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  • Writer's pictureben nathan

Hard work isn’t enough.

“We’ve all had experiences where we worked hard and still ended up losing out on a new job or a key promotion,” says Harvard Business School Associate Professor Laura Huang. “Take two people who work equally hard, and one person will naturally achieve success, while the other can’t climb the corporate ladder.”

Could it be true that old pyramids are falling, that meritocracy is broken and that organisational hierarchy can’t last. It’s a bold prediction but if we continue with the traditional climb of the corporate ladder we will keep hitting the same wall, frustrated at the success of others who didn’t sacrifice as much, who didn’t work as hard as us.

Flatter structures and a more networked style of working is becoming the norm, where the sharing of information within a business is more democratised too. In short, progressive organisations are transforming the way they’re structured and how they work, which means that hard work alone, just isn’t enough.

But what does this mean for leaders? Clients tell me they’re more scrutinised than ever and that the old transactional style of leadership, with the emphasis on task, activity and achievement doesn’t cut it. Through coaching we understand that the emphasis is now in building connection with our people, being more curious, more conscious, creating a sense of trust, taking more time to understand our people’s challenges, especially in the covid climate.

We're also see a changing demographic at the top level, where the alpha male leader is being replaced by up and coming women and a more diverse and multi-cultural cohort, and they are flourishing. They are flourishing by building creativity, empowerment and collaboration, and they’re answering the call of millennials who bring new demands, new expectations and new values to the workplace, including innovation, authenticity and a desire to give something back to society.

This is great news for companies which are already recruiting aspiring leaders, because the more agile the leader, the more agile the team and the more agile, resilient and creative the organisation. But let's be clear, this doesn’t mean the conventional alpha style of leadership is out of date, because decisive, direct and authoritative leaders are priceless when the heat is on.

Variety of leadership style is the future and moreover, the emotional intelligence to recognise when a different approach is needed. According to time, person and environment, people want to be led by authority yes, but also inspired by empathy, authenticity, empowerment, collaboration and innovation. There’s no right or wrong way, just the skill to know how to present yourself in the given circumstances.

The speed with which these expectations are shifting is challenging for some because change takes time. But if we start to develop our emotional intelligence now, and see who’s in front of us, check that we’re hearing from every member of our team, recognise if we’re not being inclusive, then we’re on the right path to much greater possibilities.

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