Times of change are times for leadership. Fairly stable scenarios are the ideal terrain for managers. There are scenarios where the priority is to tackle a drastic change in the environment; this is when organizations and society need leaders who redefine the rules of the game. However, in less turbulent circumstances, what companies need are managers who efficiently exploit well-established business models.
This principle has been repeatedly corroborated by history. Then again, history also shows us that the demand for leaders in times of transformation attracts many who want to take on this role: authentic leaders, fortune hunters, messianic saviours, populist leaders who have solutions for everything… The challenge is to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I propose some indicators to identify the leaders needed in a scenario for change.
1. Leadership is manifested through the people one relates to.
The best indicator of leadership is the effect we have on these individuals or stakeholders. No one can know if he is a leader by looking into the mirror and contemplating their personal qualities or skills. A leader is not someone who brings together a stereotypical set of characteristics, but someone who brings about tangible and effective changes in the way the people around them think, feel, and act.
2. Leadership manifests itself among those close to us, our team members.
Some understand leadership as the ability to inspire fascination among those who see us from afar, among the masses whose only contact with us is through televised interventions or in public acts, even if we later become intolerable to whoever works with us day by day. Leadership expands in concentric circles. Whoever wants to gauge their leadership—before consulting opinion polls and other public survey indicators—should observe how their team follows them. Those who rouse others from afar and yet leave those close by cold are not leaders, instead they are experts in persuasion techniques. The effects of their influence are not sustainable, because the fleeting impact they elicit can only achieve a short-lived advantage or tactical improvement of their position of power; they cannot achieve the transformation of the organization or the society they allegedly serve.
3. Team leadership produces unity, not unanimity.
Unity means that everyone is familiar with and shares the same goal. In fact, the leader’s role in the team is focused on identifying objectives and constantly keeping in mind the goal everyone is moving towards. On the ways to achieving this goal, there can and should even be a wide gap. The leader is the one who gets different people with different opinions and interests to work together on a common project. The best leaders in fact ensure that diversity is not dysfunctional but also becomes one of their main tools for value creation. In advanced societies, plurality and differences are fundamental elements of their identity. The leader makes space for freedom and makes the most of people’s impetus through diverse ideas and opinions.
That’s why these times today probably don’t need dazzling leaders or office technocrats, but instead effective, results-oriented leaders who bestow on the people the leading role of their own stories.