These 4 Principles of Modern Leadership Will Define the Future of Work

modern leadership

The days of managing people with severe threats and hard-nosed orders are gone. These tactics may make a leader look “strong,” but today’s managers are more interested in being effective. Those practicing modern leadership realize that helping employees flourish helps the business flourish as well. Becoming a coach and mentor yields better results than being a drill sergeant. You don’t have to appear “soft” by embracing fuzzy notions. The new approach to leadership utilizes recent behavioral science, and the techniques have been tested and proven effective.

Let’s look at some of the essential principles for modern leadership.

Modern Leadership for the Twenty-first Century

Dignity works wonders

We’ve all seen that stressed leader running to back-to-back meetings, appearing to be exhausted and desperate. Every task is urgent, and disaster lurks around every corner. Such a person gives the impression of incompetence.

Influential leaders handle their tasks with a sense of grace, radiating competence and confidence. Employees look to this person as a guide for their behaviors.

Employees not only learn by example but by instruction from an enlightened leader who assists them in finding their strengths and outgrowing their weaknesses. The job is not a trial, it is a collaboration, and leaders are not critics; they are mentors.

Under this kind of modern leadership, employees tend to embrace new initiatives and don’t feel like their jobs are on the line with every mistake. They focus on their strengths in contributing to their teams, departments, and companies. They come to believe in their ability to produce good work, much as their leader does.

Such confidence reduces stress and improves job satisfaction.

Instincts destroy; Intuition builds

Many people confuse instincts with intuition. Thinking of them separately can make a leader more effective.

We respond to fear with our danger instincts. I’m going to get fired.” “The boss is going to kill me for that mistake.” “I wish I hadn’t said what I did at the company party. There goes my promotion.”

Employees go into survival mode: fight, flight, or freeze. Leaders who live with this kind of fear instill it in the people who report to them. The instinctive response is emotional. The rational part of the brain shuts down, and employees become overly cautious and reluctant to innovate.

Some leaders “fight” for a bigger budget so they will seem important. An employee may quit a job to alleviate the constant stress (flight). Some keep their heads down and try not to attract any attention for fear of reprimands (freeze).

Instincts are involuntary, innate responses that do not rely on learning. The person who is deep into an instinctive reaction stops learning to marshal all brain resources to escape the danger.

The result of all these instinctive responses is a company that makes little progress because thoughtful actions have ceased.

Intuition is seldom a response to fear. It is the ability to know something without analysis. Where analysis breaks a problem into its parts, intuition puts disparate pieces together to create an insight. It combines reason with feelings to create a working hypothesis. We use intuition to create solutions.

A sudden intuitive insight often comes after studying all the possibilities. When many logical alternatives exist at once, intuition steps in and “bets” on one of them or a combination of several of them. It is the opposite of analysis; it is synthesis.

Old-school management says to employees, “I don’t pay you to think, now get back to work.” Modern leadership means listening to their employees’ ideas without trying to shoot them down. They actively consider employee insights and intuitive suggestions.

The result can be more efficient processes, product enhancements, service improvements, and an atmosphere where it’s okay to be wrong in the name of trying to make things better.

Any time you force employees to rely on their instincts, they are afraid. When you encourage intuitive solutions, they are engaged.

All motivation is self-motivation

Forcing others to do something is coercion. Offering them a reward for doing it is manipulation. Employees who work under this kind of compulsion burn out and become more likely to make mistakes. There is no more effective employee than the one who wants to do something.

Effective leaders recognize that self-motivation can overcome struggles, mistakes, and failures. When employees find their rewards in doing well, enjoying a sense of accomplishment, and learning new things, they tend to be more productive and effective. Their confidence grows, and they become motivated to take on increasingly complex projects.  They stop seeking approval and start seeking self-mastery. Competence is heady stuff.

So how does a genuine leader foster self-motivation?

·     Be self-motivated

·     Go out of your way to recognize good work.

·     Allow employees to find their own ways to correct mistakes.

·     Share successes with the team.

A Leader needs followers

People who do what they’re told for fear of losing their jobs are not followers. When you have people who admire you and share your vision, you have followers. There are two parts to attracting and keeping followers:

Rational reasons

People will follow if they perceive that doing so will help their careers, give them job stability, and offer them opportunities for advancement. When they see you recognizing good work, good intentions, and good results, they know you understand what they have been trying to accomplish and how much effort they are putting in.

If they don’t see you as an unpredictable hothead, they won’t fear being overlooked in the heat of battle. During challenging times, they can count on you to remain level-headed and assess them fairly. Reliability and rationality are cornerstones of modern leadership.

Irrational reasons

Job security is also emotional security. Employees get emotionally attached to leaders, according to an article in Harvard Business Review.  After all, you are in charge of a significant part of their days, so you are also a part of their emotional lives.

You don’t have to strive to be everyone’s pal, but you can present yourself as a mature professional who recognizes that employees are human beings.

The Bottom Line

Modern leaders most definitely have authority, but they are not authoritarians. Authority comes from demonstrated knowledge, empathy, and competence; authoritarianism is the attempt to dominate based solely on a position in a hierarchy.

Identify your leadership style to advance your career.

About the Author

Kevin Johnston writes for organizations such as Morgan Stanley, RR Donnelley, John Hancock, Rutgers University, Standard and Poor’s, Ameriprise Financial, ADP, and Cigna. His articles have been published in The New York Daily News, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Houston Chronicle, Business Age, Nation’s Business, and Zack’s Investment Research.