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What Is Leadership? A New Definition For 2024

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By: Rachel Wells

What does it mean to be a leader in 2024?

As ambitious leaders and managers take on the new business challenges that face them this year, it's essential to take a step back and re-evaluate one's position. To be relevant and adaptive to navigate potential threats and change transformations within our organizations with ease, requires us to reconsider and challenge our preconceived notions about what leadership really is, and what it is not.

One doesn't need to look very far to observe that traditional leadership ideas and models are rapidly becoming outdated, and are not capable of creating healthy work cultures or effectively leading the diverse workforce of today, at least not on their own.

What Leadership Is Not

Before defining what leadership really is, let's go back into a brief overview of historical perspectives on leadership. The leadership and health educator, Ann Downer, summed it up perfectly in her remarks in her class on leadership and management.

She stated that the theories associated with these two terms have greatly evolved over time. The initial concept of leadership, known as the Great Man Theory, asserted that leaders were born to lead and only the elite, wealthy aristocrats and mostly men were suitable to be leaders.

This placed these groups of people on a high pedestal, and as you can imagine, greatly impacted representation and diversity—or the lack of it—within the workforce. While of course, this concept would never be vocalized today in our modern society, this perception of leadership, especially at the senior level, might be subtly intruding our organizations and subconsciously creating bias. This leads to underrepresented groups being excluded from leadership opportunities.

The Great Man Theory evolved into what Downer termed the Trait Theory, in which people believed that only those who inherently possessed certain traits such as eloquence or confidence could become effective leaders. On first glance, this might appear to be innocent. But when you consider the fact that those most likely to possess inherent leadership traits are the privileged, educated upper class, and still perceived to be mostly men, this leadership construct carries serious limitations.

What Leadership Really Is

Things began to finally take a positive turn from the 1940s, when according to Downer, studies were undertaken which finally begun to unpack the idea that leadership is essentially rooted in core behaviours, not inherent traits, natural prowess, gender, or the opportunities one was afforded with when they grew up.

So this ultimately leads to the question: What are some of the behaviours that make a good leader in 2024?

1. Emotional Intelligence And Empathy

Leaders today must be able to understand and connect with diverse individuals within their teams. They must also be fully self-aware and demonstrate a commitment to accountability and personal growth. A key element of emotional intelligence is active listening. Active listening ensures that the varied perspectives of team members are appreciated and valued, and that we seek to understand where they're coming from and how our own actions will affect them, instead of going in guns blazing with one's own agenda.

2. Adaptability And Resilience

The year 2024 presents uncertainty, change, and ambiguity, in part due to economic pressures and streamlining efforts resulting in layoffs because of factors such as artificial intelligence (AI). To be an effective leader, you need to cultivate resilience and invest in your professional development. You should also keep abreast of trends and plan ahead in tandem with your research and analysis, so that you and your organization can be nimble.

3. Collaboration And Inclusivity

A key element of leadership in 2024 is that of fostering inclusive environments to encourage diverse voices and ideas. This is especially essential due to the fact that this is one of the key priorities of Gen Z and Millennials entering the workforce and embarking on their careers, according to Deloitte(who will make up the greatest percentage of the workforce within a few years). They no longer pursue roles with employers merely for the money or the latest tech.

While of course, those elements are also important, the younger generation will ultimately decide whether to work with you or not, depending on how much you demonstrate with your words and actions that you are creating an inclusive, collaborative work environment.

4. Visionary Thinking

To be an effective leader in 2024 you need to be able to craft a compelling vision. And you can accomplish this, even at management level. Together with your team, you can set a long-term objective, and inspire and motivate them to collaborate with you on achieving your shared goals.

5. Ethics And Responsibility

Finally, don't forget to prioritize ethics, integrity, and sustainability in your decision-making and practises. Don't just talk about it, live it. Exemplify what it means to lead with transparency and integrity and to have moral leadership. To consider the impact of your actions on others and on the environment is a green flag for perspective candidates, and will help widen your talent pool.

All five of these key behaviors are what define leadership for 2024. And the good news is that all of these behaviours can be cultivated, developed, and learned, even if none of them come naturally to you. Through your determination, commitment to undertaking professional development, and repeated practice, these five qualities can be embodied within your role and you will drive a positive culture shift within your organization this year.

Traditional leadership models are inadequate. It's time for a radical transformation.

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