In today’s changing environment, leaders have to be open-minded instead of telling people what to do; flexible enough to adjust goals as new information emerges instead of sticking exactly to plans; and rely on data to make decisions instead of deciding from the gut. This is emerging leadership rather than traditional leadership. I worked with a client who has been in a senior role for the last 20 years at the same company. She has seen a lot of change and growth as well as different leadership styles throughout her time at the company. She often mentioned that it was difficult to adjust to the way she used to do things and how she needs to adapt to the changing environment now. One aspect of the role as senior leader we worked on was the balance between the old and new way of leadership. Research shows that there are several core tensions between emerging and traditional leadership approaches and these may cause stress.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders made the call to shut down their offices right away and move their employees to remote work without checking-in with their teams. This may remind you of a traditional leadership style, but the reality is that leaders need a balance between the old-fashioned way and the new way of leadership. Listed below are some tensions between traditional and emerging leadership that leaders should be aware of:

  1. The Expert vs. The Learner Traditionally, leaders built their careers by developing deep expertise while demonstrating competence as they moved up the corporate ladder. In emerging leadership, leaders must accept that they learn from others too.
  2. The Constant vs. The Adaptor– Traditionally, good leaders should stand firm in their convictions and decisions. With today’s changing and unstable environment, leaders should recognize where they need to be flexible and change course by responding to new information and making critical adjustments.
  3. The Tactician vs The Visionary– Serving up the north star for the team is important and there needs to be a realistic long term goal but not a rigid plan to get there.
  4. The Teller vs. The Listener– The traditional approach calls for leaders to tell others what to do and how to do it. The emerging approach utilizes active listening and probing to understand the situation before making a decision.
  5. The Power Holder vs. The Power Sharer– This is all about the people that make up the organization. The traditional calls to hierarchy decision making. The emerging approach values and empowers the people surrounding them to support in decision making to achieve a goal.
  6. The Intuitionist vs. The Analyst– Traditional leadership styles utilized “gut intuition” while emerging leadership style base next steps largely on data.
  7. The Perfectionist vs The Accelerator– The traditional approach asserts that leaders should take the time to deliver a perfect product. The emerging leadership approach  calls for leaders to acknowledge that doing something well but quickly and moving to the next step is more important that doing it perfectly.

Leaders need to be aware of these tensions and can improve their effectiveness by learning to navigate between the traditional and the emerging leadership styles depending on context.

How do you define yourself – traditional, emerging, or a little of both?  How do you think your team and organization would define you?  If you’d like to grow in your own leadership development regardless of how you are defined, Steople can provide the professional, knowledgeable support for you and your team.  Be a “learner.”