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Chief Executive Officer – Chief executive of Stuff – Managing Director – Business leader – ExCom  –  C Suite  – Def Con 2 – West Wing. The over use of militaristic nomenclature like Chief and Officer is a small pointer to why people struggle to apply a lightness of touch in their leadership. The rhythm, weight and emphasis of their belicose language and physical nature of the culture around corporate leadership (Spartan workouts are VERY popular with ‘leaders’) also gives us a reasonable pointer – that of the Psychopath let loose across a PAYE infrastructure.

Recent trends have pointed to the Female Leadership Advantage and the 7 traits that define it – Empathy: Vulnerability: Humility: Inclusiveness: Generosity: Balance: Patience: as being far more likely to deliver and sustain growth and innovation in the new business landscape. Their collaborative, co creating, humane and inclusive nature and behaviours illustrative of the decline of old world, one dimensional model of paternailistic leadership in favour of a kinder smarter workplace – so for that we can be increasingly thankful – anything to offset the alarming number of David Brent’s out there.

Much like politics, corporate leadership in its old form is one of those things where everyone who willingly gallops towards it, or seems desperate to attain it should be roundly shot before they get anywhere near the interview room, let alone a company filled with normal people and lives and families.

Granted ‘normal’ people are wholly capable of taking ‘lighter, kinder’ natured leaders for a complete ride. (The Right To Entitlement is the new religion – with millions of disciples all praying at the altar of ‘but I deserve so much more!!!!’ though usually forgetting to quailify on what basis or by what right other than simple existing)

But as they pass around ‘crap boss’ anecdotes in the pub, if you look beyond the small element of agenda settling and general grumpiness there do seem to be a recurring set of behaviours and traits that might constitute a list of watch-outs in the dodgy heavy handed leadership department:

  • Over indexing on Presentation courses and Life Coaching.
  • Far too over- excited at the wrong parts of Wall Street’ The Movie.
  • A tendency to use the phrase ‘C’mon people let’s get to work here’ even when faced with Jean from Accounting, The Call Centre manager and two sales guys in a small windowless room in Bromley
  • Inappropriate Fascistic tendencies at child’s Little League football matches ( though actual attendance of anything other than ‘business’ stuff is a positive sign)
  • Bossy approach to arranging relentless holiday activities
  • Ridiculous Pub Quiz over achievers
  • Talk about themselves in the third person – ‘MMmnnn Peter’s not happy…‘ (smacks of the rather unpleasant habit of speaking through a Ventriloquists Dummy)
  • Refer to themselves as Alpha something…anything

Additional watch outs come in various forms. Platitudes like ‘I’m straight talking and no-nonsense’ should come with a health warning; they are the leadership equivalent of turning up in a T Shirt that has “I’m funny” emblazoned across it.

Funny aside, there is a paradigm shift coming in the realms of leadership and it is not only augured by the rise of Female Leadership traits, knowledge economies  and softer industries driving our future. I believe it is also being driven by the our moving into the Age of The Polymath.

The Polymathic nature is ascendent in almost everything that surrounds us. The old one product one function world has been set aside in favour of one packed with a noisy self confident multi-tasking scrum of look at me multitaskers . The new product universe comes with multiple functions + benefits + rewards (both emotional and material) built into every quarter – shops that are clinics, phones that are cameras, cars that are playgrounds, holidays that are educations, games that make money. This multiple function nature of so much that illuminates and elevates our lives is I believe creating a new demand for a very different type of leadership in the businesses that deliver them – leadership shaped by the new realm of integrated big data, multiple colliding landscapes of human engagement and experience and ultimately the ability to view a business through the filter of multiple function and reward  in such a way as to relentlessly create and capture value in it.  A leader needs to be at least as multi functional as a smart phone! Even if, like smart phones, the business only uses 5% of that functionality most of the time!

In the CSIS overview ‘7 Revolutions’ they set out the leader of the future as follows:

The effective leader will jettison vertical integration information hoarding and dogma in favour of optimization, recalibration and negotiation.

In an increasingly integrated world ‘the big picture’ requires a daunting breadth and depth of knowledge

The new model compels the leader to master the transition from Clipper Ship to Flying fish – It is less about the expeditious propulsion and safe passage of trade increasing across a distance – a more quantative measure – as much as it is the expeditious propulsion of and securing of talent spreading across a network – the qualitative.

Interestingly the ‘ation’ words back there – optimization, recalibration and negotiation (across the nation, generation – apart from starting to smack of a bad reggae song) seem to demand a very different creature – one focused on a far more horizontal and myriad skill set. This is echoed in recent reports showing that the new C Suite leadership positions are being filled more often with candidates demonstrating greater horizontal skills (leading amongst equals) than vertical ones based on the old vertical climb to the top.

Anyway, it just seems that everything is pointing to a more nuanced renaissance person able to use multiple reference points to plot a smarter course – with the laws of audacious diversity being applied – the greater and more varied number of perspectives, intellects, and skill sets focused on one pure goal, the more likely the goal is to be achieved – and with gusto.

So the leadership model, influenced as it is now by greater diversity, more feminine traits and behaviours, a less recidivist and machismo heartland and by the shifting landscapes driven by our polymathic age, is lightening up – and thank any god for that.

Perhaps the last word on lightness of touch needs to go to the Tao Te Ching – where Lao Tzu writes that one should rule a large ‘something’ (country/corporation/culture) the way one cooks a small fish. Too much poking, spoils it.

I’ll have the Black Cod please.