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How to Practice Great Leadership in Today’s Business World

How to Practice Great Leadership in Today’s Business World main image

Dr. Karl Moore from McGill University shares his insights on leadership, millennials and innovation in business today with QS TopMBA.com

Karl Moore, McGill University

Dr. Karl Moore is an associate professor at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada. He holds an appointment in the Department of Strategy and Organization at the Desautels Faculty of Management and is also the co-director of the Advanced Leadership Program, which he runs jointly with renowned management guru Henry Mintzberg. Prior to coming to McGill University and working with Henry Mintzberg, Dr Moore was on the faculty of Templeton College at the University of Oxford for five years, where he remains an associate fellow. He has taught extensively in executive education and MBA programs at many leading universities including London Business School, Cambridge, Darden, Cornell, INSEAD, Duke, the Drucker School, the Rotterdam School of Management, IIM Bangalore, Queen's, Oxford Saïd and McGill.

Is leadership innate or is it taught?

Well, it’s a combination, though I think it can be taught to a considerable degree. Some people have a natural presence and a natural empathy for other people, but I think that can also be taught. Senior leadership has evolved over the last twenty years in terms of not only what a leader is but also how they lead. Therefore it is an area for growth in terms of being taught, though I think ‘taught’ may be a strong word. It is not just teaching, it is also coaching, getting feedback on how you’re doing, getting someone to help you understand how to be more effective at a very hands-on, practical level.

You mentioned that leadership has changed. What do you think it means to be a leader today?

It is somewhat culturally bound. I teach regularly in China and India and it’s a bit different than in Western Europe and North America. In general though, my research has shown that the people who’ve learned the most about leadership in the last ten years are millennials, introverts, and women.

The millennials have a different world view than the people who manage them: the boomers, and Generation Y, and that impacts how they want to be lead. Millennials are much less hierarchical; therefore, they’re going to be less apt to respond to direct orders and using hierarchy. Millennials in general want to be involved and engaged in the conversation so that their views are taken onboard in a way that wasn’t true when I was their age.

Then it is interesting to look at introverts. Our traditional role models in leadership are extroverts, but I’m doing some research where I’m interviewing CEOs of companies about introverts in the C-suite. Results are showing that about a quarter to 30% of senior executives are introverts. This suggests that introverts can be really strong leaders as well and can bring considerable strengths to the mix of the senior team. Sometimes excellent leaders are quieter though, they are better at listening and that can be a key leadership skill.

Finally, regarding women, we’re much more open to women in leadership today. I’m doing some research, where I’m shadowing senior women executives. Many have characteristics which make them more effective leaders than many men. One of the points I make though, is that these are characteristics that men can have as well and so it’s an opportunity for us to grow as leaders by seeing what these skillsets are and employing them as leaders.

For example, collaboration is a strength that many, but not all, senior women leaders have, and it’s one which we need more in today’s global economy than we did 10 or 15 years ago. So what we see is that leadership is evolving in some ways. It’s less hierarchical. It’s more about listening than in the past. We’re co-creating strategies with more junior employees partly because strategies don’t last as long as they used to in most industries. What a leader does, has evolved to some degree over the past decade.

Have the chief leadership characteristics also changed then?

It depends on the context and the culture where those leadership characteristics will be used. For example, there’s a place and time obviously for a senior executive to give an inspiring speech and to stir up a vision. That would probably be true for the past as well as the present.

Increasingly though, what a good leader would do is spend more time listening than talking, more time trying to understand the perspectives of other people. Part of that is to help create strategies and emergent strategy often comes from the frontline where they’re dealing with real customers and real problems. From that, frontline middle managers create solutions and then the job of senior management is to spot which ones they should scale and spread throughout the organization.

Leaders therefore need to encourage innovation, and then consider which ideas will change the organization because they are much more in alignment with what customers are looking for, what competitors are doing, and what the real world needs. This is where the listening element comes in as opposed to just sticking with a strategy which lasts for years and years and years.

You mentioned that leaders need to encourage innovation in their teams. What are some ways that they can do that?

Well, it starts with creating a culture that encourages new and different approaches, so that employees come to work wanting to make changes and to seek out innovation.
There is just so much going on, that we need to keep moving in order to stay ahead of the competition and to offer great products and services to our customers. It’s a matter of creating a culture of wanting to learn from our customers and our changing environment, and establishing better alignment with that through innovation.

As a leader, you want to encourage your team to try lots of things. It’s not ‘failure’; it’s called ‘learning’. Occasionally we fail, we do something dumb and we don’t think it through but that’s the kind of culture you want to encourage.

Then you want to look for the black ink. We call this ‘proof of inquiry’ or ‘positive psychology’. It is important to also look at, “Where are we doing better than normal?” Then, we can ask, “What’s going on there? Is that something that we should take and replicate elsewhere?” So we look for the outliers, the positive outliers, in order to be able to look for things that we may wish to spread throughout the organization. So the role of senior management is not so much to have the ideas themselves but to spot good innovation and give resources to help it spread.

At McGill we have the ‘Hot Cities of the World Tour’. We’ve been to Israel, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, India, South Africa, Russia, and this year we went to Mongolia and Seoul for eleven days. The slogan of the trip is “Taking the Future to the Future”. We take young, future leaders to where the world economy is going. Next time, we’re going to Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Bali.

This is more about bubbling ideas up from the bottom which then creates change, which in turn leads to strategies over time. More an emergent kind of strategy which is used by Henry Mintzberg, with whom I work at McGill. This is opposed to a certain view, which is more about analysis in expensive five-star hotels for a weekend with the senior team, to come up with ideas. Though that’s still done, we think the emergent approach is more of a match for today’s world.

Written by Dawn Bournand

Dawn Z Bournand is associate director of the Executive MBA department at QS and handles editorial content for the department which includes serving as editor-in-chief of the QS TopExecutive Guide. Along with two of her QS colleagues, she recently wrote the book, QS TopExecutive Passport - Your essential document for entry into the world of Executive MBAs.  One of her favorite parts of the job is serving as an MBA/EMBA expert on webinars and panels, at conferences and in the media.

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