Leadership Quo vadis

Leadership in its present form no longer seems to work. Looking at the level of employee leadership, none of the leadership models of the recent past can currently secure a sustainable place on the podium. Probably also because leadership appears more comprehensively for managers. They are currently usually strategists, managers and leaders and today also innovators and change agents in one person.

The excessive demands are not far away. At the same time, the needs of employees fall by the wayside. It can’t, probably won’t stay that way. So where will leadership develop into?

How leadership still shows itself today

Today we often still meet executives who have learned their trade in the big schools of management and leadership, whether in St. Gallen or Harvard or … and have practiced over many years with sometimes more, sometimes less success. They are still involved in classic line or matrix structures, usually in a double mission as managers and leaders.

Mostly measured by the results that can best be expressed in hard figures – whether these are figures related to production or sales of products and services or figures that reflect the satisfaction of customers or the team.

At the same time, however, there is an increasing demand in these areas: to give meaning to one’s own actions and those of the team or to make them visible, to discover and develop talents and to see and enable each individual team member. And, last but not least, make sure that the processes are adapted to an ever-increasing dynamism and at the same time are already being acted on using scrum & Co agile.

And how leadership is lived at the moment

Sometimes we meet completely different managers in the here and now. Those who grew up in the last named “school”. They have learned from the outset not to think and act in long, medium and short-term planning cycles but rather in backlogs and sprints.

They have always been project orientated, are at home in the agile manifesto and are well aware of the importance of customer centricity. Team spirit is their elixir. Managers who do not distinguish between entrepreneurs and leaders. Their names are different. They name themselves owner or master and they are part of the team. In their understanding, it is also the group that counts, less the individual and his needs and development.

As a rule, however, these “managers” don’t really find their place in the classic silos and have a great deal of difficulty with the required “management-suitable” slide flows, the benefits of which they don’t see at all.

Managers are increasingly in question

Let’s face it, being an executive today is far from desirable. One of the named types is torn between the different requirements and expectations, even today driven by the classic pattern of goal achievement in time. The growing demands of a changing workforce, be it Generation X or Generation Y and Z, are increasingly demanding.

In fact, employee retention figures today are often not good, as the latest Gallup Engagement Index shows. This is a trend that is continuing and is exerting even more pressure on managers who are already working hard. The most questioned one is the direct manager, who is unable to live up to the expectations of his employees.

On the other hand, if one asks managers what they see as the reason why “leadership is less and less successful”, one hears of a lack of concentration, a rapid flood of stimuli, generally lower competence set-ups, especially in a dynamic environment and fear of making decisions. Or from a reluctance to face change, a so-called “fixed mindset” of the older generation of employees.

Together with the colleague who comes from an agile childhood, the manager outlined here increasingly experiences emotional overload reactions. Even if for different reasons. Both are not happy in the current structure and have a rather manageable happiness index.

Leadership does (not) meet the expectations of employees

And they’re not alone. If we change perspectives, we can draw an even more critical picture on the employee side.

Even if employees show themselves slightly more satisfied with an agile manager. All in all, however, the leader doesn’t really come off well. Only the fun and joy factor is usually rated a little higher in this management concept.

If one asks the employees, however, their subjective view is that they learn too little personally, are not sufficiently empowered and are not appreciated by their superiors. Or that there is a lack of responsiveness to their individual needs, such as reconciling work and family life or dealing with the increasing dynamics of work. Many employees today have the impression that they are not developing fast enough or are not able to contribute their talents. They do not feel sufficiently informed and not sufficiently perceived as human beings. In their eyes, individual support should be given even more weight.

Instead, they experience that their supervisor measures and aligns them by numbers, at least in the classical structure. Too little work is done in a team and that motivation often suffers from a feeling of pressure.

New leadership concepts alone do not solve the central challenge

The attempts to solve these challenges with approaches such as Transformational Leadership” or more recently “Servant Leadership” have not yet led to a lasting change in the situation.

They subjectively generate more happiness in the individual and thus make a significant contribution on the way to a more humane working environment. With this kind of leadership, the fulfillment of the expectations of the employees is better secured than with conventional formats.

However, the actual challenge is not solved in this way – the combination of the requirements of promotion and demand bundled in one person at the same time. Whether on the part of the manager or that of the employee, a bottleneck always arises. How authentic and unconditional is promotion if at the same time the focus is on output? And where will the individual contribute his or her energy when numbers and people compete?

And then there was something else – the customer

To make it round. We haven’t even talked about the third in the alliance, the internal or external customer yet. The customer, of whom we know that his expectations are mutating by leaps and bounds. The fact that he is becoming more and more “unpredictable” or demands to be analyzed very precisely, observed and understood.

To create products and services that uniquely live up to customer’s wishes is the aim. To establish wow-experiences and fulfil customer needs, even if the customer is not aware of these yet.

No, the customer no longer deviates from his expectations and requirements. On the contrary. He experiences confirmation in the fact that the fulfillment of his concerns has the highest attention. Many machines and systems are finding it easier and easier to identify customer needs in time and propose suitable solutions at the same time.

In order to always be up to date here and to meet this pressure of expectation appropriately, it is imperative to give the customer’s voice a greater hearing in a timely manner and to prioritize his point of view.

Where is leadership heading?

“Leadership” in the sense of a healthy and sustainable organization can and should therefore be viewed from three perspectives: employee, customer, performance. The competences required to cope with the tasks in the respective dimensions are very different.

Ideally, the potpourri of skills required can hardly be provided by one person alone. Not only because this is an enormous demand on the skills profile of a single person. Rather it is for the high-level personnel itself, above all even more for coworkers, a difficult balancing act to present themselves in contradictory roles authentically.

How credible is a person who, at the same moment, makes a claim for excellent quality that is justified from the customer’s point of view and demands its implementation from the employee, whom he should simultaneously develop and promote in his role as a promoter?

People at all levels of organizations are increasingly exposed to this dilemma. Which voice should be followed? How passionately can a point of view be represented? How authentic or manipulative is a leader in the eyes of an employee? And, what should the employee orientate himself to? Today the demand for excellence and quality? And tomorrow to be encouraged to build on individual strengths?

Another dilemma arising from this management model is talent development. Should a manager, who today is still primarily measured by performance records, report his real high potentials in talent pools and thereby bear the risk of suffering a loss of competence in the team? A real conflict.

Quite apart from the fact that leadership is transferred to the shoulders of the team in the medium term, current theories of organizational development are believed.

And what if we simply rethink that?

We are currently working on what this might look like in concrete terms. Today, tomorrow and beyond.

More about that in another blog.