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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    The starting point is technological progress: Binary code, microchip, internet, big data, internet of things, artificial intelligence, physical products (combi of digital and reality), intelligent personal assistants etc. have and will continue to change our day to day life.

    This technological progress led to some main changes in how we work and live together. On the basis of Khan’s* work we identified 6 core changes:

    1. Interconnectedness
    2. Abundance of information
    3. Increased complexity
    4.  Increased transparency
    5.  Less hierarchical, more empowerment
    6. Man Machine cooperation

       


    1. Interconnectedness

     

    Billions of smartphone users can interact with each other without time delay. Experts are forming worldwide research networks, crowdsourcing allows to receive many ideas, financial resources etc. with little cost and time investment.

     

    2. Abundance of information

     

    It can be a blessing and it can be a curse. We can access most relevant info in our vicinity or from the other side of the world. Some people rather look at their Smartphone in order to see, how the weather is than looking outside the window. Highly paid software developers are pretty good in seducing us to spend more and more time with applications and to activate the push notifications.

     

    3. Increased complexity

     

    With the increased speed of change and more and more people sharing the same space, complexity goes up. In most cases, organizations need to increase internal complexity in order to get along with external complexity. E.g. a retail has to build up an online shop and blend the physical and online world, find a way to balance classical retail management with the agile world of online development …

    speed of change in the digital disruption

    With the increasing speed of change, the complexity goes up as well

    4. Increased transparency

     

    Nowadays it is very difficult to keep a higher level of privacy. Cameras everywhere in the city, iPhone search function, Google earth, Facebook etc. make our day to day life very transparent. If somebody wants to find out, whether the spouse has an affair, this should not be too difficult anymore 😉. At the same time, you can run a business on other continents with e.g. using Google docs, Yammer, Trello and many other kinds of cloud software.

     

    5. Less hierarchical, more empowerment

     

    In a knowledge economy, people want to have a say. And they also need to be empowered to make decisions close to the client or the technical challenge. Hierarchy is too slow. Laloux’s reinventing organizations, holocracy, lateral leadership etc. point at democratic alternatives. Hierarchy loses influence but will not fade totally.

     

    6. Man-machine cooperation

     

    Anorganic entities with some digital steering (programs, bots, robots) and humans work side to side. We find thousands of example in industry, medicine, business, travel etc.

    In the metaphor of the Disruption Surfer, these 6 core changes describe, what the waves are made of. Each wave is unique. Nevertheless, waves have common patterns. If we know how to read them, we will be successful in picking and surfing the next wave.

     

    Article written by Dominik Etzl und Gunther Fürstberger

    *Shayan Khan/Tikkanen (Stockholm Business School 2016)

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    Waves instead of a solid ground

     

    Often, these waves arise far away before they come to the coast, where their size is only predictable at short notice. Therefore, they can either be a threat or a great chance for the surfer. An experienced surfer observes the waves and chooses the right one for him. If the waves are not strong enough, you can’t really do a lot with it.

    Waves of the disruption

    Is the wave a threat or a great chance for the surfer? An experienced surfer observes the waves in the first place and chooses the right one for him afterwards.

     

    As a leader in the digital transformation, you should definitely keep an eye on the approaching waves of change. Many companies are drowning because they ignore the changes, which are often coming from an unexpected side. If they do not ignore them, they often only recognize them when it is already too late. In the meanwhile, others could perceive the opportunities and the creative potential of the changes and are often surprised by the unexpected possibilities which suddenly arise.

     

    The surfboard – a tool of agile leadership

     

    Basically, a surfer only needs the right surfboard as a tool. The material entry barrier for this sport is very low. This applies to the digital economy as well. Many of today’s largest Silicon Valley companies were founded by students with little equity. As an agile leader, you have a variety of tools at your disposal. We’ve already worked out the most important key tools, you should have as an agile leader in a previous blog article.

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    Next to the tool-set, the associated skills want to be developed as well. A surfer’s main skill is the ability to balance on a moving surface which can only be achieved by a constant and balanced movement. This is cognitively difficult. As a surfer, you develop a sense of balance through a lot of practice. The same applies to an agile leader. The key to stay on track is the ability to react quickly and adequately to the many and rapid changes. Doing this by himself is quite difficult. Therefore he needs additional collaboration skills, such as creating transparency and visualizing things.

     

    Attitude and skillset

     

    Both, the surfer and the agile leader, are only able to gain mastery when tapping into creative potential.

    Even more important as a tool-and skillset is the right mindset: the disruption surfer sees a change as an opportunity, acts with others at eye level and with much openness. Even if the disruption waves look threatening to many people in the first place, the disruption surfer says, with brightness in his eyes: “Wow, this wave I’ll take!”

