If there is just one thing that you could do differently this year to make yourself a better leader, what would it be?

The stakes are actually quite high because being a “better leader” doesn’t quite mean what it used to mean. Leadership in the Industrial Era was often quite synonymous with management. Being a great leader was about being a great executor – a great “do-er” even.
We’ll get to that in a moment.

But in the Digital Era, things are different. You not only need to become a better leader, you need to become a different kind of leader.

So what is the one thing that you can do this year to make yourself a better, different kind of leader? The kind of leader that will be in the greatest demand in the Digital Era?

The answer may surprise you: LESS.

In his Harvard Business Review article entitled Doing Less, Leading More, executive coach Ed Batista explains that this is a common problem as young professionals move from roles in which they are the “do-ers” into roles in which they were expected to lead. He explains that most of us begin by believing that we can “lead by example” and simply outwork and outperform those who are meant to follow us.

As you probably know from painful experience, that rarely creates an energized, productive environment. So the first part of doing less is simply a recognition that to be an effective leader you need to be focused on, well, leading – not doing. But that is still a bit of basic leadership. It will be just as true in the Digital Era as it was in the Industrial Era, but as we move forward the stakes will simply increase.

Doing Less to Change Your Focus In The Digital Era

Doing less is about more than just not being a “do-er” any longer. It’s also about shifting your focus.

As we move into the Digital Era the pace of change and the pace of work will simply continue to increase. The breaking down of structural boundaries that served as a sort of protective guardrail in the Industrial Era, will only serve to leave the pace of work and the rate of change unbounded. To be an exceptional leader will require greater and greater focus on a narrower and narrower set of activities in order to keep up. But which activities?

In a recent study by Gap International entitled, Tapping Into Genius, there was a common thread amongst the leaders studied: a focus on the success of other people. Fully 87% of the executives studied expressed that this focus was the catalyst of their exceptional performance, even if they didn’t fully recognize it themselves.

Ironically, the move into the Digital Era will result in an increase in the importance of the human connection and an even greater reliance on human potential, despite being an era defined by and driven by technology. To be a better leader this year, you need to do less and use the time and energy you recapture to focus on the success of others. In a world in turmoil, a focus on others will be a competitive differentiator.

The Attributes of a Transformational Leader

There is one question that remains, however. Is simply being a “leader” enough in this era? The answer is no. You must, in fact, become a transformational leader. But what does that really mean?

The idea of the “transformational leader” has become a bit of a hyperbole. It’s a term that gets thrown around, but as a result doesn’t really mean that much. And it’s a fair guess that if you were to announce yourself as a “transformational leader” at a networking event, you would be subject to a bit of ridicule.

Nevertheless, taken from the proper perspective, there is real value in the term and the ethos that the term is meant to represent. In a recent article for Women In Technology International (WITI), author and speaker Cheryl Cran described the eight key attributes of a transformational leader. She included attributes such as:

  • A focus on transforming themselves, others and their organizations
  • A focus on doing what’s right
  • A focus on evolutionary growth through what brings energy to people and situations
  • A focus on constructive disruption

These attributes and the others she identifies all point to the same common theme: spend less time doing the small things, focus on people and focus on how to move yourself and your organization forward.

Fighting the Day-to-Day

The challenge for most of us is that our day-to-day lives consume us from the moment we wake until the moment we plug our phone in next to our bed and go to sleep hoping beyond hope that we will not work in our sleep as well. We are challenged to do more with less, to do more faster and to simply do a little more each day than we did the day before.

But if this year you seek to become a better leader, a transformative leader, a leader for the Digital Era, then the key will be to fight off the onslaught of the day-to-day.

It will be the only way that you can focus on doing less…so that you can focus on doing more.

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