Leading in the New Millennium ~ “Must Have” Competencies for Next-Generation Leaders

As the demands of leadership rapidly evolve to meet the challenges of the new competitive landscape, new competencies must emerge.  Competencies that range well outside traditional perceptions of leadership skills that were molded and refined during the Industrial Age of the 20th Century.  We’ve moved well beyond the technical, managerial skills that were once the threshold of competent, business leadership.  Our own, internal research brought us to this realization four years ago, and have served as the guiding principles for the creation of our products and services.  Now, research from leading, global consultancies and advisory firms are validating this perspective.  Overlaying and analyzing these research findings provides insights not only into what these competencies must encompass, but how to create robust developmental processes to cultivate world-class leaders throughout your organization.

I’ve written extensively about the findings of the CEB Executive Briefing – 2013 report that identifies the top ten competencies (out of a possible 32 examined) today’s high performers are demonstrating now.  Some of the competencies top performers are displaying can be seen as traditional.  A leader’s proactivity and their ability to prioritize, solve problems, and make sound decisions have not gone away.  What is finally being recognized is the importance of the so called, soft skills of leadership, in today’s world.  The CEB study revealed today’s top performers and high potentials are demonstrating competencies in self-awarenss, social awareness, the ability to influence (notice, this isn’t the ability to command), learning agility, and collaboration.  These are learnable skills that reflect a high degree of Emotional Intelligence which have traditionally been referred to as soft (as apposed to the hard skills represented by technical managerial competencies).

There’s truly nothing soft about these skills when it comes to organizational fitness and financial performance.  As far back as 2010, I published an article entitled, “How The Soft Skills In Nursing Can Save Hard Dollars For Hospitals”.  At that time, we had discovered over two dozen, peer-reviewed, published research studies that clearly demonstrated how cultivating Emotional Intelligence competencies in health care improve perceived quality of care, lower costs per patient at discharge, reduce medical errors, lower the risk of malpractice litigation, and reduce nurse burnout and the resulting 20% to 28% annual turnover rates amongst nurses.

Going back even further, to 2007, the U.S. Army published the article, “Emotional Intelligence And Army Leadership – Give It To Me Straight”, written by Major David S. Abrahams for the Military Review.  The article, which I highly recommend, reveals the fact that the most command-and-control organization in our society recognizes the efficaciousness of leveraging Emotional Intelligence competencies in leadership.  Just last month, The McKinsey Quarterly® published another article about military leaderships’ progressive orientation towards these so called, soft skills.  In “Leadership Lessons From The Royal Navy” author Andrew St. George, who just completed writing the British Navy’s first new manual on leadership published since the 1960s, stated, “In fact, I’d go so far as to say that naval training is predicated on the notion that when two groups with equal resources attempt the same thing, the successful group will be the one whose leaders better understand how to use the softer skills to maintain effort and motivate.”

Interestingly, these competencies reach far beyond one-on-one interactions in personal settings.  It turns out these skills are even more critical in today’s, and more importantly, tomorrow’s business social media landscape.  While the technology of social media enables connection, it is the soft skills that drive engagement.  That’s where the value for business lies, in the engagement, both cognitively and emotionally, of their workforce, stakeholders, partners and customers.  Simply connecting is only the first step in launching the collaborative value flywheel that robust, social media and social knowledge management architecture enables.

Our friends at McKinsey agree.  In an article published this week entitled, “Six Social Media Skills Every Leader Needs”, McKinsey partners working with General Electric shared their insights garnered through working with GE’s social media literacy approach for leaders.  GE has identified six dimensions of social media literacy every leader will need to master going forward.  The fundamental competencies that must be present alongside the more technical competencies include authenticity, compelling storytelling, and the courage to embrace the new reality of radical transparency which demands congruency.

A quote from the article provides a concise summation, “What’s more, there’s a mismatch between the logic of participatory media and the still-reigning 20th-century model of management and organizations, with its emphasis on linear processes and control. Social media encourages horizontal collaboration and unscripted conversations that travel in random paths across management hierarchies. It thereby short-circuits established power dynamics and traditional lines of communication.”  In this we can see how learning agility, mentioned earlier, will continue to be a key element of leadership success.

The good news is these are all learnable competencies that, as they take root throughout the organization, will dramatically improve associate engagement, productivity and fuel strategic acceleration for years to come.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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Filed under Health Care, Leadership Development

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