In my most recent blog, I talked about having had the incredible opportunity of spending time with Bill Dalton. As a former chief executive with HSBC, Bill has a treasure trove of information and guidance to bring to the leadership conversation.
When asked his four main leadership criteria, Bill mentioned honesty, communication, delegation skills, and intuition. In this post, I want to break each of these down further and link them to key 21st-century leadership tools.
Let’s start with the first — honesty. This seems to be pretty straightforward. One is either honest or they are not. That seems to make perfect sense. However, in the 21st century, this is an even deeper conversation.
21st-century followers are looking for more transparency in all of their professional relationships. Many millennial workers clearly understand the impact of being less than transparent. The Great Recession was caused by this lack of transparency. Millennial’s have lived most of their professional lives being either unemployed, underemployed, or having depressed wages. This is a direct result of a lack of transparency. Millennial followers in the 21st century will demand this transparency. It is, in their minds, associated with honesty.
Let’s look at the second point from Bill’s list — communication. He was very clear that communication is not seeking to be understood only. It is also seeking to understand. A leader in the 21st century must be equally adept at understanding their own styles and motivation as they are at understanding their followers.
21st-century leaders need to study their own personal game film. They need to understand their motivations and work to adapt accordingly. In addition to this understanding, 21st-century leaders need to understand the power of real-time feedback.
Previous generations looked at feedback as only providing constructive criticism. This is only one form of feedback. If one only receives constructive criticism, then the communication can be very limiting. Feedback is both positive and developmental. 21st-century leaders must learn how to provide real-time positive and developmental input. In many ways, we find this to be one of the most difficult areas for 21st-century leaders. Real-time, positive feedback was rarely offered in the 20th century. Since we have no model, we find this difficult to incorporate in our leadership behavior.
Bills next item, delegation, also has a 21st-century twist. In the 21st century, leaders need to learn how to “explain the why” of assignments. In the 20th century, leaders leveraging their position simply told folks what to do. If they were a strong leader in the 20th century, in addition to the “what,” they offered suggestions on “how.” Unfortunately, 20th-century leaders never did take time to explain the “why” of an assignment. In fact, previous generations looked at answering “why” as questioning their authority. “Why? Because I told you so!”
In the 21st century, a leader with good delegation skills will take a few moments and explain the “why.” Millennials are looking for this information simply for context. They are not asking “why” to rebel or question authority. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. They are looking for their leader’s experience and providing insight into the reasons for a particular action/project.
Bills fourth point, intuition, might be, for me, the most intriguing. As he defined his meaning for the word intuition he was not talking about some sixth sense — just the opposite. He was referring to emotional intelligence. Having your antenna up. Staying in the moment and not allowing your unconscious tendencies to take over. Being able to read people and adapt to their communication needs while not always pushing it your own style.
We have often said that in the 21st century one of the key differentiators will be emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent leaders will find it easier to attract talent, mentor talent, and retain talent.
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