The future of leadership

As a CEO and entrepreneur, I think it’s important to regularly take a step back and reflect on my performance as a leader.

If I’m honest, I often feel underqualified for this. I became a leader at a relatively young age after growing my business from being just me in a cupboard-sized office on the outskirts of London. Over the last five years, my team has grown significantly, and I have had to constantly learn as I go, developing my skills, and adapting to the increasing demands of leadership.

So, from my short time as a CEO, what do I think makes a good leader? The ability to execute sound business decisions under pressure? Perhaps the ability to inspire others? Is it more about driving results or creating a more sustainable, purpose-driven world? Or is it the ability to drive cultural change and develop talent?

While all the above are certainly important, if I had to define leadership, I would say it is the ability to perceive, empathise and understand the thoughts and viewpoints of the people who work for you.

This sounds simple and perhaps not as grand, but let’s break it down a bit further…

The saying “No man is an island” is never truer than in business – you are nothing without the quality, support and collaboration of the people around you. You can’t do it on your own. As an entrepreneur, I am naturally quite control-focused; in the early years of my business development I tried to cover or at least oversee each and every task. However, once you get to a certain size, this becomes impossible as there are simply not enough hours in the day. You have to delegate.

This is where my definition of leadership comes into play. When you delegate as a leader, the aim is not just to pass on certain tasks to a member of your team, but to see the task through that individual’s eyes. Does this person want to do this task? Will they feel inspired? Will it help their development? Will they feel they are the best person for the job or is it just you, as the leader, who thinks they are?

The main aim for me as a leader is to make sure my team are constantly motivated, challenged and feel valued on a daily basis. I want them to learn, but also to teach me.

As we move into 2020, the dial is moving even further in terms of the number of millennials and Generation X taking senior leadership roles, as well as the number of Generation Z entering the working world. The future of leadership has to reflect these changes. Hierarchy, command and control, taskmaster, and the “be seen, not heard” attitude are all things of the past. To truly get the best out of an individual’s untapped potential, you have to allow them to be who they want to be. They need a voice, a flat structure, camaraderie, and to be encouraged to take risks, even if they make mistakes. They need to know it’s okay to show humility and say, “I don’t know how to do this”.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re managing 5, 10, 20 or 20,000 people – the principles remain the same. As a leader, displaying a stoic demeanour can be admirable and is sometimes important, but it is not always the best way forward. Emotion and passion show that you are approachable, human and relatable.

I don’t think there will ever be one right way to lead, as each team, culture and environment is so different. However, if you go into everything with the mindset of “Is this what’s best for my team, as well as for me?”, then you’re on the right track.

By James Absalom

CEO & Managing Partner

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