Is leadership changing?

 
Ashridge leadership faculty Colin Williams Megan Reitz and John Higgins are increasingly being asked…in the light of the upheavals of the last few years is leadership changing? To find out a major new research project has been set up to explore how people have experienced leadership (their own and others) in the last five years and what assumptions they hold about the future.

Added on 07 October 2013 by Colin Williams

Is leadership changing?

Ashridge leadership faculty Colin Williams Megan Reitz and John Higgins are increasingly being asked…in the light of the upheavals of the last few years is leadership changing?

To find out a major new research project has been set up to explore how people have experienced leadership (their own and others) in the last five years and what assumptions they hold about the future.

Initial findings

One area of leadership tension and challenge stood out from the data: that leaders are expected to shoulder a ‘heroic’ breadth of responsibility. The buck still stops with people in senior positions when it comes to overall organisational performance financial contribution and demonstrating extra-ordinary amounts of control.

At the same time paradoxically there is an emerging consensus that the time of heroic and forceful leadership is over. So the job of leadership remains heroic but people want leaders to behave as if the job was ordinary.

Three specific lines for further inquiry were identified:

Firstly: How do you as a leader meet an insatiable demand for individual recognition and reward in an increasingly connected and inter-dependent world? The focus on the individual really stood out and left us wondering: is it possible to marry our cultural need for personal recognition with the well-documented need to pay attention to the performance of the team? And the fact is that most organisational performance is governed by context rather than personal effort.

Secondly: How do you pay sufficient attention to the need for organisational continuity in a world fixated with change? The data showed a growing awareness of the need to promote stability and not just focus on disruption and change. This is a shift of some significance given how much of the leadership conversation of the last decade and more has treated ‘leadership’ and ‘change’ as synonymous. The challenge is how to make this unglamorous priority valued and recognised – in the face of its glamorous cousin ‘the new and different’.

Thirdly: How do you control communication and corporate identity in a world of real-time global connection and social media? Despite living through an era of unprecedented democracy even anarchy in communication – leaders are still expected to be able to control how their organisation converses with the world. It is well known that the most successful organisations are expert in the management of their public identity so the challenge is how to do this when organisations have become completely porous – with information flowing in and out from every direction.

Next steps:

Colin Megan and John’s research is continuing. To find out more or get involved please contact Gemma McKnight on gemma.mcknight@ashridge.org.uk or call 01442 841026.