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Leaders for the Future

Jill Sutton, SVP, Enterprise Talent Development, nThrive; and Denis Lambert, Director, Enterprise Talent Development, nThrive


In this complex, dynamic, multigenerational and ever-changing business environment, it is imperative that organizations develop leaders who excel in creating both a culture of performance and a workplace that nurtures and taps into all the talents its colleagues have to offer. With the ever-increasing complexity, uncertainty and speed of business, the ability for any individual leader to understand the whole system and make timely, effective decisions is becoming extremely difficult, if not impossible. Organizations are moving away from the traditional hierarchy of individual hero leaders, where position is power and job descriptions are fairly static. Instead, they are moving toward the leadership model of leaders who serve. In this model, leaders are embracing the role of creating the conditions and flexibility that will enable all colleagues to step up and lead in both small and large ways. During times of change and uncertainty, it is essential for leaders to leverage the company’s purpose and strategy.


Having leaders with a mindset of serving others enables the business to engage talent within the organization to ensure continual success. The key to creating this type of culture is to build emotional intelligence and mindfulness as the foundation for all leaders and colleagues. Even though it feels antithetical, it is important to slow down at times in order to be more intentional and mindful of the objectives and activities that one commits to while also taking the time to interact and work with others.


The most productive leaders will be the ones who, instead of getting lost in busyness, can harness the power of “pause” in order to focus their efforts on what matters the most. In this context, mindfulness is about seeing reality more clearly and non-judgmentally in the service of improving self-awareness, authenticity, the quality of relationships, focus and execution.  Janice Marturano[i], author of “Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership,” explains how after participating in a mindful leadership training, leaders self-reported increased abilities to focus on high-value tasks, be fully present with others and be more self-aware throughout the day.


Mindfulness improves the ability for the leader to see where they may be stuck in habits that no longer serve them well, biases and reactive tendencies and blind spots. Sensing, seeing and owning these habits opens up the opportunity for the leader to show up differently and more effectively.  The strategic pause to stop autopilot and create the space for greater possibilities and choices may be one of the most underrated skills in today’s world of continuous stimulus and partial attention. Introducing leaders to meditation techniques, tools for managing triggers, mindful listening and conversation and practices to develop compassion for self and others are core skills that enable leaders to show up in better, more attuned ways to serve their colleagues, clients, company and the community.


Having access to continual education as well as hands-on experience is crucial to develop leaders for the emerging future. However, because of our experience with formal education, most people are missing out on the abundance of learning opportunities at work and in life. They still see learning and doing as two separate events. We go to school to learn, and we go to work to do. The reality is that we learn the most from real-life application of skills while receiving feedback and adjusting our approach as needed. Many executives have shared that their on-the-job experiences, challenging projects and mentors have been key elements in the development of their leadership qualities.


Weaving learning and development into the stream of real work will greatly expand growth opportunities for leaders. Learning will be seen less as an event and more as a daily opportunity to test and practice new skills. To accelerate and extract learning from the experiences we are having, individuals, teams and organizations need to build a culture of rich, abundant feedback and mindful reflection that allows people to stretch and be vulnerable.


Practicing and growing skills also can be optimized outside of the work environment. Many organizations have created programs that allow colleagues time to participate in volunteer service. Implementing a caring program that encourages and enables all colleagues to serve their community provides an opportunity to build leadership skills by serving others. It is a win-win! The skills that are enhanced and developed through volunteerism are carried on at work and, in turn, help to create a more engaging and fulfilling work environment.


Being a leader does not always mean one must be front and center. In fact, the best kind of leaders know when to step aside in support of others, enable others to step forward, think differently and engage colleagues. The leaders of the future will be those who create an engaging work environment and build colleagues’ skills through the growth of emotional intelligence, mindful leadership and learning deeply from real work experiences. Leadership is less of a title and position and more about unleashing the best qualities of the human spirit on a larger scale. Aligning values, creating habits that have meaningful impact, leveraging existing structures and processes, listening, connecting to core emotional needs and growing a positive environment are how leaders can better serve their people. 

[i] Marturano, Janice, Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, pages 107-112, Bloomsbury Press, © Janice Marturano 2014

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