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What Makes a Leader Worth Following?

Feature Article | August 17, 2017 by Daniel Renkel

Intelligence, having a thick skin, determination, and being a visionary are characteristics a leader must embody. In times minted by the war of talents and disruptive technologies, there is a lot more to being a great leader.

Be Wise Rather than Smart as a Leader

Leadership expert and author of the book “Emotional Intelligence” Daniel Goleman sees a clear shift of priorities in leadership – from cognitive to emotional qualities. Currently, it still works out to have hardliners focusing on short-term goals and increased shareholder values in the leadership ranks.

Remember famous Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who embossed generations of managers during his 20 years of radical leadership in the company. Welch exemplifies perfectly the qualities of what Goleman defines as a smart leader: a person who possess the cognitive abilities to drive initiatives and follow-through on set targets with little consideration for employees.

Contrary to that, Goleman has coined the term wise leaders for managers with a great portion of skills in the emotional spectrum.

Emotional intelligence exceeds the cognitive thinking and encompasses capabilities like self-confidence and initiative, bouncing back from setbacks, staying cool under stress, empathy and powerful communication, collaboration, and teamwork. According to Goleman, studies have shown that emotional intelligent leaders have a positive impact on business outcomes and in the end top-line growth. Especially by adding the millennials and new disruptive technology into a company portfolio.

Pay Attention to Young Employees

Millennials are 20 to 36 years old and a force to be reckoned with. By 2030, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce says Business Professional Women’s Foundation. With all the positive commentary about millennials being the first generation that is technology savvy alongside being energized and open-minded, comes also negative perceptions. Selfishness, entitlement, and disloyalty are just a few of the negative connotations the word millennial carries. Leaving this pros and cons game aside the fact that this generation must be managed and lead sooner than later still holds true.

A typical millennial wants to be heard, treated fairly and desires a great deal of transparency. If you map these values against the leadership traits of the smart and wise leader it becomes clear that wise leaders will be better equipped leading this generation to new economic heights.

Technology Influences the Way We Lead

We are living in the middle of a technological revolution that will re-define the way business works and how we live our private lives. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things already have and will have a great impact – this is no secret. Well, it might have been for Jack Welch who avoided investments in research and development and innovation.

However, just imagine the way Google searches or how daily routines like grocery shopping will work in 10 years. Information is already being commoditized, the way of accessing it will increase in efficiency on levels we cannot imagine today. Combine this with the fact that companies reward their leadership folks for having the right answers it becomes obvious that there is a duplication here: with internal systems leveraging Big Data thanks to self-learning algorithms the cognitive aspect of leadership will lose its value. Machines will be faster and more efficient.

Taking cognition out of the equation, future leaders are left with a complementary ability – the value of asking the right questions. Successful leaders will be measured against their competency of leveraging their emotional intelligence to: one, putting themselves in the shoes of their employee and customer and two, asking then the right questions.

As soon as the technological revolution takes off in a big fashion and daily live changes to extreme extends, the wise leader is the one who will lead companies and its workforce, the millennials, into a promising future.


About the SAP Center for Digital Leadership

As a leading digital pioneer, the SAP Center for Digital Leadership helps CxO customers and their organizations to navigate their digital transformation and lead with innovation. Based on SAP’s internal digital transformation learnings, the research agenda and meetings with more than 150 CxO customers per year, the center provides leaders with best practices for leading digital transformation.

The network and partner ecosystem represents today’s and tomorrow’s leaders in digital business. Partners like European Space Agency and Wacom trust the center and jointly create digital open ecosystems.

For more information, visit www.sap.com/digitalleadership.

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