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The Top Qualities of a Modern Leader

Elise Jones Mar 24, 2021 1:24:23 PM

Today’s leaders are responsible for more than just driving business results for the organization. In addition to maximizing value for shareholders and growing the business, modern leadership roles include increasing value for other stakeholders as well. Employee goals, customer needs, and the impact on society as a whole are all considered when decisions are made and strategies are set for a business that will thrive in today’s world. This shifts what is expected of leadership from more traditional business models. 

While setting the vision and creating the plan for carrying it out, as well as assigning the responsibility and managing accountability are still a part of leadership function, there is more to being a successful leader. Though the day-to-day job duties for leadership roles are different in every organization, some overarching responsibilities appear across industries and companies. Whether you oversee one other person or are running an entire line of business, these themes hold true for anyone with a leadership mentality.   

Modern leadership components that are the most crucial fall into four primary categories: visionary, architect, coach, and catalyst. 

The leader as visionary 

Visionary leadership is “the ability to see the potential for change combined with the ability to lead others.” This means being able to come up with the idea, design a plan for change, and actually set it in motion, taking action toward the desired outcome. It’s not enough to simply come up with a grand idea; true visionary leaders are also there to lead people to enact the change to accomplish the goal. 

One of the characteristics visionary leaders must possess is the ability to take risks. By its nature, having a vision and plan for change will require deviation from the status quo, which inherently means taking a risk. Being able to weigh the pros and cons of the risk and determining if it’s worth taking in service of the outcome is a big part of making your vision a reality. It’s not enough for leaders to simply be the “idea guy” and come up with fantastic possibilities. If they aren’t feasible because you are unwilling to take the risks required, your ideas will remain on paper and won’t be realized. 

Another essential component of true visionary leadership is taking responsibility for your vision. You can’t expect everyone on your team to have immediate buy-in for your great idea. Taking responsibility does mean being there to handle the fallout if things don’t go according to plan, but it’s more than just that. Being responsible means setting things up so that they don’t go wrong in the first place by identifying potential problems beforehand (this is sometimes part of the risk management skillset), making sure resources are in place to see the project through, removing hurdles that may hinder the project from reaching its potential, and identifying the best people to take ownership of the components required for success. 

Finally, one of the most crucial parts of being a visionary leader is the willingness to listen and take advice from others. Being a visionary does not mean just moving forward with your idea ignoring all the naysayers because you believe your idea is the best. While most visionaries will encounter a lot of naysayers, successful ones will listen to what the doubters have to say and consider if their concerns have any validity. Being unwilling to listen to advice and take feedback seriously or ignoring data and trends in the market are indicators that your plan for your vision may not be as well-crafted and aligned with success. Additionally, in order to have the trust and buy-in required of your team to carry out your vision, the team needs to feel heard by their leader. 

The leader as architect 

The days of the boss’s job being to simply make a decision and the employee’s job to do as they are told are over. It’s not how successful modern organizations operate, and it’s not leadership. Successful leaders aren’t just creating the plans and plugging in the right employee to carry them out. On high-performing teams, this old methodology would be a bottleneck, limiting the ability of the team to function at peak performance levels. Instead, the leader-as-architect defines the high-level organizational strategy and manages alignment in order for the team to succeed. By not getting mired in the tiny details of who is doing what and how leader-architects focus on making sure there is alignment and then trust and empower employees to do their best work.

Adjusting focus to alignment requires a leader to zoom out and take a broader view and will require trust in the team to do their best work toward the common goal. The architect-leader’s job isn’t a once-and-done project, either. There are numerous ways that well-aligned teams can move out of alignment. Teams and individuals have different working styles, different motivations, and different skill sets. There can be unforeseen setbacks that can impact a team and can require realignment if some components of the project have changed or if new information or data has emerged changing the outcome. 

If new challenges arise when constructing a building, the architect’s job is to go back to the original blueprint, make adjustments, and communicate these changes to the workers on the project and the client who commissioned the building. Likewise, the leader’s role is to ensure alignment with all the stakeholders so that the objectives and goals are understood and clearly communicated. Ensuring that time and resources are not wasted on inefficiencies or that unintentional energy is spent when teams work at cross-purposes are part of managing the alignment of a project. This role of leadership has been especially critical over this past year, with companies trying to navigate an ever-changing work environment. In order to succeed under these conditions teams must be nimble and adapt, which is made possible when the leader approaches the challenge as an architect. 

