“Modern leadership” is a topic of interest, investigation and conversation for many, as evidenced by approximately 814 million results via Google’s search engine. In fact, leadership theories go all the way back to the 1840s. You will also find articles distinguishing what it means to be a “leader” versus a “manager.” No matter the twist, what is evident is that leadership continues to change over time and can be interpreted in many ways.

While impactful leaders may use a variety of approaches, modern leadership has a specific set of attributes that are critical for success. This article summarizes three main areas of focus for a modern leader’s success:

1. People Orientation

Modern leaders with a people orientation are approachable team-builders who create a safe space for their colleagues to innovate, take calculated risks and “fail forward.” They use collaboration and consensus while communicating when and why they make specific decisions for the benefit of the team and business outcomes.

By creating trusting, transparent relationships, these leaders empower their team to make decisions. While they are knowledgeable, they are also not threatened by other expertise on the team. Leading with a growth mindset, they are lifelong learners and encourage the team to be lifelong learners as well. They promote and grow their team members as a coach or mentor, create connections and visibility for their team, and support their employees’ career journey (even if it means that someone will leave their team).

Authenticity and transparency provide the foundation for successful modern leaders to inspire and influence their team as a role model for how to approach tasks, challenges and opportunities. These leaders are not afraid to admit when they are wrong or when they don’t know something. They also reward and recognize their colleagues and others for their accomplishments.

Finally, leaders with a people orientation are open to diverse perspectives. They welcome ideas, inputs and debate from all team members, and they are culturally aware, sensitive to and inclusive of all abilities and backgrounds.

2. Adaptability

Adaptive leadership is critical for successful teams and business outcomes in today’s workplace of continuous sociocultural and technological change. Flexibility and the ability to quickly pivot during change and uncertainty help leaders mobilize, organize and focus the attention of their team on key initiatives. Agile leaders demonstrate situational awareness; they are aware and prepared for business transformation. They are forward-thinking, proactively and strategically planning while taking ownership of and accountability for positive and negative outcomes. They also anticipate the unexpected and create contingency plans. Through their people skills (including strong self-awareness and emotional intelligence), adaptive leaders motivate their team through difficult and challenging transformations.

3. The Ability to Create Connections

Successful modern leaders are always seeking alignment within and outside of their immediate team. They break through the silo mentality and welcome cross-functional team collaboration and success for the benefit and growth of the organization as a whole. They also foster a sense of community by creating opportunities to connect within and outside of their own team.

This ability to connect is even more crucial in our current environment, where many employees are working remotely and have lost face-to-face interactions. The determining factor in a leader’s success is often the ability to cultivate strong, trusting relationships; work with other experts from across the organization; and create win-win solutions. A connected leader is more likely to be a successful leader.

Creating Impactful Leadership Development Solutions

It’s important to provide both new leaders and seasoned leaders with learning and development (L&D) opportunities to grow and enhance their skills in these areas through offerings such as on-demand learning, scenario-based training, learning pathways with practice activities and on-the-job application.

Evaluate your existing programs for potential gaps, and collect insights from leaders to learn where they see opportunities for improvement. Based on the priorities and needs of the organization, training to support these three focus areas may include:

These three focus areas — a people focus, adaptability and ability to create connections — form the foundation of modern leadership. L&D is an important collaborator in providing opportunities to learn in these areas. However, those learning opportunities must be supported by a culture that promotes and values these three aspects of modern leadership.

Additionally, the skills training and leadership programs cannot stand alone. Encourage leaders to practice their new skills and develop them over time by providing ongoing learning opportunities. Finally, provide all employees with basic knowledge around these topics to prepare future leaders for success.

As Harry S. Truman, America’s 33rd president, once said, “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.

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