it happens in real life and in real life situations, where you cannot control what is happening between people. So there will definitely be surprises and it takes a character to be able to do that.

     

    So all in all: What do you think will be the biggest changes and challenges for organizations, for leadership but also for the training and development industry in general?

     

    We are living in a dynamic world, in which the demands of the employees will be different in the future. The younger generation won’t be willing to work every day from 9 to 5. This generation wants to be more flexible. Therefore we have to find much more flexible solutions and this flexibility leads to complexity as well. For leaders, it will be more difficult to control the work of their employees and to keep an overview. If you are giving the people more freedom, you are losing some control you traditionally had as a leader. This had been a very huge change and I think we have only seen the start of it. This is one example of what will change in the next years. So it is important to create a company culture, where flexibility is a big part of it. But it is important as well, to be able to be one unit, one company, one organization. Many leaders have already lost and will probably lose some of their formal power and structural power, so what will there be left? Leadership will be more about the relationships, the communication, the flow of things and much more. Leaders have to make up a new mindset and that requires much more agility and the ability to drive in a world that starts to work quite differently than it was in the past.

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    International leadership development in Bulgaria

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    What is it like to work as an international training and development guide? What are the biggest challenges of our time for companies – in Bulgaria and in general? Diliana Docheva talked with us about international leadership development and gave us insights into the development field in her home country Bulgaria.

    International leadership development in bulgaria with diliana docheva

    About the interview partner

    Diliana Docheva, Ph.D is working as a facilitator, consultant, speaker and development guide for 25 years already. She is passionate about the need for ideas-age leadership and all topics connected, like strategy execution, innovation, redesign, engagement and much more. She believes that life should be an adventure and inspiration. Her role as a development guide helps her to live that because you never stop exploring and learning to help others, learn and develop. Her personal motto? If there is a way, I will find it. If not, I will create it.

    “The royal crown is heavy” – why managers have to let go their personal control and involvement in every decision

     

    What are currently – according to your opinion – the biggest challenges for organizations in Bulgaria?

     

    Diliana: The common challenge is the control paradigm that often holds managers and organizations back. We have this saying in Bulgaria that goes “the royal crown is heavy” which implies that the person on top is to bear the burden of all responsibility, decisions, fire fighting etc. That leads to micromanaging and loss of effectiveness. For example, many companies still control work hours, instead of work productivity and goals achievement. Big, especially international companies, must overcome bureaucracy and start empowering people. There is no other way to be fast, innovative, and utilize the talents.

    Some other companies, managed by their founders, face the challenge to transform their management. It is natural that is contra-intuitive and difficult for such founders whose entrepreneurial spirit and personal qualities led their companies to success. Just what brought you there is not enough to hold you there. They need to let go of their personal control and involvement in every decision and operation and need to adopt another role.

    Organizations whose managers rightly use and organizational culture as a control mechanism and lever for results, are far ahead of others in attracting and retaining talents, engaging people and build loyal customers.

     

     “Nice to have” or a strategic factor of success: How do you experience that organizations in Bulgaria view (international) leadership development at the moment and how will that be in the future?

     

    The companies I was privileged to work with for decades are aware that this is a crucial success factor, so they seriously invested in that development. I foresee that soon, those companies will focus on developing leaders on every level, not just managerial level. The role of a team as an organizational structure is getting even more important.

    I wish to believe that more and more managers will give up on “I know it all” attitude and will be more open to learn together with their teams and associates.

     

    You are a trainer for many years already. According to your experience: are there any differences between development measures in Bulgaria and other countries in Europe?

     

    For 25 years in fact. Frankly speaking, I do not name my colleagues and myself trainer but facilitator, guide or consultant 10 years already. The role is different. Our role changes from trainers to guides and helping minds. I’d not say there are significant differences just one that for sure applies to companies I work with. They would not go for ready-made solutions. They want tailored, even unique programs to address their unique challenges and opportunities and development needs of their people. Also, we are not quick to trust everything that comes from abroad, especially from the other side of the Atlantic.

     

    Speaking the same language is not enough – what you need when working as an international training and development guide

     

    What is most important when working on an international level? What skills does it take to be an international training and development guide?

