Leaders today need agility—not dominance

Young caucasian businesswoman with african american man

Dominance has been the determining factor for selecting future leaders for decades[i], but that is changing. In fast-paced, digital, global businesses, dominance can create a good first impression, but it has a habit of wearing thin on people. When that happens, the dominant leader doesn’t inspire workers or even drive compliance.

Dominant leaders usually speak up first in meetings—there is nothing inherently wrong with that, or with being courageous or confident. Dominant leaders often talk over others, however, which blunts discussion and stifles group creativity.

Dominant leaders may be the classic “kiss up, kick down” individuals who schmooze the boss and other higher-ups and drive their subordinates hard.  They usually make a great first impression or impact, especially during a crisis. At their worst, they become “jerks” who buy loyalty by aggressively promoting their subordinates and breaking social norms to “steal” perks for their team. When business results falter, their bosses and higher-ups tire of their antics, and dominant leaders can be the first to be let go.[ii]

While today’s leaders need to be decisive, they also need to be agile enough to adjust their leadership and communication style to meet the culture of their teams.

Many factors are driving this trend toward agile leaders.

Millennials are the most populous generation in the workforce today, both around the world and in the United States.[iii] They have made changes to long established cultural beliefs on issues like religion and gay rights. They have new attitudes about work culture and leadership styles as well.[iv]  Millennials were raised with a lot of praise and expect praise from their managers. They want to work in collaborative, less formal environments and with the flexibility to better manage their schedules and smartly integrate their work and private lives. They love learning and expect to do it on-line. They want coaching from their leaders. Coaching is not a gift – it’s an expectation.

Rise of women in the workforce. Over the past 30 years, we have seen elite women rise to executive levels in business and government. More will come. These elite women are different. They often attended the best universities, and they act like elite men in many ways – delaying marriage and childbirth and marrying spouses who stay home and raise the kids.[v]

Women in general are filling the ranks of professionals and managers in finance, human resources, biomedical engineering, health care, pharmacy and law. They now outpace men for college graduation rates.[vi]  Contemporary women prefer the “millennial” work culture I outlined above and expect to share domestic duties with their spouses in ways that don’t fit stereotypes. Women want to work for companies that will accommodate time off for childrearing—without career consequences–for them or their spouses. As a rule, they don’t like dominance either, particularly when it comes across as shutting down their input and ideas.

Workplace flexibility. Like Millennials, women want workplace flexibility, not just work-at-home Fridays. Workplace flexibility is critical for attracting and retaining them.[vii] Technology enables flexibility for advanced degrees, buying consumer items, and sharing experiences with friends via Skype. Why not also apply technology at work to reduce wasted time, including time spent commuting to and from work?

Frankly, workplace flexibility is no longer a women’s or Millennial’s issue. In recent surveys, men want flexibility as much as if not more than women, and more men telecommute than women.[viii] Even baby boomers have joined the party. The age of the average telecommuter is 46.

Managing global workforces is a common experience not only for executives, but also for managers and employees in large and small organizations.[ix]  The Internet has made products and services available to consumers across the globe with the click of a button. Similarly, it has made regional marketing experts and engineers available to companies, regardless of where those organizations are located. Marketing in today’s world requires agility too. It is important to know varying customer tastes and preferences and plan for local customs, laws and regulations. Marketing in Bangkok demands different strategies than marketing in Beijing or Berlin, which requires leadership and intellectual agility.

Immigrant labor across the globe. Even if they aren’t leading a global workforce, managers from Dublin to Dallas to Dubai need to adjust to the customs and work styles of immigrant labor. Many of these immigrants are highly skilled and attended top universities. Successful managers need the cultural and communications agility to align immigrant workers with company strategies and provide clarity on goals, decision rights, and operating norms.

Dominance is fading and agility is rising. Today’s successful managers have the skills of agility: active listening, bridge building, and empathy for others. Agility enables managers to align workers to a common strategy and create a common understanding of roles and responsibilities and the principles of teamwork and collaboration. And, as always, build performance-based cultures that delivers value to customers.

Have your company’s leaders de-emphasized dominant leadership in favor of agility? What has been your experience?

Victor Assad is a strategic human resources consultant and coach who works with key decision makers and human resources leaders on global talent management, accelerating change, leadership development, and other strategic initiatives. Please e-mail Victor at victorassad6@gmail.com or visit Victor’s website at http://www.victorhrconsultant.com for free articles and white papers.

[i] Rob Silzer and Allan H. Church (2009) “The Pearls and Perils of Identifying Potential” Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2, 377-412.

[ii] Jerry Useem (June 2015) “Why It Pays to Be A Jerk,” The Atlantic.

[iii] Richard Fry (October 14, 2015, 11:00 AM) “Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force,” Pew Research Center

[iv] Neil Howe and Williams Strauss (2000) Millennials Rising: The Next Generation, Vintage Books, Random house; and “Millennials in Adulthood, Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends”, Pew Research, Social and Social and Demographic Trends, March 7, 2014.  http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/

[v] Alison Wolf (2013) The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World, Crown Publishers.

[vi] Thomas A. Diprete and Claudia Buchmann (March, 2013) The Rise of Women, Russell Sage Foundation.

[vii] Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce (March, 2005) “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success” by Harvard Business Review.

[viii] Alina Tugend March 9, 2014) “Rise of the Telecommuter, Studies show out-of-office work, though still ill-defined, can lead to better, happier employees,” New York Times.

[ix] “Why U.S. Companies aren’t So American Anymore” (June 20, 2011) US News and World Report.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: