Is the profile of a leader changing? |

Disruption to ‘Business As Usual’ in recent years has created an acute need for competent leadership. The question is, amid all of the change, has the profile of a successful leader changed as well? 2021 research by DDI revealed that organisations have less than half the leaders they need (47%). Ratings of leaders have also dipped 14% since the outset of the COVID crisis, suggesting that a leadership skills gap could be holding companies back. So, what does a successful leader look like today? 

Demographically, the next generation of leaders aged between 21 and 38 years of age are more likely to be from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds (32%) than current leaders (28%), and value flexibility (72%), (Deloitte, 2021). Statistics also show that leaders who think differently contribute the greatest value. While McKinsey famously linked ethnic diversity with a 35% increase in commercial performance (2017), a 2018 study by Credit Suisse revealed that mixed gender board teams attained 26% higher commercial performance. This means that organisations can’t afford to hire successors ‘in the image’ of current leadership. 

Getting the basics right 

In this podcast, Sally Sanderson, author of Leading Lawyers and director of leadership development advisory Profex Consulting, argues that “we need to get the basics right. We need leaders who are going to set direction for us. That’s not easy in a fast-changing world. We need leaders who are going to excite everyone and make them want to commit to delivering. The third piece is implementation. There’s a whole lot around having action plans in place and making sure we’re monitoring progress.” 

“When we go beyond the basics, that’s where things are changing for leaders today. It's what types of support people expect, and what type of support leaders need to give. That’s where there’s a real change. We’ve seen it in the pandemic we really need emotionally intelligent leaders. These are leaders who can connect with their team, especially when they are working remotely. They are also leaders who are aware of the importance of building relationships. People aren’t going to do something just because you tell them to do it. They need to be made to want to do it. You can’t make people want to do it unless you understand what drives them, and that requires a relationship with people. So I think it’s around the nuances where we are really seeing the changes. But the basics have to be in place.” 

Core capabilities for successful leaders 

Remote work, shifts in employee expectations and increased disruption require that the modern leader be highly socially aware. This capacity is known as emotional intelligence, which has been linked with leadership success in multiple studies. A 2019 study by Dr Mark Slaski for instance, showed that leaders with higher emotion perception (the capacity to perceive and understand their own and others’ emotions) instil a greater sense of trust and cooperation in their teams. You can learn more about emotionally intelligent leadership in our Leadership guide

Clearly, given the pace of change, successful leaders are quick to learn and adapt. Fast learners are equipped to spot trends in data and innovate to continuously improve your organisation. An Aptitude or General Intelligence Assessment (as distinguished from an Intelligence Quotient test), helps to identify individuals who process information quickly. Introducing this kind of assessment in the recruitment process rather than relying on CVs and past accolades alone also puts your organisation in a strong position to develop a strong bench of new leaders. 

Personality experts Adrian Furnham and Ian MacRae developed an assessment that would reveal an individual’s capacity for success at work. The ‘High Potential Trait Indicator’ or ‘Workplace Personality’ assessment looks at the five traits that correlate most strongly with professional success; conscientiousness, competitiveness, adjustment, risk approach and ambiguity tolerance. Effective leaders are likely to have optimal levels of each of these traits. If you want to learn more about the five success factors that make a successful leader, you can read more about the assessment here.