A Change in Leadership: Why Top-Down Leading is Dead.

What does it take to be a leader in today’s business culture? There are many schools of leadership out there and millions of opinions. A quick search on Google for “what is a good leader” resulted in over 45 million results. I have the opportunity to both lead and be lead. I worked in both the restaurant and grocery industry as a teen, the lawn and landscape industry in college as well as retail. My first “real” job was with a church and now I run my own marketing agency.

I’ve had good leaders, lazy leaders, motivational leads and down right terrible leaders. One thing they all had was a “top-down” mindset. This traditional form of leadership is quickly dying. While a number of major corporations still lead that way, the new leaders are shifting the paradigm. Instead of ruling from the top, they are leading along side their team, building companies that do more than ship a product or service.

Today’s dynamic leaders are driven by connections. They get the fact that people are driven more by intrinsic motivation than extrinsic motivation. They realize that their employees, contractors, freelancers and clients are people, not numbers.

From my personal experience, the traditional leadership platform creates leaders that are more interested in what they have to say and why they are right. While using force and intimidation can get people to follow you, those who do, often don’t respect you or look up to you.

The main difference between traditional leaders and new leaders is empathy. Our culture has shifted away from a “me focused” agenda to a “we focused” agenda. Millennials want to follow leadership who are like them. That will listen to them. Who will understand them. They don’t want dictators, they want mentors. Trust me, I know because I am one.

Empathy is a learned skill. While some are “born” more empathetic than others, we all must cultivate and nurture our empathy skills. It starts with learning how to listen. I’m a natural talker. In fact I talked so much as a kid my mom got me this stupid shirt.

What I’ve learned over the years is unless I am willing to listen (not just wait for my turn to speak, but listen) no one cared about what I had to say. Listening not only opened the ears of more people for me, it also helped me see things from other perspectives.

Perception is reality. If you are leading a group of people, it’s their perception of you that determines your effectiveness as a leader. If they think you’re a douche, you’re not going to be able to lead them well. Conversely, if you are seen as caring, trustworthy and inspiring, you’ll be able to crush it with your team.

When I look back at some of the traditional leaders in my life, behind them is a trail of burned out, angry and frustrated people. One of the worst phases I heard after someone left or stepped down was “they just couldn’t handle the pressure.” Sadly I didn’t have the guts to speak my mind at the time and address their abuse of those they lead.

If the 80/20 rule applies across the board, then about 20 percent of your people do 80 percent of the work. In the traditional leadership model, the 20 percent gets used until they burn out and then they are tossed aside. The “next man up” model is standard. The thing is, people notice. And now, businesses and organizations run this way are losing people left and right.

People want to be led. They want leaders who inspire them and push them to be their best. What they don’t want are leaders that are full of themselves. Developing empathy as a leader will give you the skills needed to connect. When you are able to listen, understand and feel what those you lead are feeling, you as a leader can lead at a whole new level.

Just because you listen and seek to understand those you lead, doesn’t mean you can’t be a strong leader. It’s actually harder to lead this way. But the benefits far out weigh the effort you put in. By developing and using empathy you’ll create a team and a culture built on mutual trust. People will want to follow your lead because they trust you.

Sure, you can continue to ride out the traditional leadership model until it’s officially declared dead, or you can choose to push yourself to be the best yet. Leading by example, means leading by example. All great leaders “did” and “do.” Yes they delegated, but they never saw themselves as “better than.” They get their hands dirty and seek to understand what their team is feeling.

Leadership means taking the risk to be vulnerable and get to know those you are leading. The economy has changed and so has leadership.