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The Future of Leadership

The Future of Leadership

I have been teaching leadership for more than twenty years. In the mid-1990s, the dominant style of leadership was command and control. Leadership roles were mainly male-dominated; they simply told people what to do and they expected respect and unquestioned obedience. By about the year 2005, things began to shift to leadership by spreadsheet. Especially as we moved into the recession, organizations managed by the numbers. In many cases, employees were not valued or seen as individuals but rather as headcounts. Many companies tried to cost-cut their way to success, driving for efficiency and focusing solely on “making their numbers.” However, in about 2012, things began to shift toward a style of leadership called “servant leadership.”

This style turns the organizational pyramid upside down and stresses that the leader actually serves the employees. It is based on respect, collaboration, community and transparency. Twenty years ago, leaders were often judged by their IQ and aggressiveness, and the leaders of today need a high IQ as well, but it is also important that they have a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and empathy. Broadly speaking, women are thought to be superior in this realm.

Many researchers attribute this to the difference between the way boys and girls are raised. Generally speaking, boys are encouraged to be competitive, aggressive, and non-emotional, whereas young girls are encouraged to be collaborative, supportive and more open in sharing their emotions. This means that many women are better suited to lead effectively in the next decade. This is especially true for the millennial generation of workers who stereotypically crave support, encouragement, collaboration and feeling safe.

So, how does one increase one’s EQ and become a better servant leader? A few suggestions:

  1. Consistently try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes; be curious about them and interested in their emotions and feelings.
  2. Become more comfortable in expressing empathy, concern and encouragement.
  3. Help people make decisions based on both logic and emotion.
  4. Three key factors in building any sort of strong relationship are: safety, belongingness and appreciation. Strive to flood your organization with these important factors.
  5. Three key factors in engaging employees are: autonomy, self-efficacy and genuine appreciation. Ask yourself how you can create more of these things for your employees.

To help you better understand what it will take to be a successful leader in this paradigm, here are the major tenants of servant leadership.

A servant leader is a person of character who puts people first.

She or he is a skilled communicator, a compassionate collaborator who has foresight, is a system thinker and leads with moral authority.

Characteristics of servant leaders include:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Building community
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Commitment to people
  • Foresight
  • Persuasion
  • Stewardship
  • Conceptualization

Listening leads the list because it is crucial but often severely lacking in leaders who are more “self-oriented” rather than focused on serving their employees, customers and community.

See Also

To be a superb listener, an aspiring servant leader must:

  • Listen without judgment
  • Be authentic, open, accountable and transparent
  • Be curious and inquisitive
  • Welcome robust debate
  • Encourage new ideas
  • Promote candor and create an environment for safe communication

As I look at the leadership landscape in 2016 and beyond, I’m convinced there is a major shift toward leaders who possess high IQ and high EQ, are collaborative and treat their employees as partners, and exhibit highly effective communication skills based on asking excellent questions and being intense listeners. Data has shown us that the next two generations entering the workforce, the millennials and Gen Z, are extremely reluctant to work for a leader who exhibits an aggressive command-and-control style. Top talent, especially over the next decade, will want to work for a leader who tells the truth, has a clear vision and strategy, has the skills to get the organization there successfully, is passionate and committed to the business, and treats employees fairly, supports them and honors them with great respect.


John Spence has been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success.

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