What Makes A Leader Worth Following?

Daniel Renkel

Intelligence a thick skin, determination, and being a visionary are characteristics a leader must embody. But in times shaped by the war of talent and disruptive technologies, there is a lot more than that to being a great leader.

Be a wise, not smart, leader

Leadership expert and author of the book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman sees a clear shift of priorities in leadership—from cognitive to emotional qualities. Currently, it still works out to have hardliners focusing on short-term goals and increased shareholder values in the leadership ranks.

Remember Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who oversaw generations of managers during his 20 years of radical leadership in the company. Welch exemplifies perfectly the qualities of what Goleman defines as a smart leader: a person who possess the cognitive abilities to drive initiatives and follow-through on set targets with little consideration for employees.

Contrary to that, Goleman has coined the term wise leaders for managers with skills in the emotional spectrum.

Emotional intelligence exceeds cognitive thinking and encompasses capabilities like self-confidence and initiative, bouncing back from setbacks, staying cool under stress, empathy, and powerful communication, collaboration, and teamwork. According to Goleman, studies have shown that emotionally intelligent leaders have a positive impact on business outcomes and in the end, top-line growth—especially when they add millennials and new disruptive technology into a company portfolio.

Pay attention to young employees

Millennials, who range from 20 to 36 years old, are a force to be reckoned with. By 2030, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce, according to the Business Professional Women’s Foundation. With all the positive commentary about millennials being the first generation that is technology-savvy as well as energized and open-minded, there is a flip side. Selfishness, entitlement, and disloyalty are just a few of the negative connotations the word millennial can carry. Pros and cons aside, the fact is, this generation must be managed and lead sooner than later.

A typical millennial wants to be heard and treated fairly, and desires a great deal of transparency. If you map these values against the leadership traits of the smart and wise leader, it becomes clear that wise leaders will be best equipped leading this generation to new economic heights.

Let technology influence the way you lead

We are living in the middle of a technological revolution that will redefine the way business works and even how we live our personal lives. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things already have, and will continue to have, a great impact—that is no secret (well, it might have been for Jack Welch, who avoided investments in research and development and innovation).

However, just imagine how Google searches or daily routines like grocery shopping will happen in 10 years. Information is already being commoditized; how we access it will increase in efficiency on levels we cannot imagine today. Combine this with the fact that companies reward their leaders for having the right answers, and there is clear duplication here: With internal systems leveraging Big Data thanks to self-learning algorithms, the cognitive aspect of leadership will lose its value. Machines will be faster and more efficient.

Taking cognition out of the equation, future leaders are left with a complementary ability: the value of asking the right questions. Successful leaders will be measured by their ability to leverage emotional intelligence to put themselves in the shoes of their employees and customers, and asking the right questions.

As soon as the technological revolution takes off and daily life changes significantly, the wise leader is the one who will lead companies and their millennial workers toward a promising future.

About the SAP Center for Digital Leadership

As a leading digital pioneer, the SAP Center for Digital Leadership helps CxO customers and their organizations to navigate their digital transformation and lead with innovation. Based on SAP’s internal digital transformation learnings, the research agenda, and meetings with more than 150 CxO customers per year, the center provides leaders with best practices for leading digital transformation.

The network and partner ecosystem represents today’s and tomorrow’s leaders in digital business. Partners like European Space Agency and Wacom trust the center and jointly create digital open ecosystems.

For more on this topic, visit www.sap.com/digitalleadership.


Daniel Renkel

About Daniel Renkel

Daniel Renkel is an IT business consultant for the Center of Digital Leadership at SAP.