Has the Time come to Move On from Traditional Leadership Models?

by John McLaughlin, Global Commercial Director at Aon

With the seismic challenges and changes facing the world right now, there is an increasing sense that we are not creating the required leaders. With the leadership industry valued at a significant $50 billion, are we holding on to outdated and traditional leadership models that are simply not fit for purpose in today’s world?


While there may always be chatter around leadership competencies, frameworks and models, one thing is very clear: the future leader is a digital leader.

At the core of the digital leader is the same fundamentals that we all must have to be successful in the digital world. These fundamentals are:

  • The agility and flexibility to embrace and adapt to an ever-changing work environment. To think ‘on the fly’ and be able to change direction.
  • The curiosity to seek out, explore and examine possibilities – be they technology, product or market-related.
  • The drive to seek out opportunities for business and system improvement and also for learning.

All leaders will be digital leaders: they will require the following core competencies – and more.

To be Comfortable with Complexity and Change.

We know that change is the constant. Leaders need not to just cope with, but manage, change. They require resilience and also possess the ability to evoke this in others. They must be at ease with complexity, supporting others to maneuver change. Jobs will evolve continuously.

To Make Decisions with Incomplete Information.

Successful leaders are those capable of making decisions based on incomplete data – or with the insight to know that they lack specific skill sets or knowledge to make a decision. A successful leader is one who is humble enough to recognize these gaps and surround themselves with good people. That does not mean to say they need to make that decision in isolation. History is full of examples of great leaders surrounding themselves with great people. Think of Genghis Khan sparing the best people from the defeated opposition and bringing them into his own army. He recognized strong talent and paid them well.

As innovation and change speed up, leaders will need to find the balance between collaborative decision-making and accepting input from others, and speed of decision-making.

To Balance Risk with Innovation.

A further balancing act: between risk and innovation. The more risk we feel comfortable with, the more innovative we can be.

The challenge that traditional, typically larger organizations face is that their complexity tends to stifle innovation. However, that is not always the case: take Nestle as an example. Wanting to respond to the growing consumer trend of colorful versions of traditional foods, the global brand launched its Ruby KitKat within months.

To Look Outside the Ecosystem.

The successful leader of the future looks beyond an organization’s ecosystem and the current reality. They look at what customers value and go beyond that to consider how partners can collaborate to build a stronger customer offering. Leaders must be capable of seeing the potential in developing and leading an omni-channel business.

To be Conscious of EVP.

Worker preferences and needs will change. The successful leader will be cognizant of how the employer brand is perceived. They will need to understand the impact on people of remote working and virtual teams. They will need to be open to using different tools to manage and communicate and also recognize that the way in which they communicate, motivate and manage performance will need to flex to accommodate individual differences.

To be Coach.

No longer the ‘manager’, future leaders will grow into the role of ‘coach’. They will encourage their team to navigate solutions to challenges and manage their own career journeys.

Our work with clients encourages leaders to understand what is needed to move into the digital future and, ultimately, how best to develop.