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How global leadership is evolving – and what needs to happen next

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To celebrate TPCL’s 20th anniversary, we’re catching up with colleagues around the world. In this blog, we hear how the leadership scene has evolved over time. 

In the leadership game, a lot can change in a decade. New approaches come and go, coaching strategies develop, client demand drives progress. To keep ahead of the curve, leaders must be nimble, innovative, and open to new ideas.

These are the conclusions of three TPCL partners — Annelieke Jense and Frouke Horstmann in the Netherlands, and Andrea Cardillo in Italy — a trifecta of leadership experts who recently met to discuss the company’s global presence ten years since expanded beyond the UK. 

Keeping up with the market

For Andrea, most of the changes have come from the market side as businesses get to grips with new concepts.  

“Things like coaching and emotional intelligence are nowadays much more mainstream than they used to be,” he says. “I think leadership is understood much more as a soft skill rather than just managerial.

“There has been a shift in companies, even in management and strategies, which requires a company to be much more purpose-oriented and to ensure that the brand values and internal culture are authentically aligned.”

The onset of the principle of ‘shared value’ has been critical too, Andrea believes, resulting in TPCL pivoting away from conventional leadership training and towards consulting “top management and senior management to create a kind of alignment as a strategic resource.”

Frouke agrees. She has noticed a change in coaching language – ‘purpose’, ‘meaning’, ‘self-development’ are all becoming more common. It used to be our coaching language and the case that clients had to be convinced to take the time to monitor their employees’ well-being and progress, but not anymore.

This, Frouke says, is especially true in the COVID-19 era.

“Because of the pandemic, the word ‘thrive’ – how do you make your people ‘thrive’ – has become common business language as well and is fundamental because it’s about how to unleash the potential. These were words we didn’t typically want to use because they were so ‘coachy’, and we wanted to talk in the language of the client.”

Working within an ecosystem

Leaders also appear to have broader awareness than they used to, says Frouke, as companies have learnt the importance of working in an “ecosystem.”

“It’s not just about them being the best, instead they have to work together with the competition. On the whole that softens a culture and changes the mindset of the leaders.”

The TPCL mindset has shifted as well, says Annelieke, with a determined effort to improve scalability by taking a more focused approach to clients. Likewise, with the proliferation of social media, the firm has had to find its voice — “not shouting and being arrogant… but letting people know we’re here.”

A new approach to HR

Recent changes in the HR scene have been significant, too. From round table meetings with industry leaders, Frouke has learned that personnel teams are being folded more and more into corporate strategies.

“When we started, it was more HR knocking on management’s door, asking ‘can you please listen to me? I have something important to say’. Now the leadership comes to them.”

Indeed, HR is the element of leadership that has evolved the most in recent years, says Frouke — transforming from an operational, function to a more strategic and crucial role that encourages leaders to create a culture where people thrive.   

Unfortunately though, with budgets crunched by the pandemic, there’s been some backsliding.  

“As soon as the crisis hit… all L&D budgets were cut straight away. I’m talking, for example, about the big four consultancies,” says Annelieke. “So it is still the case in many places that if L&D and HR are not embraced at the top, those people don’t have a lot of influence.” 

That being said, Andrea believes HR has stamped its place on the stage of corporate strategy — a move aided by the onset of new technologies. 

“HR work cannot just be administrative or operational,” he says, “because nowadays, typical administrative functions within HR can be easily robotized or automatized.”

There’s been an equally significant shift in how leadership as a whole is viewed, says Andrea. “Companies are moving beyond the principle of one, unitary leader, exploring the idea of ‘network leadership’ — leadership as a function that is played into a social system at every level, even at the shop floor.”

Leadership decentralized 

This trend of decentralizing decision making is likely to continue in the years ahead, predicts Andrea, with a move to enable staff to make judgments at all levels of an organisation. This isn’t an ethical or philosophical requirement, he says, but a necessity owing to the complexity and change in company environments.

“The closer you are to the shop floor or to the client, the easier it is for people to make choices because it’s impossible for the top of the organization to gather all the information and make wise decisions.”

Curiously, this evolution is likely to encourage some of the leadership’s oldest principles, says Annelieke: innovation and entrepreneurialism. 

“These key leadership skills continue to be really important. Being innovative also means that you need to have corporate rebels, because it needs to be embraced, and that means that you’re allowed to rock the boat, you’re allowed to say where things could be done differently, those wild new ideas are listened to.”

On a political front, too, today’s business leaders are having to make themselves heard, points out Frouke. Energy giant Shell is being sued over carbon emissions in the Netherlands, for instance — a flashpoint in the sustainability debate that corporate leaders are speaking out on. 

“They’re asked to take a stand on political, societal issues. I don’t know what to think about it, but that’s a trend that you really see. Some seem to feel very comfortable about it, and some are more defensive about it,” says Frouke. 

“I think this will be even stronger in the coming years, that leaders are asked to take a stand.”

Keen to keep ahead of the leadership curve? Don’t hesitate to get in touch

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