How Leadership Has Changed Through Time

In the past, leaders are autocratic figures who go down from their lofty offices upstairs to mingle with their employees from time to time. They give orders and expect these orders to be fulfilled without hearing so much as a sound from their subordinates. All decisions come from them. They give their employees orders without input from even their top managers. The focus of these leaders was on getting things done and not hearing what other suggestions might be coming from people they pay to think and do tasks.

But those were of more stable days. Those were the days when change is slow, the economy is stable, and there are very few technological disruptions. Today, leaders are more people-oriented. They are approachable and many of them know their workers by name; know their stories and their families. Take the example of Neo Kian Hong, SMRT’s CEO and president. SMRT operates the Mass Rapid Transit in Singapore.

Mr. Neo gave up many privileges upon assuming the CEO position in the company. He also made it a point to visit the workers in the tracks to better understand the problems in maintenance and operations. Many times, Mr. Neo defended SMRT employees from public backlash and stood by them by saying they are deeply committed to the work they do. This is the kind of leadership the world needs now — it is people-oriented, approachable, collaborative, and kind.

Fundaments Are the Same

The fundamentals of leadership are still the same. They need to have a vision, and they need to lead with integrity and honesty. Leaders who are communicative are still the most effective ones. They can communicate well with the stakeholders, discuss the decisions they make for the company and take responsibility for whatever doesn’t work.

Influencer Over Power

businessman working

But although the core values do not change, the way leaders manage their people has never shown stark difference as it does now. Today, they lead through influence rather than the power of their position. In fact, using their authority can be considered abuse in some organizations. They influence their employees by showing how hard they work and how committed they are to do the company’s goals. They also inspire others outside the organization.

How can they earn this influence? Leaders need to identify potential partners and collaborate with them to come up with policies that will help the industries and the workforce. They are innovative and they think outside the box. The leaders of today are customer-centric; they want to provide the best experience, products, and services to their customers.

Sensitive and Appreciative of Different Cultures

Never has the world been as culturally appropriate as it is now. You see it all the time in the news and social media. Celebrities and personalities get “canceled” on social media because of something they said or did even if they don’t always mean them in such a bad way. It’s the same thing with companies. Their products and services get “canceled” by social media users because they deem ads and marketing campaigns inappropriate to certain cultures, customs, and traditions.

It changed the leadership of these organizations. Leaders must be aware that cultural sensitivities exist, and they are important. They don’t only exist in the market where a blunder can cost organizations millions of money. They also exist in the office setting where the workforce is as diverse as a United Colors of Benetton ad in the 1990s.

Making Decisions Quickly

In an era of globalization and rapid technological progress, leaders cannot sit in their offices and wait for something to happen before they react. They must be proactive. And more than that, they need to make decisions quickly; sometimes based on very limited data. Leaders do not have the luxury anymore to plan for the future because the future, as they say, is here.

On the internet and social media alone, changes are happening as fast as your eyes can blink. Algorithms change every minute. How do leaders maintain their organizations’ relevance if they cannot keep up with such a fast-paced world?

The leader’s job is one of continuous learning. They need to adapt to whatever the market needs. Does the market need leaders who are compassionate, empathetic, and kind? Then, good leaders will know how to present themselves to the market like that. And then, in a few years’ time, do they need autocratic leaders once again? Do they need leaders with an iron fist, one that leads with single-mindedness and facts-based thinking? Good leaders can retrain themselves to become exactly what the moment needs them to be.

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