The Evolution of Leadership

By Jaime Taets

Leaders in every organization are tired. Global issues are now affecting organizations of every size. Retention and engagement are critical issues on every leader’s mind. Add to that the daily rigors of managing risk and growth, and it’s easy to see why many great leaders have stepped down due to stress and uncertainty.

Companies are facing a barrage of new challenges – internally and externally – every day. To adapt, more leaders are realizing they have to evolve to the new requirements of being a leader. And most leaders have not been allowed – or taken the time – to truly invest in themselves and their leadership capabilities.

Here are a few focus areas for leaders to ensure they are staying up with the fast pace of leadership evolution.

1. Learn to lead through chaos

Chaos can look like a lot of different things: people leaving, customers yelling, banks holding back, revenue not growing or growing too fast, profit shrinking, new people coming in and culture shifting. But what I have learned over the years is that greatness is always preceded by chaos. When you are in the midst of chaos, it’s hard to imagine but the muscle you are building is to prepare you for the greatness that comes next. So, instead of just surviving the chaos as a leader, take a different mindset and lean into it to see what it can teach you and your team. What can you learn about yourself, your team and your organization in the midst of chaos? Where do you have strength and where has the chaos shown you weak points? 

2. Shift your perspective

Maya Angelou said it best – “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” This is how I would summarize the leadership evolution that is occurring. What worked in the past is not as effective as it used to be, and some approaches don’t work at all. Leadership now requires new muscles that we didn’t need before – such as an ability to manage change effectively, emotional intelligence, and vulnerability. Many of these skills are things that were never talked about in leadership classes 15 years ago. So, as leaders, we need to find ways to shift our perspective, to broaden the lens through which we look at the world so that we are evolving at the pace that’s needed to drive high performance. The perspective shift will not happen to you – you must seek it out. Learn something new, attend an event you never would have attended in the past, lean into things that make you a little uncomfortable, and then spend some time exploring why. In this new global business environment, leaders need to be able to challenge their judgements and beliefs and adjust as needed to lead into the future.

3. Be a creator of hope

At a leadership conference I heard that leaders should be creators of hope for their people, and it really struck me. When I think back to the best leaders I have had over my career, they were focused on growth and resilience. They had an attitude of, “We will figure it out. We’re smart, and we might not know the right answer now, but we will work through it.” They created hope without knowing it. They helped me see past the obstacles right in front of me, and instead focused on the destination we were trying to reach. As leaders, when we create hope in our team, they are able to tap into another deeper energy reservoir because they know the hard work and obstacles are worth getting to the destination.

Leadership can be really hard. It can also be immensely rewarding. To appreciate the reward, you have to go through the hard. Right now, as leaders, our focus needs to be on our own evolution and energy levels so we can show up for our team with the level of energy needed to tackle whatever obstacle comes at us. Our team needs us to evolve; our organizations need us to evolve; and, as humans, we need to know that we are doing the best we can each day, which requires evolution. Instead of worrying about the leaders around us and how strong they are, let’s instead focus on our own growth and be an inspiration and model from whom other leaders can learn. The future of leadership depends on us.

Jaime Taets is the CEO of Keystone Group International, a firm focused on leadership development and organizational strategy, growth and change. She also contributes to Forbes magazine, and is author of You are Here and The Culture Climb.