In the media

It's time to redefine what constitutes effective leadership

Tanja Juul Christiansen Johanne Olsen Astrid Kamille

By Tanja Juul Christiansen, Johanne Rønnow Olsen, Astrid Kamille Falk-Sørensen


16 March 2024

Today's leaders must navigate constant change and high complexity. We believe it's time to reconsider what defines effective leadership.

Change is afoot in the realm of management. Whereas just a few years ago, discussions revolved around developing strategy and plans for implementation, we now find that nearly every conversation with leaders - regardless of context - eventually turns to leadership in times of complexity and constant change.

The number of ongoing initiatives continues to rise, while execution capabilities are tested by dependencies across the organisation.

There's ongoing pressure to optimise operations, while simultaneously there's an urgency to foster growth, innovate, and leverage new technology - all at once. The organisation finds itself slightly breathless and at times frustrated. Eyes turn to leaders for guidance and direction.

But the answers are no longer readily available - and for good reason. Both questions and answers need to be reimagined.

What if we're not steering toward a fixed endpoint - but can still be clear about priorities? What if we know there are numerous initiatives underway - but still deliberately launch new ones?

Many leaders today attempt to resolve paradoxes by picking sides, only to feel like failures when it doesn't work out. Some try to develop but get bogged down in operations, while others attempt to unify and set the direction but get caught in independent, fragmented initiatives.

Some strive to be strategic partners but can't shake off the supplier role. And many try to be beacons for their employees but struggle to craft a cohesive narrative about where they're actually headed. We believe it's time to take a step back and redefine what constitutes effective leadership.

Fast pace

In a time where technological advancement simultaneously creates a new world and accelerates change in the old one, there's no sign of the pace slowing down or complexity reducing. Effective leadership, therefore, isn't about bringing order to chaos or systematising things. It's about continuously training one's own and the organisation's ability to navigate change - without losing sight of the overarching direction or losing steam along the way.

We need to aim for both and lead within the paradoxes rather than at the extremes. This will change how leaders approach organisational development and, notably, their own roles.

This requires knowing what you stand for. Whether we call it leadership principles, a manifesto, values, or something else entirely, it's crucial to have a grasp of your personal compass, as it's the constant and foundation for decision-making.

Next, leaders must be clear about the value they create for whom in the organisation. How do they contribute to realising the strategy within their area and across the organisation? What value do they bring to their customers? Which products and services are central? This should guide both their own and the team's prioritisation in the short and long term.

Far from easy

Based on leadership principles, customer needs, and services, attention should be turned to how to tackle tasks and incorporate (new) technology - which tasks should continue and be developed, which will be replaced, automated, or phased out? And how do you infuse enthusiasm and curiosity into collaborations with, for example, AI as a new type of colleague in the organisation? That's what defines leaders’ daily work.

Following this, it's necessary to consider the competencies needed in the short and long term - and act accordingly. By focusing on competencies rather than positions and adopting both an operational, tactical, and strategic perspective on competency needs, they can develop and strengthen their team to not only tackle today's tasks but also those of tomorrow.

And there's no way around the need to establish ongoing dialogue with both your own organisation and all stakeholders, including customers and partners. No matter how much we define interfaces and clarify roles and responsibilities, we can't write ourselves out of dependencies and the complexity they entail.

There's no doubt that the complexity and paradoxes leaders face today aren't easy. And it's not straightforward to redefine your role as a leader in the reality many organisations are facing. But what if it's unavoidable?

Read the article in Danish Børsen here.

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