Is Your Concept of Leadership Outdated?

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This article first appeared on Happify

I remember my earlier years growing up amongst older siblings, parents, teachers, and elders who mostly told us children what to do. Obeying orders was what our lives were about—while secretly waiting for the day when we would be old enough to order others around.

Perhaps you too grew up in an age of hierarchy, where you found yourself at the bottom rung of the ladder of reverence. It was a world modeled after the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and successfully replicated in families, schools, and organizations around the world.

In less than a generation, we’ve moved on. We’ve now entered what author Aaron Hurst calls the “Purpose Economy,” where we each want to be the author of our own lives. And this change is reflected in our social structures, which are now more like networks and less like the command-and-control units of old.

This calls for a new form of governance. Instead of leaders telling others what to do, we need them to make sure that each individual on their team gets to show up fully toward a common goal. Sam Walker, a Wall Street Journal editor and author of The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams, calls such leaders “captains.” And his research has found that captains are not born. They are first identified and then developed by nurturing a key set of skills that are crucial for internal leadership and a winning culture.

A person who can potentially be developed into a future captain is one who:

Is Autonomous

Captains are the buffer between management and employees. As such, they are often required to make decisions on the fly, or change course if that’s what their team needs to succeed. They are the people who take care of the administrative details so that employees are not burdened with the pressures of dealing with management.

Shuns Attention

Captains are team players. They do not seek attention or bask in the limelight. Instead, they often work silently to ensure that their team has what it needs to perform at its best. They make the cogs work, and are happy being invisible as long as things are going well. Walker found that their leadership becomes most crucial when teams weather rough times.

Listens Attentively

Captains have a distinct way of communicating. They’re not the ones giving great speeches or addressing their team as if it were a pack. Instead, they circulate amongst their team, talking to everybody individually, listening attentively, and making sure each person’s needs are being met so they can go out and do their best work.

Has Emotional Control

Captains are also the ones who are best able to manage their emotions. They have a high level of emotional intelligence that helps them keep their emotions under control in tough and challenging times. This helps them remain clear-headed, while enabling their team to stay focused on what’s most important for the organization.

Is Aggressive When Needed

Finally, captains can be aggressive and feisty when needed. When things get rough and the team needs someone to hold the fort and stand up for them, they can count on the captain to do so. As such, the captain is the person who is so well aligned with the organization’s purpose that their loyalty to it outweighs their personal advancement. Carl Jung’s work emphasized that these qualities exist in each one of us. The better we’re able to integrate them into our psyche and behaviors, the more we rise in our consciousness.

It seems that the world is urging us toward this higher consciousness. The monumental challenges before us are calling on each one of us to bring about positive change. And the work of today’s leaders is to help each individual rise to his or her highest potential, leaving the world a little better than they found it.

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