Mary-Jane Kingsland - The changing role of leadership

PUBLISHED: 10:00 15 September 2012

Mary-Jane Kingsland

Mary-Jane Kingsland

Archant 2012

I recently submitted a successful application to the Growth Accelerator Programme, a new partnership between private enterprise and government.

It offers a tailored service to maximise opportunities for high annual growth. The process required me to focus on two areas: my own experience of growing a business and my experience of coaching business leaders.

I pulled the files of those I had coached and realised a new leadership profile was emerging, addressing the demands of today’s economy.

When I trained as a business coach, the stereotypical leaders were more of a product of nature rather than nurture; exuding confidence and certainty, revered and respected for their points of difference; leadership had a firm and controlling hand and its voice was louder than those it led.

However, over the ensuing years the demands of the UK’s challenging economy and that of our overseas customers and suppliers have called for a different type of leadership, one that marshals the skills of employees and looks to them for the generation of ideas and problem solving.

Google is a classic example. Incorporated in 1998 and initially operating from a garage, Google has undergone high growth of mind-numbing proportions and is now the internet’s most visited website, providing a list of products that grow and develop in step with the demands of its customers.

Half of all new product launches have originated from the independent endeavours of employees, including Gmail, Google News, Orkut, and AdSense. As a motivational technique, Google uses a policy often called “innovation time off”, where engineers are encouraged to spend 20pc of their time at work on projects that interest them.

Increasingly, leaders are recognising that innovation matters and it is equally important to get closer to customers and involve them in the development of brands. A good example is Apple.

This trend is driven by increased competitive pressures and the increased importance of the service experience.

Thus, the nature of leadership is challenged to respond to this changing environment and for some this may be difficult. After all, leaders have most likely risen to their position because of their autonomy and decisiveness.

In essence it is as well to embrace the concept that what was required to get you up the corporate ladder may not serve you, your employees and your customers today.

Indeed a little humility may be required. Humility reaps its own rewards, it allows us to look for strength in others and learn from their experience. No one can know everything, or indeed always find the best solution.

Employees and customers want to take part in helping to build a brand, if the experience is enjoyable and sociable. A leader’s role is increasingly about developing insight and spotting opportunities; listening more and talking less. Social media outlets provide the perfect platform for multi-channel feedback. Leaders are still the ultimate decision makers, but the decision making process can be more of a collective one.

It all boils down to self knowledge and participation, rather than dominance and individualism. New leaders are emerging and I have no doubt those who embrace the rise of informed collective decision making will reap the benefits.

Mary-Jane Kingsland is a business coach.

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