Young female worker smiling at boss

Shaping the leaders of tomorrow

What leaders can do today to foster the leaders of the future

5 minute read
Young female worker smiling at boss

A leader is someone who inspires, motivates and actions a vision, ensuring their team has the support and tools to achieve desired goals.

So, with this in mind – what does it take to shape the leaders of tomorrow?

It starts now, with the leaders of today

Shaping the leaders of tomorrow includes actively focusing on bettering leadership strategies in the present – something The University of Western Australia Philosophy Professor Rob Wilson highlighted when he said shaping the leaders of tomorrow began today.

“Positive leadership isn’t reading the room and then posting a review,” he said.

“It is reading the room and then working together with others to find a better room.

“You need to model what you want others to be to build a team’s trust in you and never ask anyone on the team to do something you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself.

“Also acknowledge when you don’t have the skills needed for the task at hand, as people perform best when they trust one another and when they feel committed to an endeavour they value.”

Positive leadership

AIM WA Learning & Development Specialist Helen Skeggs AFAIM said the qualities of a good leader were entwined with those of positive leadership.

“Self-awareness is the foundation stone of effective leadership,” she said.

“It can help to propel authenticity by leaders acknowledging and proactively managing their strengths and weaknesses as an ongoing practice.”

Ms Skeggs said this also included the focus on self-care.

“Like safety demonstrations on planes, where passengers are asked to secure their own oxygen mask and breathe first before helping others, leaders need to look after themselves so they, in turn, can care for their teams,” she said.

“When leaders don’t put the brakes on – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually –this often results in stress and burnout, which are the perfect catalysts for enabling levels of emotional intelligence to plummet fast.

“This leads to a dramatic negative impact on a leader’s ultimate superpower – empathy.”

Ms Skeggs said questioning and flexibility were also important, and the stalwart of leadership success was communication.

“Active questioning demonstrates active listening is happening, and greater engagement is often a wonderful by-product,” she said.

“Flexibility involves a leader’s willingness to adapt to situations and welcome new ideas, which is especially needed for decision-making success and embracing opportunities afforded in today’s ever-changing world.

“Communication covers myriad skills – from the ability to paint a clear picture of the end destination or vision inspiring people to get on-board to personal boundary management.”

Leadership styles

Ms Skeggs said many different leadership styles had been explored by leading theorists over the years, and the key to success lay in recognising that one style did not fit all.

“In AIM WA’s Workplace Leadership course, the contingency leadership style is used, where a leader adapts their style depending on circumstances,” she said.

“The autocratic leadership style is recommended when time is limited and immediate action is needed – a top-down approach towards decision-making is used with no team input.

“If utilised all the time, this style can erode worker motivation, engagement and creativity”

Ms Skeggs said that the other end of the leadership style spectrum from autocratic leadership is the laissez-faire leadership style.

“Here, the leader is hands off,” she said.

“Team members have high levels of autonomy and decision-making power, and support and resources are provided when requested.

“This style has its greatest value when individuals are competent and self-motivated, and close monitoring is not required.

“The democratic leadership style is a middle-of-the-road approach. This style is demonstrated when a conversation goes two ways and the team’s input is sought before decisions are made.”

According to Ms Skeggs, this style is ideal when team agreement matters – although, it can be challenging to manage when there are many perspectives and ideas.

Teaching leadership in action

Mr Wilson said anyone in a leadership role had learnt a lot of their know-how from working with other leaders.

“Leadership has an infectious element,” he said.

“Mentoring programs are important – with emphasis on critical thinking and connection to leadership, people have experience in doing and learning in an active way, including how to lead, how to manage and how to deal with the complexities which arise.”

Mr Wilson said leadership and philosophy could work hand in hand.

“Thinking and developing inquiry skills – where people get to think on their feet, make decisions and face situations they might not have imagined – is a competency in philosophy; a kind of problem-solving of people.”

Shaping leaders and teams

“Leaders and their actions have the greatest impact on their team’s morale, culture and so much more,” Ms Skeggs said, referencing Gallup’s annual State of the Global Workplace report, which suggests a worker’s line manager has the greatest influence on their engagement.

“Leadership behaviours affecting team performance are role modelling, involving people, aligning team performance with organisational vision, strategy, goals, values and the leader managing their own behaviour patterns."

“Let criticism and judgement walk out of the door, and recognise failure as an investment in learning.

“Trust, security, relationships and support are all outcomes of sound leadership.”

Ms Skeggs said it was crucial leaders were not overburdened.

“Energy is needed to sustain and maintain everyone’s leadership performance,” she said.

“As mentioned earlier, this is the vital catalyst to fuel a leader’s superpower – empathy.

“Without empathy, a leader’s relationship with their team can deteriorate fast; employee performance skydives and all performance metrics are compromised.”

Mr Wilson said positive leadership in shaping the leaders of tomorrow, ultimately, included lifting up a wall to others.

“It’s more important to be bringing people along into decision-making roles, empowering them with new skills, rather than a top-down authority,” he said.

“It’s cultivating curiosity in people so they can explore.

“This changes more people than just delivering outcomes people have to live with or act in the wake of.

“This is also beneficial, as it leads to the team’s responsibilities as citizens to make those changes and, in turn, they are more likely to stick.”