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I wrote a column for the Argus Leader almost one year ago titled “The Year of the Leader.”
That’s what I had called for 2017 to be, noting that “in many corners of our business community, it’s time for some new blood to start making an impact.”
“The challenge,” I continued, “is to grow our next generation of leaders as well as we grow our building and business statistics.”
Often, those of us in the media are great at making predictions and projections for a coming year but rarely circle back to them to see how things materialized.
In this case, I’m not sure my message went far enough.
It has been a year of changing leadership throughout our business community. New leaders emerged at the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Avera McKennan, Wells Fargo, Augustana University, the University of Sioux Falls and other organizations.
The coming year will bring additional transitions at Avera Health, the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, USD, the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship and others I am sure.
Demographics indicated years ago this was coming as baby boomers edged toward retirement. And some turnover is always present, including at the executive level.
But while we knew we would need a new generation of leaders, here’s what I think many of us didn’t fully anticipate: The organizations they will lead are vastly different from the organizations their predecessors were hired to lead. And the world in which we’re living calls on leaders to have skill sets I’m not sure many of us have fully developed.
“Tell me,” someone asked me in a meeting recently, “which businesses in the community do you consider learning organizations?”
I easily named a handful. But truth is they all need to be.
This past year was the first year in several that I haven’t taken an online class – I had all I could handle starting the business. But in 2018, I need to take at least one because that’s how fast my industry is changing. My guess is yours is, too.
If your company also is encountering the dual challenge of growth plus industry change, your leaders likely need to be constantly learning. And they need to be promoted into leadership positions based in part on their ability to learn.
Here’s the other element of leadership I didn’t see coming.
“The Year in Anxiety,” proclaimed a news alert on my phone the other day.
“Between threats of nuclear war and a perfect storm of natural disasters, 2017 has seen a lot of heart-pounding push notifications … and Xanax prescriptions,” read the introduction to a piece that went on to remind me about North Korea, the Las Vegas mass shooting, hurricanes, wildfires and incidents of racism, sexism and xenophobia.
While we have been blessed in Sioux Falls with a year free of mass disasters, the effect of these anxiety-producing events is still felt here. It’s something many carry with them into the workplace and something leaders must keep in mind as they manage.
Many of our local business executives – male and female – also have told me they’re unsure of how to navigate gender interaction in the workplace in light of increasing allegations of harassment and abuse.
All these new realities require leaders to possess emotional intelligence at a level some might not have developed. These skills can be learned, but, again, there needs to be an intentional effort at acquiring them.
The good news is there are resources in our community through higher education and specialized trainers, and online through a multitude of channels.
So whether you’re an executive yourself, a leader trying to groom a successor, or a board member overseeing an executive, be intentional about strengthening the quality of leadership across our business community. It’s just as important, if not more, than anything else we’ll do in business this year.
Leadership in 2018 requires a constantly evolving set of skills — most especially, the ability to learn.