Google ‘How To Be The Perfect Leader’ today and you will be hit with a stream of clichés. “Lead by example. Think outside the box. There’s no ‘I’ in team”… and so on and so on.

I’m not saying there isn’t sense in adopting some of these pointers, but in reality, how many of us can put this thinking into production, day after day? Leadership isn’t an exact science but it’s clear that in this new decade, we can’t just pay lip service to being a good leader in the traditional sense, we need to redefine what this means for the current political and social-economic climate.

At The World Economic Forum Annual Summit in Davos this year, the future of work continued to be a key talking point for global change-makers. Recent estimates say that we’ll need to reskill more than 1 billion people by 2030, which gives you just a taste of the change that lies ahead of us, thanks in large to the arrival of The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What’s important to note however, is that this doesn’t mean a huge shift to automation or a greater focus on enhancing technological skills. It’s true that these things will be necessary, but so too will be helping employees develop their creative, collaborative and interpersonal skills, removing the siloed workspaces of the past and encouraging a more open forum.

Yet, one of the biggest hurdles we face today as leaders is connecting with talent through the generations. Much has been made of the skills and fulfilment gap between Generations X, Y (Millennials) and Z, so how do you tailor your style to suit this? Simple. You don’t. We shouldn’t be distinguishing our workforce in this way.

For starters, it’s time consuming constantly having to adapt your leadership style and it doesn’t make for a cohesive work environment if you try to manage people in widely different ways. I’m not saying that a rigid, non-flexible top down approach is the answer either, but it’s important we recognise people have different motivators that aren’t a by-product of their generation alone; everyone is different.

We’ve seen Millennials become a signpost for humor in the workplace, not knowing what they want and obsessed with their phones, whilst Gen Z apparently thrive on purpose alone. Gen X by comparison have the experience but not much else. I don’t need to tell you how widely inaccurate those statements are in reality, but we’re at risk of spending too much time focusing on what sets employees apart, rather than thinking about what can bring them together.

The responsibility as always, rests with the leader. The workplace is almost like a game of chess; you need to strategise where best to put your employees at any given time, aware of any oncoming competitor threats and tweaking your thinking as the pieces constantly move around the board. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but as industries continue to evolve around us, so too must our style of leadership.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘purpose over profit’ in the past 12 months? It has become the new mantra for management, with leaders now balancing stakeholder needs with an increased societal responsibility. Of course, this doesn’t just happen overnight – businesses are gradually transitioning their models with this in mind, with a greater focus on what this means for internal structure as well.

Being an effective leader requires mastering the foundational skills of being responsible, reliable, communicative and collaborative as standard, in addition to keeping an eye on the bottom line, working towards greater profit, efficiencies and market share overall. Yet, there is only so much one person, or even a management team, can do – there has to be greater inclusion of your employees to achieve this common goal. It’s a juggling act that requires surrounding yourself with the very best people; ones that can emulate the above ‘soft skills’ and also be able to execute tasks with proficiency and skill.

Whether you are managing one person or a team of 100, the initial building blocks to how you form and oversee your team remain the same, even if operational complexities increase with opening in new markets or integrating new technology into the business. Having a vision and strategy is one thing, but you need to be able to embolden your team to put this into practice, structuring workload to take advantage of each individual’s core competencies, therefore leveraging their performance as a result.

It may sound like a lot of jargon, but it’s not rocket science – it’s simply understanding who you have in your organization and finding a way to work that is mutually beneficial to both parties. Ultimately, we should aim to create a culture of ‘intrapreneurs’ that feel invested in the company. Roles and responsibilities will only go some way to achieving this, but give your employees a sense of ownership or greater autonomy where it matters most, and you have a very powerful motivator.

As the conversation continues to move away from this need to segment by generation, there is real value in thinking about individual aspirations and skill sets, as opposed to focusing on credentials and past experience – the world is simply changing too quickly for this to be a factor anymore.

Tomorrow’s rising leaders will need to shift gears to keep pace with changing trends. It’s not something that can be mastered in the next five, 10 or even 20 years, but rather a continuous learning process. While there isn’t an instant formula to success (if only) there is something infinitely more rebellious about shunning convention and doing things your own way.

Trust your instincts and surround yourself with the people that best share your beliefs, but can also offer different viewpoints from time to time. If you can do that, you’re already halfway there to being the best leader you can be.

By Nader Bitar,
Deputy GM