    Article by Mag. Gunther Fürstberger, CEO of MDI Management Development International.

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    The four domains of the framework and their fields of application

     

    All in all, the framework can be divided into 4 different fields:

    • Simple: in this field, the relationship between cause and effect is clear and obvious for everybody. Simply said: “if you do this, you can expect this response”.
    • Complicated: there is a clear relationship between cause and effect, but an analysis and/or expert knowledge is required.
    • Complex:  the relationship between cause and effect can only be identified afterwards, which is why it is not possible to make predictions about the future but only about the past.
    • Chaotic: there is no relationship between cause and effect.

    With this framework, situations can now be divided into this four different domains. This gives me a clear and situation-specific instruction on what to do. The framework helps you to quickly analyze situations and to find the right management style. It makes a huge difference, for instance, if I am in a complicated or complex business environment.

    In the complicated environment (classic management methods), an analysis should be carried out, whereas – in the complex environment – agile methods should be used. This helps companies not only to find the right management tool in a quick and efficient way but also explains why problem X, for instance, should be solved with agile methods, whereas problem Y shouldn’t.

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    About the author

    Ursula Weixlbaumer-Norz is always looking for new solutions for leadership challenges of our time. She is working as a trainer and coach for many years already and is specialized in team development, negotiation techniques, conflict and crisis management, intercultural competences, communication, motivation, change management and management strategies.

    Since when are you working with the cynefin framework?

    Ursula: About 1 1/2 years ago I came across the cynefin framework and immediately liked the idea of the framework really much. This year I was attending a further education in London on this topic.

     

    What are your experiences with the framework?

    Ursula: Nowadays, you get the impression that agile methods are everywhere. During my coachings and trainings, I often deal with leaders who do not know where and how to use all those new agile methods. This is exactly where the cynefin framework can support them, which makes the decision which problem-solving method to us, much easier.

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    Whereas the business world used to be rather steady and predictable before the digitalization, it is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA).

    Nevertheless, many leaders still employ practices, strategies, and tools that were common in times before digitalization, where leadership was long-term, bureaucratic, hierarchical, directing and instructive.

    But – this leadership model is no longer up to date due to the changes in the business world. Specifically, this means that

    • the “internet of things” is real
    • information is accessible to everyone instead of a small group only
    • old businesses close down and new ones open up every day
    • former constants now underlie regular change
    • expertise shows in a well-developed resource-network rather than mere theoretical knowledge

     

     What are the consequences of the digital revolution for leaders?

     

    Due to the changes in our business world, a lot must change on the leadership level as well. Leadership must be adapted to constant changes and keep track with the latest technologies and trends. But what are now the specific consequences for leaders?

    • Traditional development is expensive and time-consuming
    • Teams need to be empowered; collaboration is essential
    • Development often requires customers to be involved in the process
    • Requirements are constantly changing
    • No clear conclusion, development continues

     

    In short: a new leadership approach is needed.

     

    We need a leadership approach that is natively adaptive to change – and does not build upon past conditions. An approach that does not assume that the world is stable and predictable – but rather is aware of the fact that the fundamental conditions have to be questioned again and again during a project. After all, the future of business-success belongs to those, who know how to use the changes for themselves and to turn challenges into opportunities.

     

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    Agile leadership originates from the IT industry, which is an industry that is constantly changing. This leadership approach is designed for fast changing cycles and is using shorter sprints, iteration cycles, and continuous feedback. Agile leadership is driven by transparent processes and developments and supports team-collaboration, communication, and interaction within the team.

    What do you need as an agile leader to be successful in today’s world?

    agile leader in digital transformation
    1. A new mindset, to see change as an opportunity to create an agile organizational culture, to communicate the „big picture“ and to always be one step ahead of the competition.

    Individuals & interactions instead of processes & tools

    Working software instead of comprehensive documentation

    Customer collaboration instead of contract negotiation

    Responding to changes instead of following a plan

    2. A new skillset, to create the framework and infrastructure for an individual development of each employee.

    Skills, an agile leader needs to have

     

    • Entrepreneurial thinking
    • Strong customer focus
    • Employee focus
    • Teamwork
    • Self-leadership and reflection
    • Tolerance for ambiguity
    • Flexibility
    • Change management competencies
    • Solution competency
    • Leading virtual teams, leading from distance
    • Knowing agile work and management methods
    • High communication competency

     

    3. A new toolset, to successfully implement the theory into practice and maintain an agile organizational culture.

    What are the concrete consequences for you as a leader?

     

    Due to the digitization, roles and responsibilities have changed within companies. The market is changing daily and the world is becoming increasingly uncertain. Agile leadership is indispensable in order to be able to assert itself as a company on the market in the long term. However, the successful transition to an agile leadership model requires the full support of everyone involved.

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