As with many things in life, leadership is in a state of flux. It has never been an easy concept to master. Just when we think we have things under control, we realize that we simply don’t. Such is the nature of business and its relationship with those who lead it.
While there will always be a set of basic challenges that will serve to frustrate leaders of all generations, there are a few problems that specifically target the leaders of today. Experiences are likely to differ, but common ground is sure to exist somewhere within the issues identified.
Obstacles Good Leaders Overcome
1) The New Face of the Workforce
Generation Y rears its slightly problematic head. Every workforce generation brings its own share of pros and cons, yet this particular generation has the potential to be both a boon and severe frustration to leaders. Generation Y refers to workers born from the early 1980’s till the early 2000’s.
The rapidly expanding section of the workforce would rather tailor their job to suit their life than to apply the converse. Described by the Wall Street Journal as “trophy kids”, Gen Ys feel that they are ‘special’ and deserve far more than they have proven to earn. They crave constant feedback and guidance.
For leaders, the problems that accompany this generation are apparent. Guiding a worker that wants to be guided may seem like a good thing, but for leaders it can be taxing to provide personalized attention to every part of the workforce. Convincing a worker that their mere existence doesn’t justify a promotion is blatantly unpleasant. The leader of this new workforce will be a rewarded, albeit strained, leader.
2) Growing Leadership Expectations
Back in the day, leadership was something that was cultivated naturally as an employee rose through the ranks. With greater competition and high need for skilled leaders, this natural process has been sidestepped. You can’t just be good at your particular job to be a leader. You have to learn to be a good leader. It’s an entirely new skill set in its own.
Transformational Leadership was once viewed as a nice bonus to the workforce; now it’s an integral part of pushing the workforce forward. With this increased push for refined leaders and individuals who are specifically skilled at being leaders, the pressure has increased tremendously. Leaders are expected to have a firm understanding of leadership concepts; there isn’t any more room to play by ear. Leaders can’t just freely navigate the office. Not with so many things at stake. They have to know their stuff.
On a macro-level, companies have intensified their investments in future leaders. Leadership is seen as a commodity that drives a business to greater heights. With this new mindset comes a greater responsibility for leaders. Leaders are expected to uplift future leaders: Leaders leading leaders. The search for future talent and the refinement of leadership skills are things gradually becoming a norm in the life of a leader.
3) Becoming Human Again
Nothing can remain impersonal for long anymore. As society becomes more and more personalized, people are expecting the same of their leaders. Leadership is no longer a concept to be detached from the people on the ground. Today, real leaders are expected to lead people, not workforces.
Coupled with the increased presence of a generation that craves individual attention, leaders have a lot of work on their hands. The stress of knowing a workforce in detail is a challenge faced down by many leaders. The workforce is slowly becoming a component to be broken down and led by its individual parts.
With this greater focus and detail on each section of the workforce, leaders often face the challenge of tailoring suit their focus to match this new expectation. They can no longer hide behind the veil of impersonality. Today demands personalization; regardless of what leaders are ready to give.
4) Competition is Rampant
Everyone is being trained to be a leader in their own right. Companies flood resources into leadership development, and the Internet is ever-ready to relay leadership lessons to those who seek for them. With this ease of access comes greater competition: Being a leader isn’t enough to be called a leader anymore. Anyone can do it, what makes you special?
Thus one of the biggest challenges faced by leaders is becoming one. Everyone can lead in their own right, but to be formally recognized as a leader is a different matter. In a competitive world, only the brightest will continue to shine. Everyone else slowly fades into the background.
It’s a double-edged sword. Learning about leadership has become ever easier, yet separating from the pack is ever harder. Leadership isn’t an exact science and those who realize this are likely to do themselves a favor. Regurgitating learnt leadership concepts is unlikely to take anyone anywhere. It’s now also about the person, not merely the material learnt.
5) Encouraging Creativity
If providing personalized attention isn’t enough, a leader now has to ensure creativity flourishes under their command. Creativity is the new currency, and leaders are its dealers.
The traditional workplace is slowly being picked apart. Cash bonuses are increasingly being viewed as subpar sources of motivation. In its place lie new concepts such as providing autonomy and purpose. Motivating the workforce to produce creative work isn’t as simple as tossing money at the problem anymore. It’s a complex web of interactions that provides the ideal environment for a worker to be inspired. Nice for the worker; tough on the leader. Yet another burden for the prospective leader to shoulder.
The most challenging challenge for leaders is the unpredictability of challenges that will certainly follow. The problems of today are soon to be replaced by the complications of tomorrow. Try as they might, being versatile and flexible to the nuances of the workforce will always be the ultimate challenge for leaders. Staying one step ahead of the game is an arduous process, yet a process that is fundamental to conquering the workforce. After all, the only constant is change.