What Is Effective Leadership Today?

A new study finds collaboration prized over heroics.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) conducted research with over 350 mid- to upper-level managers across the globe to explore the current and future states of leadership. According to 84.3 percent of leaders studied, the definition of effective leadership has changed in the last five years.

Future leaders must focus on collaboration over heroics, thereby extending leadership throughout the organization. Collaborative skills such as building and mending relationships, participative management and change management are becoming increasingly important to success now and in the future.

This shift is partially due to two factors. First, the nature of the challenges facing organizations is changing. Ninety-three percent of the leaders surveyed say today’s challenges have greater strategic impact, go beyond individual leadership capability (e.g., require working across boundaries) and render tried-and true solutions ineffective.

So, what can you do to prepare your leaders for a more complex and collaborative future? Here are three ideas:

Become an architect of leadership.

How can you design systems and structures to cultivate new leadership approaches? The leaders surveyed by CCL believe an optimal reward system would include a balance of individual performance and collaboration, innovation and long term thinking.

The Gore Company is a nice example of this approach. Gore insists 10 to 15 percent of employees’ time is spent on speculative ideas. The recognition of innovation as a core competency has resulted in Gore moving beyond Gortex to hold a significant share in dental floss and other markets.


Make an example of positive disobedience.

Which of your leaders breaks the rules, builds relationships and gets results? There are leaders within your organizations who have been honing the skills of collaboration, innovation and relationship building for decades. These leaders live beyond our organizational norms but still manage to succeed.

Consider these opposing examples.At age 19, Shawn Fanning turned the record industry upside down from a dorm room in Boston. His goal was simple and his approach was positively disobedient. Fanning’s company eventually became known as Napster, and he overhauled the music industry by paving the way for iTunes and countless other online music services to succeed. However, he was treated as a sinner instead of a saint.

Still, there are a few positive disobedient leaders who are being embraced from the onset. Just ask Burger King. In 2004, the company hired Crispin Porter + Bogusky to turn their brand upside down with a Subservient Chicken website that has totaled over 385 million hits since its launch, with visitors spending an average of six minutes or more on the site (an unheard of statistic).

Turn real challenges into learning gold.

Is action learning a part of your leadership development strategy? Few organizations have adopted action learning the way the Army has. On the website www.companycommand.com, past, present and future Army commanders are engaged in an ongoing conversation about how to build and lead combat teams. With over 7,000 members, the ability to share in real time and learn from real challenges and lessons of experience is unmatched. This form of action learning not only improves results but creates a stronger community in the process.

The era of the “heroic” leader, a leader who walks in and takes up all the space in the room, is gone. Leaders now create space for other people to innovate, work across boundaries and prepare for the complex challenges that lie ahead.

 Dr. André Martin ([email protected] ccl.org) is a senior researcher, writer and trainer for the Center for Creative Leadership.



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