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Leadership for a new era: the 5 elements you need to lead through changing times

Leadership for a new era: the 5 elements you need to lead through changing times

Does it sometimes feel to you like leadership strategies never survive beyond a year? It seems commonplace now that organisational strategies and their supporting leadership frameworks are no sooner decided and set than they are canned and replaced.

As the pace of change in today’s business landscape accelerates, this perpetual shifting of priorities and objectives can cause anxiety and disengagement among teams. And it’s up to leaders across the organisation to manage the fallout.

But there is a more consistent approach that can help your leaders speak a common language across the organisation, make sense of the new objectives to their teams and avoid some of the anxiety that change can bring.

The components of that language are the elements that make up good leadership, combined with the ability to mould them into a consistent but agile leadership model. Different times and situations will call for the focus to shift between those elements, but the elements themselves remain your constant leadership pillars.

At Hudson we define the five core elements of effective leadership as Vision, Impact, Action, Connection and Drive. Each will have greater or lesser weight depending on the contextual environment an organisation is operating within. This includes factors like country, sector, economic climate and the stage of an organisation’s lifecycle.

None of these elements works in isolation and too much of any element without the moderating force of the others can be harmful. Each element has an associated ‘derailer’ or ‘dark-side’ behaviour when it is taken to the extreme, and awareness is key to preventing these tendencies from de-railing a leader’s career. I have described these leadership derailers in a previous blog.

Context is key

Let me use a few examples to illustrate how different contexts call for a focus on different ele-ments, while the overall model remains consistent.

Several years ago my role scope changed significantly as I went from leading Australia-New Zealand Talent Management to leading Asia Pacific Talent Management. I went from the relative comfort and familiarity of leading Australian and NZ teams to also leading teams from mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Regardless of how many articles and books I read about these markets, I knew my new role began with Connection. I needed to understand the diverse people in those businesses: how they thought, what was important to them, how they would communicate with me and how I should communicate with them. Only then could I build trust and sell the vision ahead.

In other situations, a different element needs to come to the fore. When a state-owned company we worked with was to be privatised, for a period of time there was no vision to sell. The buyer – who would ultimately point the way forward – had not yet been announced. The focus for leaders was therefore on Impact – the ability to inspire people to unleash their potential and create a shared sense of purpose. It was about empowering the employees of this business with the understanding that they would play an integral role in the company’s future, even though the details of that future weren’t yet clear.

If you want to see what Vision looks like, look no further than Richard Branson. His Virgin group is one of the most diverse organisations in the world, consisting of around 400 different operations. Despite spanning across music, travel and telecommunications, he has been brilliant at engaging everyone behind a clear vision that is the Virgin experience.

Speaking a common language

Traditionally, organisations built a new strategy when times called for it and then developed a new leadership framework which spelled out the leadership priorities to support that. This worked reasonably well when organisational strategies were relatively stable and set in place sometimes for five years.

But times have changed and the short shelf-life of organisational strategies in today’s dynamic environment means that approach can cause confusion and anxiety.

What's key now is to have a consistent strategy and language that is agile enough to shift and change as the organisational context changes. It's not that yesterday's priorities have been scrapped. It's just the amount of time and energy delegated to each leadership element has to change to stay relevant to both the business and its context.

My next blog will talk about the advantages of an agile leadership model and how to implement one in your organisation.


Simon Moylan is the Executive General Manager, Talent Management, for Hudson Asia Pacific. He is responsible for Hudson's Talent Management business – which specialises in developing leaders in order to maximise an organisation’s potential.



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