Three Skills for Today's Leaders

The author suggests that the field has changed, and while the practice of leadership is largely consistent over time, there are three skills in particular that would benefit a leader in the current business environment.

Handling Ambiguity

Rapid technological advances, the shifting world economy, and increased competition have brought about a rapid rate of change. Things are not as certain for today's leader as they have been in generations past, and leading successfully in turbulent times requires an individual to be able to handle ambiguity and guide others in doing the same.

Historically, a leader could be more of a visionary, because the future could be predicted with some degree of confidence. This is no longer so. Also, traditional perspectives on leadership regarded crisis and surprises as signs of inept leadership. Today, it's par for the course.

As a result of these traditional attitudes, the ability to tolerate uncertainty is a skill most leaders have not been taught. Some early experimentation is underway (an example from Duke University's school of business is described in scant detail), and educators believe it is a teachable skill, but the methods to teach it are presently primordial.

Managing the System

Complex systems such as large corporations are not linear, but instead consist of networks of various connections and relationships - so many of the theories of leadership, based on a linear model, are no longer entirely applicable. Of fundamental importance is learning the organization, and keeping track as the organization changes, to create your own network, connecting with those whose assistance you will need to accomplish your objectives.

As a leader rises in the ranks, he will gain the ability to influence the system 0- and he ought to do so, rather than accepting it as given. The author favors the term "controlled burn" to indicate the practice of finding the dead wood and replacing it with new growth. Stagnation is a harbinger of failure, and should be rooted out proactively.

Learning Group Leadership

There is currently a conflict among trends in management, between the top-down style of providing directives to subordinates and the bottom-up style of empowering workers and letting the organization be led from the front lines. Both have their merits.

The new leader must recognize that everyone in a company, regardless of rank, is a participant in the leadership of the organization. In practice, this means breaking the traditional chains of command and communication, which can create gridlock in the DMZ between the two styles of management, and learn to use both formal and informal influence effectively.