The skills needed for new generations of leaders to be impressive and inspiring.
We are aware that probably more advice has been written on leadership than on any other social science topic. And, if you already know a lot about the subject, perhaps this article can serve as a summary and reminder of what leadership is, what skills make a good leader and how the activity and concept of leadership has changed and is changing.
When talking about leadership, most experts point out that it is important to highlight the difference between leadership and management. The two terms tend to be used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.
Management is a system of behaviours designed to control complexity, create order and produce coherent execution of the tasks and strategies that get the job done. It is internally focused. In contrast, leadership is a system of behaviours designed to respond to change, uncertainty and unpredictability, and is outwardly focused.
Leaders do two things: they identify a goal or direction and mobilise others to voluntarily go in that direction. You can be a manager of documents, inventories, information, systems, products, people, time and many other resources. But you can only be a leader of people.
Being a manager does not mean being a leader, and in most management positions in law firms, as in other companies, people in management roles are not always leaders. To be a leader and to be effective in business, one must possess traits that go beyond management functions. But there is good news: leadership can be learned, and it is a process of constant evolution. Although there are some people who appear to be “born leaders”, leadership is not as “natural” as we have been led to believe; it is a skill that is carefully cultivated and requires dedication and hard work.
There are two key factors to being a good leader: character and competencies. Character is about personal and individual traits. The most important are, for example, integrity, reliability, honesty, authenticity and fairness. Obviously, the weight these characteristics may have is entirely subjective: it matters little what you think of your character; what matters most is the subjective perception of the people who work in your team. This is one of the main reasons why good leaders seek a lot of feedback and value self-knowledge.
The second factor relates to the competencies of the leader. First, extensive research shows that people only like to follow leaders who are skilled at the things they value. For example, lawyers only follow leaders they consider to be good lawyers. Secondly, leaders must also possess certain competencies related to leadership. You will find many long lists of all the competencies needed to be a good leader. But let’s take a look at what seem to be the crucial ones.
We have already established that any leader must be capable and intelligent, but his or her personal talents must include equal parts creativity and innovation. Good leaders challenge the process and take risks. They experiment by constantly making strategic decisions. They learn from their mistakes. Most importantly, they have to find ingenious ways to balance their innovative approach to the future with the urgent requirements of day-to-day work. In law firms, for example, leadership should not be measured by personal legal acumen or record hours worked, but by the way leaders intelligently leverage talented teams to deliver measurable results and advance client goals by solving problems creatively.
Of course, to work with teams and manage people, leaders must be excellent at both communication and collaboration. They must learn to be members of a team, promoting harmony within their company, and being in tune with their customers or other external parties. To do this, and to achieve effective results, they must set an example to others (both in their professional attitude and in their human relations), they must know when to delegate and how to allow others to act autonomously, fostering coordinated collaboration among their components.
Communication skills, and all the so-called soft skills, go hand in hand with an often forgotten factor of good leadership: the ability to inspire. Great leaders can inspire a shared vision of what a better future could look like, they create a picture of how life could be different if their team achieves its goals. They do so in a way that can evoke an emotional and motivational response in their members. They can do this, for example, by generously acknowledging the goal-oriented behaviours of their members and rewarding them with respect, with genuine heartfelt praise, with recognition. In doing so, they keep hope and faith alive in the product or service they are creating and offering to the public. This cultivation of mutual respect for people and the encouragement of an inspiring vision fuels many of the practices that make a company successful.
Many of the old patterns of organisations and work environments need to be renewed. Today’s leaders have to lead differently. The era of millennial leaders (people born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s) is here, and with it a new range of leadership approaches that have evolved from the previous generation. It is about walking the fine line between being assertive and dominant and being relatable and approachable.
To begin with, most young leaders have a attitude less authoritarian and more democraticThis involves new forms of collaboration that highly value the opinions of each team member, thus training employees to think for themselves and be more accountable for their contributions. This allows for greater creativity and enthusiasm from each member, however small. Moreover, the last 20 years have seen an explosion of compelling scientific research, in both psychology and neuroscience, demonstrating the extraordinary power of positive, inclusive and inspiring practices in driving companies towards consistently superior performance and record levels of profitability, not to mention team engagement, longer tenure and greater job satisfaction.
Being a leader in this new era means having more empathy and compassion, valuing the mental health of the team. This seems to be incredibly important when considering the human environment in which they work and, in turn, leads to better results. Leaders who are culturally adept and who promote all kinds of different perspectives without prejudice (this ranges from race to type of creativity, different cultures, religion, hairstyles, etc.) succeed in finding and nurturing all the talent in their team. The more differences, the greater the potential evolution towards new types of success. Also, opening up to the use of new technologies, whether to be more environmentally conscious or to save time and resources, is a key factor in the advancement and evolution of any type of business. The willingness to learn and adapt to new circumstances is crucial for good leadership.
Of course, leadership style also depends on the type of business. In start-ups, for example, there may be a more laissez-faire attitude. Leaders can give more authority and autonomy to their professionals by providing them with information, feedback and advice. In this way they promote independence and innovation. This type of leader has full confidence in his or her staff while overseeing the rest of the company. This modus operandi is particularly beneficial in teams composed of skilled professionals who need creative freedom.
All these aspects and skills make for a brilliant leader. Modern forms of leadership have already arrived, and will surely only evolve and expand. Find out about leadership styles and learn which one works best for you and your company or firm. Work on yourself to improve your skills and shine as a leader. Your team will look up to you and be motivated in their work.