The concept of an autocratic leader has been popularized by pop culture and enforced with high-rise office suites and no-nonsense, suit-clad CEOs. While the offices and suits remain to some extent, the approach of many business leaders has evolved into one that is more innovative.
Midsized to large companies usually lack the highly entrepreneurial nature of startups and often have more traditional leaders. For ventures borne out of the visions of specific individuals, it’s easy for a kind of mythos to crop up regarding the company’s founder. The impact that Steve Jobs had on Apple can still be felt well after his passing. However, this also means mature companies must reconcile the initial vision of the founder with new leadership and company growth.
Growth can be challenging but allows for opportunity. An office space that a company has outgrown permits leaders to more easily consider the physical spaces that facilitate collaboration and engagement. The aforementioned office suite may be the dream of up-and-coming managers, but modern leaders should themselves to be accessible to the rest of their team. Open layout floor plans are now a common practice among companies, and a mix of public and private spaces empowers employees to choose an environment that is most productive for them.
That said, open office spaces have been controversial. In fact, open floor plans can cut down on face-to-face interaction by 70%. The figurative sweet spot for companies includes several degrees of privacy, with isolated lounges, seating alcoves, and a minimum of closed-off offices. Contrary to what the buzz around Google’s office might suggest, adding an arcade machine and bar aren’t necessarily ways to revolutionize an office; it’s about learning the best fit for the culture.
In fact, learning and listening are perhaps the two biggest skills an entrepreneurial leader should cultivate. With centralized, definitive leadership on the decline, the void is filled by individuals willing to communicate with their teams and establish a culture based on their values. Modern leaders should have a vision, but should also be willing to actively solicit feedback and open channels for team members to provide it themselves.
Dialogue between all levels of a company helps provide variety of perspectives on various topics. Diversity of backgrounds and dialogue is very important. According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, 48% of companies with more diversity in management improved their market share compared to 33% of their less diverse counterparts. Introducing different perspectives can help leaders learn new approaches and even attract new talent—67 percent of job seekers consider it an important factor when looking for the next step in their career.
The underlying theme of communication in leadership reimagines teams as cohesive units that are empowered to collaborate and learn from each other. The role of a leader in these scenarios is less taskmaster and more coach, providing direction while also helping colleagues work through problems and develop professionally. A modern leader should be inspiring and willing to direct from the front, setting standards for employees to strive for while avoiding the pitfalls of micromanagement. Finding a balance between employee autonomy and corporate direction is the challenge of every management team—a process made easy by strong communication and opportunities for mentorship.
The need for leaders willing to make swift, intelligent decisions hasn’t gone away, but expectations have changed in this new era of responsible business. It’s up to the leaders of mature companies to reevaluate decades-old practices and encourage new thinking from workspaces to strategic perspectives. This can be critical to attracting new talent and discovering the potential of team members and the company.
Jonathan F. Foster
Founder & Managing Director – Current Capital Partners LLC