The conventional wisdom showcases leaders as people who are always in control and capable to hide their flaws. Ingrained in most of us are deep and almost sacred beliefs about what leadership ought to be. In other words the conventional leader is heroic, favors get things done rather than reflecting how they are done, drives business and company success through his personal charisma and brilliance.
However, in a world becoming increasingly complex, volatile and facing unprecedented terrorism, we promote leadership as a constantly evolving concept. Based on our engagements as executive coaches and consultants, we have identified five unconventional leadership instincts that leaders could embrace to change organizations and create enduring value, namely: refuse to be a prisoner of experience, acknowledge your shadow side, trust others before they earn it, connect instead of doing it yourself and build up teams that create discomfort.
Refuse to be a prisoner of experience to adopt new behaviors for today’s new challenges is key. Many leaders and established companies are blindsided by their experience because of their previous success stories, early outstanding achievements, risk avoidance mindsets, professional brands and comfort zones. Just remember the stance of Kodak executives and the emergence of the digital photography few years ago. In order to succeed, you need to find the time to reflect because as leader you are too close to the action to gain perspective, you need to challenge the status quo and be open to fresh point of views in asking for instance; what can I do better? Moreover you should recognize and encourage those who refuse to be prisoners of experience.
Acknowledge your shadow side because we are all vulnerable. In fact your strengths as leader are often linked to your weaknesses and you can learn to offset it to become more effective. A way for leaders to pry open some insights on their shadow side is to get input from someone they trust. Furthermore as leader you can anticipate difficult situations and reduce the likelihood to have some problems. Acknowledging your shadow side will also helps you to communicate everyone that admitting weakness is acceptable and encourages honesty from peers and direct reports. A corporate culture which fosters talents to openly admit their own mistakes rather than covering them up or shifting the blame is essential for a sustained Innovation.
Trust others before they earn it is certainly counterintuitive for all of us. Since we were children, we were trained to slowly read a person until we have gathered data and enough evidences to start to trust. Today there simply isn’t time to study people with care. Thus, leaders should believe in people, hold positive expectations and stop viewing trust as an “either-or” choice because there are degrees of trust. Trusting people before they earn it is an essential quality for leaders in the 21st century. When employees feel trusted, they provide their leaders with ideas and information they would not share with a more conventional leader.
Connect instead of doing it yourself is unnatural for all people older than 35 years old. Leaders can learn from the Generation Y or Digital Natives, who deliver value by connecting and sharing rather than creating. Leaders with connections across all sort of boundaries are informed, aware about new issues and trends, rely on multiple talent communities, and can easily connect with customers, suppliers, academics and competitors alike. These leaders can substantially increase time-to-market, harness the crowd intelligence and promote incremental innovation for their corporations.
Build up teams that create discomfort is a paradox that leaders must face today in order to succeed. You should hire talents who do not share your views on completion, customer requirements and communication with vendors. In addition you should make diversity a priority in team selection and not just refers to different races, genders, social classes but also in talents with diverse expertises, thinking styles and track-records.
Becoming an unconventional leader is not something that happens overnight. It takes time, commitment, discipline and the courage to go against much of what you have learned in the business school and in the corporate world. Until you have not experimented these unnatural leadership acts, you will not be able to imagine how much impact they can make on your performance, on the performance of your colleagues and on the performance of your entire organization. As leader it is a new challenge because you may have to do what you feels wrong in order to get the right results.