Leadership lessons from the front line

By Judith O’Neill*

LISTENING to the Travel Industry Mentor Experience (TIME) graduates earlier this month, I was delighted and relieved to know that we are nurturing our future leaders within the travel and tourism industry.
The knowledge, experience and skills of the TIME Mentors, who freely give their time to the mentees and the not-for-profit TIME program, is invaluable.

These mentors have been or still are leaders in their field. Their advice and guidance has helped some of the industry’s future leaders expand their current roles, recognise the changes they must make and reach for the stars.

There are certain qualities of leadership that were important one hundred years ago – and will still be important one thousand years from today. Elements such as demonstrating integrity, leading by example, creating a vision, motivating people, developing talent, ensuring customer satisfaction, and maintaining a competitive advantage were important in the past and will be important as long as businesses exist.

So is the role of a business leader changing? Will the qualities of a great leader be different in the future – or is great leadership timeless?

A research study by Dr Marshall Goldsmith (recognised in 2009 as one of 15 most influential business thinkers in the world) asked more than 200 high-potential managers from organisations around the world how leadership has changed and is changing. Five factors emerged for the leader of the future.

1. Thinking globally – Historically the vast majority of leaders focused on local or domestic issues. Later, businesses began to become suppliers and customers to organisations from other counties. In the future leaders will have to be much more aware of the impact of globalisation on all aspects of their business.

2. Appreciating cross-cultural diversity – Fifty or even 35 years ago, there was little diversity in leadership. Almost all business organisations were run by white males. In the future, cross-cultural diversity will mean an appreciation of differences that span religions, cultures, and people around the globe.

3. Developing technological savvy – While leaders have always had to understand their businesses’ own core technology, they have not had to understand the larger impact that technology had on society and their customers. In the future, leaders will not all have to be ‘technologists’ but they will have to understand the impact that new technology has on their business, their customers and their world.

4. Developing alliances and partnerships – In the “old days”, most businesses had no partnerships or alliances. They were very proud of internally producing products and services. Today, organisations and businesses form alliances and partnerships every week. Leaders now and in the future will not just run linear organisations. They will manage complex sets of alliances and partnerships from around the world.

5. Sharing leadership – One of the important lessons mentors share with mentees is that the leader of the past knew how to tell – the best leaders and leaders of the future will know how to ask.

More and more leaders of the future will manage knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are employees who know more about their work than their boss does. It is hard to tell people what to do and how to do it when they know more than we do. Leadership in the future will involve more two-way involvement and sharing and less one-way direction.

Ensuring that you as a leader or the future leaders in your company, are “authentic”; can demonstrate or exercise judgment; have emotional intelligence or any other set of personal characteristics is only half the requirement.

The other half of leadership competencies is to really deliver results through the value they create for others. Leaders should build on their strengths that strengthen others. Simply put, leaders must deliver results to stakeholders.

  • Employees want to work in a place where they can meet their personal needs and wants. Leaders who create job assignments, work environments, and visions help employees be both competent and committed to their work.
  • Customers want leaders to build compelling products and services that they can trust and when they do, customers will happily pay.
  • Communities want leaders to build organisations that are socially responsible, through how they treat the environment and how they serve the larger community.
  • Investors want leaders to keep their promises; develop a compelling growth strategy; align core competencies to the strategy and then ensure that people are committed to delivering on these premises.
  • Regulators want leaders to govern themselves in accordance with high ethical principles and in a manner consistent with professional and legal standards.

So how do leaders of today and the future build the strengths to deliver value to others?

Effective leaders start by asking how they can add value to what each of the above stakeholders needs. Once this is clear, leaders match these needs against their existing strengths, identifying shortcomings and making plans to develop personal competencies that deliver on stakeholders’ needs.

*Judith O’Neill is a management consultant, business and corporate coach. She is the principal of Aspirations Consulting and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Judith can be contacted on telephone (02) 9904 3730 or email: [email protected] or visit



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