Leaders write the future. This is true whether they are prepared for that responsibility or not. From corporate executives to school teachers, the opportunity to seize the future and change it rests on the same basic principles of human development.
Essentially, those principles can be summed up in the idea that to create a new future and explore new possibilities, we must have people who are prepared to make the journey. Human growth and change is the genesis of the future. Celebrated American author William Arthur Ward said, “Leadership is a serving relationship that has the effect of facilitating human development.” In other words, a leader builds people.
A small business survey of leadership qualities from 2014 showed that establishing and communicating a vision, seeking input from others and inspiring employees to action were the most important qualities in a leader. Communication and cultivation are the core of interpersonal development, the key to shaping the future.
But how do leaders effectively guide an organization to create the future they envision?
Creating conversation frameworks
Conversation expert and leading executive consultant Aviv Shahar says that conversation is critical for leaders to master. “You can try catching up with change that’s happening around you, or you can lead the change,” writes Shahar. “To create and lead — and not merely cope with the future — you must be strategic and purposeful in your communication. A better word for this communication, a more inclusive and dynamic expression of it, is conversation.”
Every aspect of business – from caring for clients to developing better products and managing teams – revolves around a multi-dimensional conversation. If we are to create new futures, we must first create new conversations. Leaders are uniquely poised to control this conversation, so it is their job to ask, “Are we having the right conversation? Are we getting the most out of it? Is there a better conversation we should be having right now?” To do this, Shahar says each conversation should rely on a framework meant to maximize the opportunities presented and glean new information, new perspectives and new ideas.
Listening with intention and shaping strategic questions to draw out the most genuine responses become critical parts of this communication. Conversation frameworks capitalize on our most important resource: people and their thoughts.
Enabling others to act
Facilitating and guiding the efforts of those around you is a cornerstone to good leadership, according to the authors of the Leadership Challenge. “Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity.”
No obstacle is overcome alone and no future is created by the hands of one person. Shaping and setting a course and then pursuing it requires teamwork. The stronger each member of the team, the better the outcome of the work as a whole. Building up the people in a team, reinforcing them with support and assistance, ultimately works to create a stronger, more capable unit. For best results, add trust and respect.
Just as conversation draws out the best of human ideas, trust and respect draw out the best of human action. This requires investment in employees and partners as people and not just as human capital. A nearly foreign concept in the corporate world, leaders need to put a personal touch back into their personnel.
Building up yourself
The old adage that we lead by example is completely true. One of the great leadership qualities especially displayed in women, according to business consultant Glenn Llopis, is the persistent pursuit of their passions. Llopis explains that women in leadership unapologetically pursue their interests, which makes them more motivated to achieve their tasks and serves to motivate those around them.
If we expect those who work with or for us to be passionate, driven and inspired, we must be as well. And this extends well beyond the confines of the office. Our passions begin with our interests, and our interests are shaped by information and experience. So building up ourselves as well-rounded individuals may actually make us better leaders in more specific arenas.
Taking time to invest in ourselves is crucial to being a successful leader. There is no room for the self-sacrificial hero in the great ascent into the future. No man left behind includes you, too.
So how should executives think about the future? They should think about it as something that they create. And how do leaders create it?
You coach your team to build its self-efficacy and engender a culture that’s ready to embrace change. You help your team develop new learning muscles and build the excitement needed to generate and sustain forward momentum.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.