The architect-leader takes on this more sophisticated role to examine the system designs at the heart of the team, reinforcing the structure as one that is open and empowered, and is then “able to continually plan, execute, and adjust the flow of resources across shorter working cycles in pursuit of its North Star.” To do so effectively, Valor complements our coaching platform with a Vision and Values assessment, in order to give the leaders who receive our coaching the data insights needed to examine and structure such systems. In this way, teams are able to operate at high levels of performance because they receive the trust, support, empowerment, and resources required to do their best work, unencumbered by miscommunication, doubt, or other burdens that have been removed by the team leader. 

The leader as coach 

One of the side effects of modern work culture that is oriented toward empowerment is that individual contributors, managers, and team leads all take on the responsibilities and mindsets of leadership. What this means is that the need to develop new skills, such as strategic thinking, improved communication, and collaboration is present and pervasive throughout the organization. What’s especially true for high-performing teams is the need for strategies and systems to prevent burnout so that the team can consistently produce high-quality work in a sustainable manner. 

Just like a coach with a team of athletes, a leader who embraces the role of coach helps to develop team trust so that individuals feel safe and invested in discussing what went well with a project equally with how to improve on outcomes next time. When that trust and safety are felt throughout the team, everyone knows that the team as a whole is invested and striving toward the same goal of success. This lays the groundwork for developing teams to their full potential through coaching. 

When a leader embraces the role of coach and fosters a team culture of coaching, it creates an environment where everyone is given the support and encouragement to improve and grow in their roles and as leaders themselves. By making learning a part of the team culture–beginning with the leadership–the team itself is positioned to be successful because it is always open to growth and development. Coaching leaders often ask questions rather than prescribe solutions, further reinforcing themes of empowerment, trust, and learning. With a focus on learning, developing skills, and strategic problem solving, the leader-as-coach can help employees shift their view of setbacks and challenges to opportunities to try an alternate approach or as a chance to experiment with new ideas. 

The leader as catalyst

More than just a motivator or cheerleader, a leader needs to be the catalyst for igniting energy and drive throughout the organization. This can look different for each individual and group and can vary depending on the current needs of the team as a whole. 

Leaders can be catalysts by removing roadblocks that are preventing projects and ideas from getting off the ground or crossing the finish line. This can look like being a thought partner for brainstorming ideas, providing the necessary resources to complete a task, or helping individuals to prioritize their workload in order to make deadlines. The actual situations will vary, but the role of catalyst here is about doing what you can to help your team succeed. 

Another way leaders can use their power and influence as a catalyst for team success is by growing and fostering connections with key stakeholders across the organization. Instead of slowing down momentum by being the go-between in a cross-functional project, catalyst leaders open up those communication channels by connecting people who will benefit from having a relationship. This method isn’t limited to just getting a project completed. Growing the network and scope of influence for more junior members of a team with introductions or acknowledgment of their work on a team project during a presentation is a small but impactful way to show appreciation while also doing what you can to develop your team members into leaders themselves. 

A great opportunity for a leader to catalyze energy is to show how a project’s goals align with the organization’s mission or vision. While it may seem obvious, a leader who is able to help people make that connection and show how their work is in service of the greater picture and goals of the entire company can unleash powerful engagement in employees. Engaged employees produce better business outcomes overall, with higher productivity, lower rates of turnover, and drive innovation and performance across the organization. 

Modern leadership requires a different approach than in previous generations, with new insights into what works and investment in employees and teams and not just the bottom line. The competitive edge in today’s business world comes from investing in employees to be empowered, energized, aligned, and in possession of leadership qualities themselves, all of which are not possible without the direction and vision of a leader who understands this modern approach. 

At Valor, we work with leaders and teams who are interested in developing a mindset of growth and learning, fostering self-awareness and situational awareness, embracing a culture of coaching, and achieving sustainable high-performance. With the combination of our asynchronous learning model using exercises developed from cross-disciplinary research and the support and guidance of a professional one-on-one Coach, we equip leaders with the tools they need to foster the modern leadership components (visionary, architect, coach, and catalyst) and set themselves up for success.

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