What is leadership? While leadership may be recognizable, it is difficult to define. It is said that leadership lacks a universal definition: “There are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are leadership theories – and there are almost as many theories of leadership as there are psychologists working in the field” (Day & Antonakis, 2012). The definition of leadership is changing as the world of leadership development is evolving. Leadership is no longer believed to be born or innate, and there is a large focus on the development of leaders within organizations. We are slowly moving away from the time of the “heroic” or individual leader, and moving toward a new and more innovative approach in order to tackle the challenges of the future (Petrie, 2011).
Currently, the most common methods for leadership development include: training, job assignments, action learning, executive coaching, mentoring, and 360-degree feedback (Petrie, 2011). These methods focus on an individual leader and defining and developing the competencies of a leader in these individuals. However, as the environment is changing the skills that leaders must embody are also changing which creates a need to come up with stronger developmental methods. Some of the key traits that used to define leaders, for example being controlling, will actually begin to work against leaders of the future.
This change in environment is due to several future trends including increased information available, business systems become interconnected, organizational boundaries are diminishing and roles are changing, new technology is being introduced and relied on in the business world, new generations have different values and expectations in the workplace, and globalization will continue to increase into the future. While the focus of leadership development is shifting from solely possession of competencies, things such as adaptability, self-awareness, boundary spanning, collaboration, network thinking as well as creativity, the ability to think strategically, manage change effectively, and be comfortable with ambiguity are all skills that will be valuable and looked for in future leadership roles (Petrie, 2011).
The focus of future leadership development is collaboration. Development should focus on building networks of leaders. This leadership aims to connect diverse groups of leaders (Tener, Scearce, Kim, Rivera, Holley, Goldstein, Anklam & Chaux, 2012). With a more volatile and unpredictable environment in the future, one single leader cannot possibly have a solution to every problem that arises. The focus is on a power in numbers, and organizations need to invest in individual capacity, team capacity, organizational capacity, network capacity, and system capacity (Petrie, 2011). Leadership development must shift from a mindset of “what is a leader” to “how to be a leader” (Petrie, 2011). While currently development is focused on horizontal development, or competency development, leadership should now be developed through vertical development which focuses on the stages individuals progress through as they make sense of their world (cite future trends). Innovation will also be heavily relied on in order to enable leadership roles to take the form of networks and together solve more complex problems.
We are now in an era where leadership is being re-defined from a person’s role to a process. As Bill Gates once said: “ as we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others” (Meier, 2011). Leadership of the future will center around the question: “What conditions do we need for leadership to flourish in the network”? (Petrie, 2011). One of the largest changes in leadership will be the development process. Current methods are going to shortly become outdated, and the challenge will be how to cultivate leaders in a complex society, and also, how to change society’s view of the individualized leader and embrace the ways of collective and collaborative leadership networks.
Day, D. V., & Antonakis, J. (2012). The nature of leadership. (pp. 3-28). California, United States of America : Sage Publications Inc. Retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/41401_Day_Antonakis_introduction_to_the_nature_of_leadership2.pdf
Meier, J. D. (2011, Jan 19). Lessons learned from bill gates. Retrieved from http://sourcesofinsight.com/lessons-learned-from-bill-gates/
Petrie, N. (2011). Future trends in leadership development.Center for Creative Leadership, Retrieved from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/futureTrends.pdf
Tener, B., Scearce, D., Kim, E. E., Rivera, G., Holley, J., Goldstein, N., Anklam, P., & Chaux, N. C. (2012). Leadership & networks: New ways of developing leadership in a highly connected world. Leadership For A New Era Series, Retrieved from http://www.leadershiplearning.org/system/files/LLCNetworkNLfinal4.pdf