The Evolution of Leadership

Geez, I’ve seen a bunch of posts and articles lately on the “evolution of leadership.” It seems a fair number of people are falling into the trap of believing that leadership needs to “adapt” to the “times.” 

Well, that just ain’t so!

Certainly some, just some, of the tactics of leadership change through the years. The well documented generational differences dictate that change. Generally speaking, very generally speaking, the motivational triggers of the different generations vary, but not as much as many  people think. 

Given those variances good leaders adjust. But they don’t adjust to trick or manipulate, they adjust to deliver motivation, discipline, and vision in the manor in which it is best received. 

While some leadership tactics change the core leadership principles and strategies do not. 

They don’t change because leadership is about people and people haven’t really changed….ever.

The basic human needs, as described by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have never really changed. Humans as it turns out are human. It doesn’t make a difference when they were born, where they where born, what sex they are, what color they are, or if they are rich or poor, humans are human. Every single one of them.

Leaders don’t lead businesses, (businesses are managed) leaders don’t lead countries, (countries are governed) leaders lead people, nothing more and nothing less. Those people also happen to be human.

Leaders get in trouble when they forget that very basic fact. 

One of the biggest reasons that people dislike change is because they see change as a threat to one or more of their basic human needs. A leader understands that just because it might not make sense to the leader doesn’t mean it isn’t very real to the person they are leading. 

Here’s another thing that can cause challenges for a leader. While human beings basic needs are much the same no two people are exactly identical. Even identical twins would be better described as “more similar” than most people. Understanding the differences of the people you lead is what makes leading so interesting and a constant learning experience.

Great leaders understand the sameness of their people’s basic needs to develop leadership strategies and learn the unique aspects of their people’s personalities to develop the tactics of successful leadership. In both cases they never forget that they are leading people not things.

That’s why the most important skills for a leader to have are people skills. They always have been most important and they will always be most important. Because leadership is about people! 

That’s never changed and it never will.

Creating Leadership Success

One of the common causes of failure among leaders is assuming that they cannot fail simply because they never have.

They assume that their future, and the future of their organization is just an almost automatic extension of their past. They assume that they will always succeed because they always have. That causes the assumption that because “things” have always been a certain way they will always be that way. 

That assumption has always been wrong but it’s never been more wrong than it is today. “Things” are most certainly changing and they are changing at a breakneck pace. 

This increased pace of change has never been on greater display than in the current United States Presidential Campaign. The Republican Party has completely missed the fact that people don’t want and won’t accept the status quo. The leadership of the party just assumed that despite all evidence to the contrary, “things” would eventually return to normal and everything would be as it was.

The Democratic Party is just as confused. They appear to be in the process of selecting a candidate who proudly says “I am a child of the sixties and I think like a child of the sixties.” Well guess what, as sad as it might make me and a lot of other people, children of the sixties are not the future of the United States or the world.

What once was isn’t anymore and leaders who fail to understand that absolute fact will themselves fall victim to failure. 

To avoid that all too common leadership failure you must know exactly why you do everything thing you do. If you’re doing anything, anything at all, simply because “we’ve always done it that way” then you are putting yourself, and your organization on a potential path to failure. If you assume that anything will be the same in just ten years as it is today then your path to failure is even wider.

Some, maybe even many, leaders from the Baby Boomer generation, when asked by a leader from the Millennial generation, “why do you do it that way?” see the question as a threat or a challenge to their leadership. They need to see it as an opportunity to verify that what they are currently doing is still the best way to do it. They need to see the question as an opportunity to improve. They absolutely need to understand that “the way they have always done it” might not actually be the best way to do it today.

To avoid this common leadership failure leaders must challenge their own thinking everyday and surround themselves with people who will challenge their thinking for them when they can’t or won’t. Then, and this is the real secret to leadership success, then they must allow those people who they have surrounded themselves with to actually challenge them with zero risk of reprisal.

Leaders who assume, hope or believe that “things” are not changing have blinded themselves to the fact that most everything IS changing and they are going to continue to change whether they are ready for it or not.

As President Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Leaders who let the future happen will eventually fail. Leaders who continually create their future will have the best opportunity for continual success. 

Who is creating your future?