This is What a Truly Modern Leader Looks Like

Published on Jul 11, 2022

Purpose-driven, not as individuals but as a collective organisation. Powered by technology yet not ruled by it. Curious about weakness so it can be mined for strength. Today's key leadership qualities let you find strength by upending old mindsets and behaviours.

Leadership is a loaded word — one with ever-changing meaning. Once upon a time, it meant that decisions and power flowed one way only: from the top down. At dss+, we know leadership needs to be different.

It's never been more vital for leadership to be spread throughout an organisation; to be thought of as a trait, not a title. Why? Because the right leadership culture radiates throughout the organisation, creating the context for positive transformation. For example, ensuring safety and quality are embedded, not relegated into a buzzword. Or that diversity and equality become characteristic of your organisation, driving innovation, not unrealistic targets that are "nice to have". In short, modern leadership is a lever that helps you mobilise your organisation to become more resilient and make a greater impact. Without it you stagnate, and employees, investors and consumers will gladly work with a competitor who is doing everything you're not.

So how can you make strong leadership happen? Cascade it throughout the organisation. Empowered frontline employees and middle management are critical for firing up cultural and process change, ensuring that theoretical strategies become concrete, daily realities. Higher-ups might set the vision and mission, but middle management ensure it comes to life, teams are motivated and that workplaces cultivate the right behaviours. Best of all, your middle management today becomes the C-suite of tomorrow, carrying these new battle-tested leadership skills to the top.

For leaders of all levels, it's worth regularly self-assessing how you define strong leadership — and what you're doing to make it happen. Here's our take on how to lead with success.

84% of American workers say poor or badly trained managers cause their teams unnecessary stress.

Leaders who believe in the lone wolf in a dog-eat-dog world will find themselves on the wrong side of history. At a time when where we are all facing new challenges coming at breakneck pace, we need to be continuous learners and play well with others, embracing both their strengths and imperfections. This is far easier than trying to be a self-appointed Alpha Leader who is never wrong.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 84% of American workers say poor or badly trained managers cause their teams unnecessary stress. To that end, today's true leaders realise that their actions don't exist in a vacuum. With increasingly interconnected but fragile systems, the choices that large organisations make can result in a dangerous butterfly effect. Or a beneficial one: sourcing a new supplier for a raw material? Make it sustainable, and you can empower a community, and protect an ecosystem, on the other side of the world. That power is worth bearing in mind.

41% of workers globally were considering quitting or moving jobs.

Automation, big data, 5G. These shiny toys can improve processes, but they can't make better leaders, or build effective and ethical teams. In a world of increasing technological prevalence warmth, empathy and patience are more key than ever. That's the acid test, because in a world where burnout is endemic (a 2021 Microsoft survey found that 41% of workers globally were considering quitting or moving jobs), you need to keep your talent engaged. If not, constant churn will mean even with the best intentions, your culture won't be able to take hold or sustain.

Tech-powered processes can also, if not properly policed, increase pressure on your workforce to be ever more productive but often at the expense of safety or physical and mental health. A good leader will ensure that empathy and innovation go hand in hand.

Now more than ever, data lets us learn about our challenges and blind spots. To constantly reassess: what guidance or action does my team need right now?

That advice is backed up by our 2021 Operational Risk Management survey, which underscores the need to understand your organisation's risk tolerance and weaknesses through data. But your tools can only do so much. The rise of big data will certainly help companies, but it is up to people to review, analyse and act based on the data. If you've got enough humility to let that information help you improve, the rewards speak for themselves.

Take diversity: crafting a workplace where everyone feels included and empowered is a key goal for all organisations. Data could help you check if you're hitting the mark, and frequent "pulse checks" with employees can capture whether they really feel accepted and valued. In short, tech tools can give you amazing answers, but only if you ask the right questions.

A good mission statement crystallises your commercial purpose. A great one folds in something deeper: the qualities you stand for, and how that comes to life not just for customers but your employees. Want to ensure that mission statement passes the acid test? Crowdsource. Let team members at all levels have a say in crafting it.

Upskilling your teams is a task many organisations face. But how do you make sure those teams care? Internal education programmes are only worthwhile if they are met by a willingness to learn. That comes with a clear value proposition of ‘why these skills are useful to you' and a culture that values learning. So, frame your programmes as vital knowledge in a changing world, rather than a compliance activity.

Designing relevant and engaging training is essential to creating new capabilities, and compelling people to change. Learning happens best by acting and reflecting; by engaging with others, and applying knowledge to real situations. A leader's role requires modelling, reinforcing and coaching to create a safe learning environment. Engaging with your team to understand their development needs will lead to more relevant investments of time, and a stronger commitment to change and impact.

Journalist and author George Orwell wrote that "Good prose is a window pane" — in short, it should be transparent. The same is true of leadership.

Leaders should be open and clear not just in what they communicate, but how. Want some examples? Don't try to camouflage your mistakes with meandering messaging. Speak like a person, not a press release. Own your errors. Share your strategy and processes so that if difficult decisions do have to be made, your employees and customers know why.

Today's challenges are global, deeply complex and aggressively high stakes. As such, they require collaborative change and resiliency. It is only by inspiring and mobilising the collective organisation with our best qualities — openness, honesty, ingenuity and more — that these challenges can be overcome.

Start making those things happen, and you're on the path to becoming a truly modern leader.