Does a rolling senior manager gather no moss?

Monday, April 4, 2016 - 16:49

Would Alexander the Great be able to lead an American car manufacturer through a financial crisis? Could Qin Shi Huang successfully unite two culturally different mobile operators after an acquisition? How would Augustus fair leading a brick and mortar company through a digital disruption?

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other - John F. Kennedy

Leadership is typically thought of as timeless. However, is it the ossified endeavour many think it is or do business leaders need to change their approach and upgrade their skills as the times continue to change?

Timeless leadership and the problems of personality

The idea behind timeless leadership is flawed for a number of reasons. One of which is that the ability to lead tends to be interpreted through a paradigm based on personality. 

As the argument goes, personality is formalised by the time you enter the workforce and people tend to change very little through their career. As such, those with a personality oriented towards leading will stay leaders until they die.

However, many of aspects of personality are inherently dynamic and can be altered by leaders who have learnt how to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. One example is the idea that the leaders are born with charismatic voices.

Yet, researchers from UCLA found that leaders with high-level oratory skills would alter their voice to meet the expectations of the audience. Postdoctoral Scholar Rosario Signorello found that skilled speakers will adapt their voice depending on the audience.

"There's no single type of charismatic voice. The best speakers adapt their voices to their listeners, context and culture. Charismatic leaders monitor audience reaction and possess the emotional intelligence to change their vocal delivery mid-speech to obtain the response they want," he said. 

Leadership is much more than a person's personality. Instead, it relies on a constellation of skills that can be attained through programmes such as quality leadership training. Key skills like emotional intelligence are learnt, rather than naturally-acquired traits that persist until death.

Those that learn the key skills needed to be an effective leader have a competitive edge over those who rely solely on force of will.

For instance, McKinsey & Company found that self-aware leaders are in a much better position to lead than those who do not understand themselves. Specifically, centred or self-aware leaders are close to four times more successful at managing change than people who are unaware.

Knowledge is inherently dynamic

Another major issue of the personality paradigm is that leadership requires knowledge relevant to the the job at hand. Yet, knowledge is far from immutable.

Take IBM, for example. It argues that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. Impressively, 90 per cent of data currently circulating in the world today has been developed in the last two years alone.

From meteorological sensors to digital pictures uploaded to social media, the range of data that forms knowledge is so wide and varied in today's world. With such a large volume of data floating around, the very idea that knowledge and thus leadership can be timeless is highly problematic.

Recognising and displaying your own value

With the changing face of recruitment, managers and leaders are finding themselves with a much higher volume of employment opportunities. However to access these, executives need to be aware of their professional worth.

One way to measure this is through the skillset they have attained attending professional development courses, such as leadership training. With the high level of transparency in the labour market, brought about through digital labour platforms such as LinkedIn and Careerbuilder, highly-talented leaders can use qualifications to exhibit the array of skills that makes for good leadership.

The ability to lead is far from timeless, instead, it is a constellation of skills and knowledge that needs to be maintained and upgraded constantly. Executives need to change with the times or become an archaic artefact left behind by the advancing commercial world.