     

    Most important is to truly love this job as every time there is a new challenge. It is important to love, to learn and do your homework before every project no matter how well you know your subject. You must be very attentive and flexible. As well, you must be very mature as a trainer. I believe trainers have two independency levels to reach. First is to be independent of the natural need to have people to like us. I’ve seen many trainers entertaining participants to receive a good evaluation after the training. But we are there to help and teach, which often means to challenge the participants, to provoke, to ask difficult questions or to give straight feedback. The second level is to be independent of a training design. This is the maturity and skill to change the original design to meet the needs of the group.

     

    What are the typical challenges when working on an international level? Can you think of any challenging situations you’ve experienced? What are your tips?

     

    My tip is the saying “expect nothing (you are used to), experience everything with an open mind. The main challenge is remembering that knowing the language doesn’t mean knowing the culture. The thing is to understand people.

    One very challenging situation was when I conducted a seminar in Ukraine in the Russian language. The program was designed in Germany and – for me personally – was very logical and practical, and I’ve delivered it successfully in other countries already. Soon after I started I had a feeling that I am losing the participants. I decided to stop and make a short funny exercise to figure out what is wrong. What came out was that the main concept on which the whole process in the program was based is absolutely not acceptable, even unthinkable in Ukraine. No chance to follow the program as designed. So, I had to redesign the whole program ad hog to supply them with the skills the company needed but in Ukrainian way.

    International leadership development in Bulgaria - Knowing the culture

    “Knowing the language is not knowing the culture – the thing is to understand the people”

     

    International leadership development is a lot about intercultural awareness and empathy. For a training professional doing a module of a leadership program in Bulgaria: To what shall he/she pay attention and what are your tips of success in order that the training is really beneficial for everyone?

     

    It is important to design a dynamic interactive seminar with lots of activities and discussions. A certain way to lose people is to show hundreds of slides. We also love to discuss which makes the timing tricky. Often it is truly difficult to stop the discussions, so if a trainer runs out of time, I’d suggest shortening the presentation, not to stop a discussion. Do not expect participants to be on time really. If the topic is not interesting people leave the training mentally and do their own stuff. In fact, a couple of times I’ve witnessed people leaving physically a seminar, led by a foreign trainer when they are not engaged. Also, you should expect that dinner lasts for hours.

     

    Development measures in times of digitalization

     

    In times of the unstoppable digitalization – do you think that classroom trainings will vanish completely at some point and how do companies in Bulgaria cope with these changes?

     

    Training yes, classroom no. For a long time already, many programs in Bulgaria are blended or e-learning. At the same time, despite participating in such programs, people need to get together, develop ideas, create, discuss and synergize. Ideas is the key word here. Knowledge and information are everywhere and readily available. Even without e-learning or blended learning programs, people could learn. Businesses need ideas to progress. We already don’t live in a knowledge but ideas-age.

    When I started training business in Bulgaria in 1993 I think I was the first, I had to explain to prospects what “training” is. Most of them were hesitant to consider such service because their employees have university diplomas. Then there was a training boom. Now, my clients need provocation, room for new ideas, help to reinvent or renovate their businesses or solutions to the challenges they face. There are no ready-made solutions. There is an ocean of information, models, and tools and a need to help navigate through them.

    Certain skills, for sure, will be needed and such training will be provided by internal trainers. That applies to “must skills” for a company or job. Beyond that to put everybody in the same training program to get the same competence set is a management of failure. The management of success is to develop the individual talents of every team member.

     

    Which role does the digitalization in general play in Bulgaria? Is the country/its organizations “ready” – what do you notice?

     

    As everywhere,digitalization speeds up everything, makes everything very transparent, processes more efficient and it also redefines some jobs of course. I think Bulgaria is very much advanced in the digitalization shift. Many businesses are already digital. Thankfully, this might be because of the generations of brilliant IT specialists we have, and successful start-ups who led the way. Technology has always been playing an important role in Bulgaria. Although many organizations are yet to align their management systems with digital reality.

     

    According to your opinion: What will be the biggest challenge for the training & development industry in the next 5 to 10 years?

     

    It is to move from WHAT knowledge to deliver to HOW people are to apply it to their specific situation and to WHY to do so. We also clearly see two trends. One is the increasing need for individual consultancy, not coaching but consultancy. The second is the need for projects aiming to transform the whole organization. So, both the challenge and development of our industry will be to align one-to-one services with massive programs for hundreds or thousands of associates. This will require lots of collaboration and teamwork among consultants. As the need for deep expertise in certain fields is evident as well, I am confident that we consultants will work in partner networks where every partner contributes her expertise and we benefit the synergy of collaboration. The age of big franchise-based companies with rigid programs is over.

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