Leadership is a different discipline than it was 20, 10, or—ahem—even just two years ago. For owners who have been in business for decades, this presents an important question that may bring to light a juxtaposition:
If leadership has evolved, have you evolved with it?
Don’t overthink the answer or its implications. As much as leadership has changed and as intricate as it has become, it still hinges on one core principle that can lead you through the process of modernizing your approach: integrity.
In business and in life, integrity is everything. It keeps you authentic when things are going great. It keeps you centered when times get challenging. It’s the source of emotional intelligence, intellectual agility, and every takeaway from every article on leadership you could ever read. It’s even the overriding quality in heroes you see on TV. Integrity is the foundation of leadership.
Integrity enables you to:
Own Your Identity
Who are you as a leader and who is your company as a culture? Reflection is a prerequisite to identify, evaluate, and enact any change. Renowned finance professor Anjan Thakor at Washington University in St. Louis has an interesting model called the competing values framework. It has four quadrants, or “colors of business growth”—create, compete, control, and collaborate. Determine, honestly and objectively, where your leadership excels, and where your company thrives. Then, you can embrace it as your unique market position; or decide you want to change, and put that change in motion.
Play to Your Strengths
When you know who you are, you know what you’re good at. When you know what you’re good at, you’re comfortable recognizing your strengths and weaknesses. You probably think the next bit of advice will be to improve your weaknesses, and that certainly can’t hurt—but here’s a modern take: focus on your strengths! They’re indicative of where and how you’ll succeed.
You don’t need or want to be everything to everyone; that can lead to mediocrity and little to no growth. An area of strength is a competitive advantage. Go all in on it. Of course, you can’t necessarily ignore your weakness. The best way to address those as a leader is to put the right people around you.
Seek New Perspectives
Modern leaders demonstrate intellectual agility, or, as we define it at ECG, the ability to detect and evaluate multiple perspectives, digest changing factors, and devise new solutions. Intellectual agility is the slightly-less-buzzwordy cousin of emotional intelligence, but equally essential for a leader to possess and practice. Quite simply, if you have intellectual agility, you want to know what other people think so you can refine your own thinking and make decisions for the greater good.
Aside from seeking input from stakeholders, great leaders are also avid readers. They don’t just read on business and leadership, either. Read novels. Read autobiographies. Read satires. Reading is a relaxing and enjoyable way to broaden your mind.
Be Deliberate About Change
We’re in an age of vast change. Some of it was forced, but most of it now is change you can control. You can look outside of your organization for inspiration, but meaningful, productive, future-focused change for your business ultimately comes from within. All the words you hear to describe the ideal modern workplace—collaborative, flexible, open, hybrid, etc.—apply differently across industries and companies.
With the integrity to lead comes the humility to connect, motivate, empower, and inspire. And with all the above, you can feel confident that you’re fostering the type of company that people want to work for and do business with today.
Read more on what it truly means to modernize your business across the board:
By Andrea Steinbrenner, Chief Operations Officer, Exit Consulting Group