But What Have You Done for Leadership Lately?

Today I listened to a 15-minute Harvard Business Review IdeaCast interview featuring executive coaching guru, teacher, and author Marshall Goldsmith, author of the Ask the Coach blog on HarvardBusiness.org and the recent book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

In the interview, Goldsmith answers some questions that have come up on his blog.

One of the issues he covers is how to influence your boss. The assumption is that the challenge here is not related to managing a team, but rather dealing with the boss and upper management in general. Goldsmith says one important concept that is “incredibly simple” is nonetheless very poorly understood. Everything, he says, revolves around one variable: who has the power to make the decision. It’s not about  who is right or better looking or anything else, but who has the power to decide. “As obvious as that sounds, it’s amazing how few people get this.” When you’re dealing with your boss, or bosses, you have to sell the idea. They have the power. “The first thing to do when selling to upper management is think like a salesperson.”

In another part of this same interview, Goldsmith addresses the changing nature of leadership. He describes a study of qualities of leadership past and future. Some of the elements were the same — integrity, for example, and communicating a vision. But they found five new qualities of leaders in the future:

  1. Thinking globally. Even leaders in the domestic market need to look globally at workers, suppliers, support staff, and so forth. Even small business is often global.
  2. Appreciating cross cultural diversity. Business in the last century learned to accept gender and ethnicity. For the future, it goes beyond that, towards a much wider sense of what it means to work with different cultures, different religions, and different people.
  3. Technological savvy. You have to be technically competent enough to navigate in the new world. Sorry, no way around this one. It’s the future.
  4. Building alliances and partnerships. Companies don’t go it alone anymore.
  5. Sharing leadership. Historically the leader knew more than direct reports, in an apprentice model. Today, most leaders manage knowledge workers, who frequently know more than the boss. So leaders have to ask, listen, and learn.

A blog reader suggested that another quality of leadership is “learning agility.” Given that the world we live in seems to change more quickly than ever, leaders have to be able to adapt more quickly, and that means learning fast and well. Goldsmith adds also that asking — as in asking people for input, listening to opinions and suggestions of others — is a critical factor in leadership in today’s world. Leaders who ask for input, listen, respond, and follow up are the new leaders. They don’t just communicate down,they listen up.


  • Sandy Cutler says:

    Tim – I just recently found this Blog. Excellent information on the changing nature of leadership. My own research on leadership confirms two of the comments in your Blog. Being a good listener and being a life-long learner are both key characteristics of successful leaders. For more on my leadership research look at the Building Trust tab on my website.

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