What does Leadership Look like in 2019?

What does successful leadership look like in 2019?

— Annabel Kerr 

Continuing my events-based blogging theme, earlier this month I attended a really interesting panel discussion at the RSA on ‘The Leadership We Need Now’.

Driven in part by a new book from panellist Stefan Stern, those assembled (Stefan, Miranda Green and Heather Stewart) invited us to take a look at the current leadership climate, and consider what lessons could be learned in terms of how to do things better across the worlds of politics and business.

I won’t distil the full hour long discussion – luckily you should be able to see the whole event on the RSA’s website shortly – but here are a couple of the talking points as a taster for what successful leadership looks like in 2019.

What are you in it for?

Stefan’s opening remarks focused on three things he felt we should expect our leaders to be:

  1. Sense-makers
  2. (Tough-minded) optimists
  3. Driven by a sense of mission vs. status

The third element was something the conversation kept returning to, particularly in light of certain high-profile narcissistic leaders (who shall remain nameless) hogging today’s headlines.

True leaders, according to Stefan, recognise that leadership is going to hurt them but take up the mantle anyway out of a sense of service and sacrifice. Rather than being about ego, their leadership is about everyone else and they bear a heavy weight of responsibility as a result. 

The trick to spotting these types of leaders, if you don’t want to directly come out and ask them ‘What are you in it for?’, is to take a look at how they treat people. Leaders on a mission recognise that they need people to get there – and will act accordingly! 

Group movements vs. individual mouthpieces

Miranda Green used her section of the discussion to talk about the changing definition of leadership and the models it is build on. As today’s younger generations move up the ladder both in business and government, she is seeing an increasing shift towards inclusive group-based leadership – and this, she argues, is a fairly dramatic shake-up to get our heads around. Naming the UK political party, The Independent Group, and the US student-lead gun control committee, Never Again, as just two examples of this – out are the solo saviours and in are the modern movements.

Stefan’s three principles can still apply to more collective leaderships – all agreed – but one of the most important skills needed by individuals within them is the ability to put together a fluid group of like-minded people around an idea. Here the central role becomes, in a sense, less about leading and more about curating.

And it is clear to see the benefits of taking such an approach – particularly in business. According to the Global Leadership Forecast 2018 from DDI, The Conference Board and EY, “organisations with strong collective leadership make better-informed decisions, excel at bringing in multiple perspectives, and are better at responding to the competitive environment.”

Assigning accountability

Sparked by a question from the audience, one of the last points the panel considered was how accountability could/should work within collective leadership – with both Miranda and Heather acknowledging that this is definitely an issue (particularly in politics where voters are asked to elect a single individual) and that there isn’t quite an answer/best practice model available to follow just yet.

That said, as Miranda pointed out, hierarchy isn’t always a guarantor for accountability – in fact, she could think of many examples where leaders make sure the blame stays lower down (and didn’t need to look further than her own industry for this).

As someone who takes accountability very seriously, I found this last point especially pertinent!

Throughout the hour, the trio chatted through a variety of other topics including the idea of productive narcissicm, the downfall of charisma and the need for imagination in leadership. Definitely worth a watch one rainy lunchtime!