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Next-Practice Thinking: Future Vistas in Leadership

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Wed Apr 01 2015

Next-Practice Thinking: Future Vistas in Leadership
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This is the final post in a three-part series examining leadership. (See post 1 and post 2.)

Three perspectives on future leadership endeavors are garnering close attention from organizations and researchers: 1) increase of female leadership in organizations, 2) technological advances that enable mobile and virtual working environments, and 3) the impact of scientific research on leadership and organizational culture models.

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Female Leadership

Numerous research efforts agree that having more women leaders is good for business. In fact, some research finds that female leadership styles are more successful in today’s team-based, consentually driven enterprises (Applebaum et al. 2003). Despite the evidence, however, women still make up less than their share of business leadership roles (Govindji/Gallup 2014). This has to change.

The UAE is a good case in point on the power of female leadership. More than 65 percent of UAE government employees are women, and over 30 percent of leadership positions are held by women. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, expresses the benefits of female leadership well: “I personally could not manage my daily work without women, since 85 percent of my personal team are Emirati women. It is our job to provide an environment that unlocks women’s potential. Given that, I am confident that women will perform nothing short of miracles.”

Mobile and Virtual Work Environments

Organizational design is constantly evolving. Consequently, leaders must become increasingly agile—adopting a network mentality rather than a hierarchical one. For example, one major evolution affecting leadership is the move toward more mobile working environments and virtual teams.

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Virtual Leadership: Going the Distance to Manage Your Teams, a 2013 ASTD Research survey of 505 organizational leaders that hold managerial positions or higher, confirms that 99 percent of respondents indicate that either all or some employees in their organizations work virtually on either an as-needed, set-schedule, or full-time basis. However, only 21 percent of respondents indicate that their organizations provide some sort of training tailored to help virtual staff adapt to the virtual environment. As a result, being a virtual leader should be about connecting people while still maintaining engagement and rapport, along with acknowledging a team’s human element and providing in-person onboarding to acclimate virtual staff.

New Sciences and Followership

It is high time for organizations and talent development leaders to forge a stronger partnership with emerging sciences, including positive organizational studies such as “Psychological Capital” (Youssef and Luthans 2012) and neuroscience or “NeuroLeadership” (Boyatzis 2011). Indeed, to be successful, organizations must mobilize research-based support for leadership development, and even “Followership” (Rigio et al. 2008) —the flip side of leadership.

In particular, evidence is growing to support the return on investment (ROI) that positivity can have on organizations. For example, Psychological Capital, described as “positively oriented psychological capacities associated with optimism, hope, confidence, and resiliency,” can now be measured, managed, and used by training and development for performance improvement. In fact, utility analyses estimate that a 2.5-hour positive training experience for engineer managers a $100,900 average salary produced a 270 percent ROI (Peterson et al. 2008:342).

In addition, neuroscience research suggests that action observation is action execution (Cattaneo and Rizzolatti, 2009, Iacoboni 2009). Essentially, this means that "seeing is doing." Therefore, distributed leadership (leaders not only at the top, but all levels of an organization) should present a model of positive and ethical behavior (Neubert et al. 2009).  The point: others are watching, and they will “mirror” the behaviors that they see.  

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Finally, neuroscience research finds that a positive leader will energize the workplace, building and sustaining high-quality links at work—turning the workplace into a genuine “knowledge-creative hot-spot.” In other words, positivity can create a work environment buzzing with innovation and energy. This is “positive social modeling” via positive upward spirals toward optimal individual and organizational functioning, as well as shared positive affect in workgroups. Conversely, de-moralized or toxic leaders and environments will further demoralize employees, promote low-quality connections at work, and drive away followers altogether—magnifying damage to the organization (Velsor and Leslie 1995).

Final Word 

To make a long story short, leadership and leadership development seem to be a trinity of art, craft, and science. Although the old adage that “leaders are born” might be true, extremely great leaders are developed. The key to these great leaders: they never stop learning.

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