The 21st Century Leader

The 21st Century Leader

There’s something I’ve always been extremely fascinated about. It’s why geese fly in a V-Formation. There was a study done sometime back. This study discovered that birds flying in a V format had lower heart rates than bird flying alone. Why? The aerodynamic V shape formation reduces the air drag (air resistance) that each bird experiences when in flight in comparison to a bird flying solo.

This allows them to cover longer distance (thousands of miles) with much less effort. For example, geese can achieve a greater distance of about 70 percent when flying in groups than each flying solo, using the same amount of energy. In this formation, the bird in the lead position will experience a greater air resistance and will have to work a little harder, however, when the lead bird is tired it falls out of position and goes behind into one of the V position lines. This enjoyment of less air resistance comes as a result of the birds in front creating and improving the aerodynamics of the others behind which continues along the line of V. In other words, this formation breaks up the air, which then flows over the rest of the group more easily. This means all birds benefit individually while working harmoniously as a team.

I believe there is so much to learn in this. In some areas of my life I’m in a position of authority. And that’s great! But as I’m beginning to understand people more, I’m also beginning to understand leadership much better. However, I continue to see a recurring, fundamental problem. When company’s, churches and other organizations place individuals in these ‘positions of authority’ or leadership roles, they train them to lead the organization to whatever success may be defined as. And this can yield some great results but I don’t believe this is the approach of a 21st Century leader.

There’s a significant difference between a leader and a manager. And more organizations need to revamp their training programs to create stronger leaders and not just better managers or overseers. While working at various places like Sears, Stitches (I know ha!), McDonalds and others, I began to realize that the store manager was trained to manage the business. Not lead people. To get to where they were they just needed to ‘know’ more than the people that were under them. It has always been a matter of using the people as executors; people who carried out a given task. And when you think about it, that’s how many organizations are structured. But there’s a relatively new term that had gained a lot of popularity, and it should begin to challenge our idea of what leadership is and the role of a true leader. The term is ‘innovation’. I’m sure many of you have heard it, but you may not know what it means. Well here’s one definition; Innovation is people using their imagination, experience, curiosity, instincts and relationships to develop and implement ideas that create value. This is more profound than you may realize.

A 21st Century Leader is an innovative leader. They also approach leadership the same way as the Geese approach their V-formation. They accept the fact that they don’t have to have all the greatest ideas. They don’t have to be the most creative or the smartest in the group. They understand how and are able to draw the great ideas out of their people. They know how to create an environment that fosters creativity. The 21st Century leader taps into the creative power of their people and draws it out. At my workplace, I’m working towards creating a culture of innovation. A culture where employees aren’t just seen as drones, but we tap into their creative genius and we leverage their intellectual power, their skills and knowledge to create solutions to business problems. Regardless of whether they are business oriented or not. Leaders should be there to ‘guide’ their people, not just tell people what to do, how to do it, and when it needs to be done. Give your people a sense of autonomy under your guidance and see how powerful they are.

One day my Team Leaders and I, went out for dinner and created a Development Program for our store. A program that would not only train employees but also develop them and teach them skills that could be beneficial to their lives.This was something that was unorthodox, out of the norm, and unconventional within the company that I work for. Programs like this were normally created by the executives of the corporation. However, because it wasn’t a matter of me telling them what to do and how I wanted it created, but rather drawing ideas out of them; they were more engaged, more focused and took a stronger sense of pride in the work. The program has been a huge success thus far,and is being adopted by other stores within the company.

This is not the only instance. Google Leaders have tapped into this as well. They employed what they call Twenty-Percent Time, where Google allows their employees to use twenty percent of their time to work on anything they want. So they don’t use their employees as just executors to just ‘do’ whatever the executives mandate, they tap into their creative genius and intellectual power of their people. And if you think that this is ineffective, take a look at the success of Google News or Gmail, just a few of the unofficial projects birthed out of Twenty Percent Time.

My mssage for those in positions of authority, whether supervisors, managers or overseers would be this; old school leadership relies heavily on the compliance of those being led. It also relies on the ability of the leader to develop ideas, strategies and solutions, and everyone else executes the task. But the 21st Century leader isn’t focused on compliance, as much as they are focused on engagement. When you get your people engaged they are far more productive, they are more focused and more creative when given a platform to express themselves and feel valued. In a way the 21st Century Leader is someone who taps into what it means to be ‘human’, and draws that out of their people. As a leader, I am committed to drawing greatness out of my people and tapping into what makes them human. Inspiring confidence within them to further work towards achieving the common goal. Like the formation of the geese help to travel longer distances, by leveraging the strength of the rest of the flock, so will leveraging the skills, talents and ability of the people  you lead.

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