Thursday 16 July 2015

Europe’s Cross-border Leadership Emphasises ‘Softer’ Skills

VIEWPOINT: Europe’s emerging leadership style is leading the way. Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, offers valuable insight in this fourth in a series of articles for IEDP:

One of the great aspects of my job is that I get to meet so many people from many different places and professions.
 When we meet – often in a leadership development environment – I am regularly asked one simple question: “Tell me Rudi, is it harder to be an effective leader today than it used to be?”
 When I reply : “Yes, I think it is,” the same question always follows: “so how is it different ?”

Well from my travels and experiences there is one thing that separates today’s leaders (and by ‘leader’ I mean people at all levels in an organization) from those of, say, a decade ago. Nowadays they have to lead in a far more complex world. And much of that complexity comes from the fact that an increasing number of us are leading and managing in a global marketplace.

Interestingly, in Europe virtually every business, small, medium and large has an increasing exposure to external influences. While they may not have factories and offices in other countries, most businesses export, import or exchange services on an ever growing cross-border basis.

My view is that successful leaders are going to be those that understand today – right now – that the criteria that have worked for us over the last 20 years are not going to be sufficient for the demands of tomorrow. And if I am right, then Europe is quite possibly ahead of the U.S. in getting to grips with this new model.

Why? Well the European business model – grounded deeply in sociological orientation – is a much closer fit to these emerging leadership requirements than that of the U.S. where the free-market rules and ‘making the numbers’ is a recurring corporate mantra. (See my blog on ‘Making the Numbers’ published in May)

As I move around Europe, I’ve developed some interesting views on how Europe and the U.S. differ as we search out an emerging leadership style.

A new generation of leaders realize that to be an effective leader in 2015 requires meeting the expectations of the workforce (insourced and outsourced). To do that consistently requires an emphasis on those more collaborative skills – include persuasion in that too! – that will create respect and involvement within our businesses of tomorrow.

As I explained earlier, we may not have paid enough attention as to how this evolution of the leadership skill-set is coming about, but as I travel around Europe and see the on-the-ground reality, I am deeply encouraged by the way the next generation is tackling the leadership challenge.

So, today, when I get asked that question, “so how is [leadership] different?” I have a new answer.

It goes like this, “Don’t ask me. Look at what you are doing and what you have done. You are leading the changes, so you tell me what’s different, because I need to learn from you.”

I have a great job, watching a new generation in a new Europe find new ways to lead. Sure, I and my colleagues can help to put the practice and principles of leadership into focus in a learning environment, but it is in the offices and factories that the basic elements are assembled to create a new leadership focus: one that seems to be grounded in collaboration and mutual reward.

Cross-border, cross-functional, cross-industry, cross-cultural, Europe’s business leaders in the 28 member states have rapidly learned a host of lessons that are being put into practical use on a daily basis to manage an emergent economic area. This is creating leaders comfortable with complexity, ambiguity and constant change and challenge.

It is going to be very interesting and exciting to see where this journey takes me and everyone else who has a true interest in the concept and practice of leadership, because – while the basic tenets of leadership are constant – we must recognize and welcome the emergence of new ways to take our businesses forward. Leadership is, after all, a competence grounded in understanding and adapting to change.

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here

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