There will be as many leadership skills needed as there are leadership situations.
It is easy to understand that leadership in times of crisis or peace will be different and ask to use different skills. Just as it is normal that the leadership of small and large organizations will differ. Or think about leaders who focus on innovation and those who focus on growing their organization.
What this also says, is that leadership will have to change and adapt to industries, connectivity, and the global context that are changing. This brings a challenge of its own: the difficulty of describing new types of leadership. It means developing a language that allows us to understand what is meant when the leadership role, its authority, and its tasks are described.
And even if that leadership has been defined and described, there is still more work to be done to help long-standing leaders to gain a new perspective on what their role might be. Acting leaders have been trained with an existing body of work that they may not have renewed since learning it. There is only so much time in a day and solving problems starts with using the known methods until there is time to try other methods and even more so to learn about new methods.
The growing presence and impact of complexity is one of these changes that require us to learn to deal with a new situation. It implies developing new leadership skills. Dealing with complexity means dealing with many different things. Ideas are emerging from somewhere to disrupt a given industry. And there is a need to be able to transform innovations into scalable business models. Dealing with innovation means being able to be creative, and see the invisible in what is experienced as chaos while being attentive to anything that can transform the industry. Seeking to scale a business requires the ability to organize operations. It implies transforming innovations into a scalable model using an efficient process. But this is only possible if it is supported by a hierarchy.
These are two somewhat known leadership models. But as both need to be managed within one organization, there is a need for a third type of leadership. It can serve as a bridge between the seemingly opposed worlds of the creative and the organized. Such leadership will establish adaptive spaces within which new ideas can emerge, be tested, and be locally implemented. But it will also be able to see those solutions that would need to grow beyond the test or local implementation into one that can be scaled and thus shifts from a creative into an ordered process.
It’s a leadership style that has been called enabling leadership by Mary Uhl-Bien and Michael Arena. Its role is to enable adaptability, not only for individuals but also for organizations.
For many leaders, being confronted with yet another idea of what leadership can be, will be too daunting an idea. Expect that their question will be when to find the time to add this to the work they are already doing.