The boss report: The leader of tomorrow

Get ready: the boss is not like he used to be.

The Boss report: 2006 | 2005

Intro | The vanishing boss | The leader of tomorrow | Staying healthy | Tricks for communicating | How to exude power

Say goodbye — and good riddance — to the ego-driven, desk-thumping CEO. Today's more educated and worldly workers just aren't buying that act anymore. The blowhard won't be missed. Forward-thinking companies are looking for a different kind of leader. One who is a team player in the truest sense of the word. The kind of chief who deflects the glory to underlings, letting them fight battles and win wars. A boss who creates a working environment where the talented have a chance to show off. This manager, by the way, will more likely be a woman or a minority — not because of some altruistic message a company wants to send to the community, but because of its enlightened self-interest.

Employees of all ranks, not just leaders, could soon be in short supply if the numbers pan out as expected. Successful companies will have to figure out how to broaden their attraction to all kinds of workers, but especially the fastest-growing segments of the labour force: women and minorities. What better way to do that than having a role model at the top of the company for those target demographics to look up to? “Smart organizations of the future are going to be spending additional time and focus on getting minorities and women into the senior leadership ranks so they can better tap into the minority and female labour force,” says Carl Lovas, chairman of Ray & Berndtson Canada, an executive search firm based in Toronto.

Will the glass ceiling at long last shatter? It has already begun to crack. Women accounted for two-thirds of labour market gains — or 884,400 jobs — between 1991 and 2001, according to the 2001 census. (The participation rate for 25- to 44-year-old women peaked in June 2004, however, and growth has tapered off of late.) The census also showed women were making inroads in non-traditional areas, particularly occupations that normally require a university education. The number of women in business, finance and technology at least doubled during the 10-year period, while female managers increased by more than 40%. As for minorities, the birth rate remains low, and Canada will have to boost immigration — or else be crushed by a combination of productivity declines and pension deficits.

Demographic changes aside, companies aren't going to expect any less from their leaders. If anything, next-generation bosses will have more skills than their present-day counterparts do. Yes, they'll likely still have MBAs, though soft skills will be just as important as having fundamental or technical business knowledge. But a lot of the leadership skills companies are looking for haven't changed in years and likely won't anytime soon. Traditional attributes such as ambition, drive, intelligence, discipline, communication skills and relationship skills are still highly valued. Still, those who rise to the top in the future will have to have broader business and life experiences to draw upon and be able to foster a sense of teamwork. “Leadership is not about creating followers only,” says Nancy Greer, academic lead of the MA in leadership and the MBA leadership stream at Royal Roads University in Victoria. “It's about creating other leaders. I'm at my finest as a leader when I have created an organization full of individuals who can exercise leadership in support of the common goals and objectives that we share.”

Jocelyn Bérard, managing director at DDI Canada, a human-resources consultant in Toronto, says these leaders will be able to bring out the best in others, be open to and — more importantly — act on feedback, and enjoy navigating grey zones. The new leadership breed will also be cognitively advanced enough to ask questions, socially intelligent enough to work sensitively in ambiguous situations, and emotionally intelligent enough to resolve conflicts. In other words, playing well with others in a diverse set of relationships and alliances, both internally and externally.

That's even more important considering Canadian companies are now competing for talent and business in a global context. Being able to relate to different cultures, regions and even languages outside the North American context is already an asset. And the earlier those skills are attained, the better. “In the last very short while, globalization has just gained a huge level of momentum in everybody's lives,” Lovas says. “People who truly understand we're dealing with a multicultural, multiregional world will have a huge leg up. That means language skills, social skills, knowledge and experience of more than one culture, one society, one region, will be very important.”

Ultimately, who succeeds and who fails in the quest for the top spot might very well depend on how “resilient” a person is. That's a philosophy that Diane Coutu promoted in a 2002 article in the Harvard Business Review, in which she concluded resilient individuals share three unique characteristics: a resolute acceptance of reality, a sense that life is meaningful and an exceptional ability to improvise. But if recognition of diversity and resilience are the buzzwords for the next century, figuring out whether you have those softer skills isn't easy. You have to be honest with yourself about your performance. How effective are you in creating and maintaining successful relationships with others at work? Do you like working in a team environment or prefer flying solo? Are you good at resolving conflicts that satisfy everyone concerned?

Find yourself lacking? Fortunately, such skills can be taught just as well as the hard numbers. Some will be able to pick them up from observing other leaders, while others can acquire them through more formal methods such as professional coaching or an advanced business degree.

The one thing you can count on is that you're just as likely to make it to the top of a different company than the one you're with today. No one expects a job for life anymore, and neither should they expect to stay at the same company, Lovas says. External candidates are getting more than a cursory glance these days as companies strive to do their due diligence. “We're living in a much more competitive global world, where organizations don't have the luxury they may once have had to have less than the best possible person available attracted to a senior role,” Lovas says. And don't expect that to change just because there may be fewer leadership candidates hanging around.