Date posted: 17/01/2019 10 mins. min read

What makes a good leader today?

Today’s leader must strike a balance between traditional authority and creating a space where connectivity thrives.

In Brief

  • The traditional attributes of a leader – having authority, setting a direction and maintaining control – are still relevant today.
  • To these must be added a vital new leadership skill – promoting connectivity in the workplace.
  • Today, good leadership hinges on an ability to lead across boundaries.

In traditional organisational constructs, it’s common to see a command-and-control approach as evidence of good leadership. You know the story: an authority figure gives orders which are carried out by a workforce who gain a level of satisfaction and security from executing a directive for which they bear little overarching responsibility. Someone else has the reins and workers are, by and large, glad of it.

But the zeitgeist would have us believe that this military-style leadership model, which served us so well through the industrial age, is dead. Having authority, setting a direction and maintaining control doesn’t work any more.

This is baloney.

Most of the principles in the old model still apply. But an added layer has evolved in response to the pace of change and complexity all sectors are facing. This new layer is called the Connectivity Quota.

“A good leader’s role is to create the conditions where connectivity can thrive.”
Adam Canwell, EY

Why promoting connectivity is crucial

Today, good leadership hinges on your ability to lead across boundaries. The Connectivity Quota has emerged as a dominant characteristic of good leadership because today’s problems (and opportunities) exist in the “space” between us. This is directly related to the quality of connections you can make with others. This is not just a pivotal factor in good leadership, it is the primary factor. A good leader’s role is to create the conditions where connectivity can thrive.

No-one can design from the top down the magnitude of cultural change organisations are currently facing. The fact is, we don’t know what it looks like. Leaders need a clearly defined understanding of the culture they are looking to develop. They need a sense of where their organisations will compete or play. They then need to create the conditions for people across the organisation to work on this. They need to stay open to course correction – they need to listen for what is working, what isn’t working – and then quickly adapt. The role of a leader is to create the right space – not to dictate top down.

As a result, organisations have become more porous. You can’t draw a hard line around EY these days. Our work is less transactional, more relationship based.

“Leaders need to listen for what is working, what isn’t working – and then quickly adapt.”
Adam Canwell, EY

Towards more agile leadership

The challenge for leaders today is that we are mostly entrenched in authority, direction and control. To be truly effective, however, we need to strike the balance between providing traditional assurances, and at the same time assessing our Connectivity Quota and how well we operate in the spaces in between. We may worry that this approach makes us vulnerable, but moving into meaningful connection with our colleagues and across our business, can yield a much stronger, more fluid and agile form of leadership.

Adam Canwell is global leader of EY’s Leadership Consulting Practice. He assists EY’s clients to identify and quickly develop leaders, and has worked with organisations ranging from not-for-profits through to major financial institutions. He holds a Master of Science in Organisational Change from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.