Today’s safe leadership won’t cut it tomorrow

The workplace of the future will look much different than today’s. It will be more networked, global and connected. Technology will continue to disrupt as well as enable. The pace of change will increase while the complexity of our businesses will rise. Leadership will be challenged.

How will leaders of tomorrow keep up?

What has worked for leaders in the past decade may not work for leaders in the future. The shift leaders will have to make has little to do with their leadership skills and everything to do with the internal operating system that drives their behavior – their level of consciousness.

And, if leaders aren’t able to change their internal operating system with the same pace of change and complexity in our workplace, they won’t be able to successfully scale their businesses.

The Beginnings

The journey to upgrading your internal operating system begins with understanding that many of the assumptions, beliefs and models that drive your leadership behaviors stem from who you had to be for the person whose love you sought most at a very young age.

Every one of us created our identities and found self-worth by being a certain way based on what others wanted for us or expected from us.

Many leaders have found safety in relationships. This caused you to adopt ways of being formed on the premise that in order for you to be safe, you had to maintain your relationships, not disrupt them. Gifts that emerge from this include compassion, empathy and care.

Unfortunately, if the assumptions driving these tendencies go unchecked, the liability that emerges in personal relationships and the workplace are tendencies to be compliant, passive, and overly deferential. This “complying” style of leadership, where the leader gives up their power in search of harmony, comes at the expense of courageous conversations that are so necessary to driving results, innovation, and authentic relationships in work and life.

Other leaders have found safety in accomplishments. If achieving something coincided with love from a parent, personal ambition and drive were the means through which self-worth and identity were formed. Many of these gifts are rewarded in the workplace, and these leaders are focused on results, challenges and getting things done.

Unfortunately, when the assumptions driving these tendencies go unchecked, liabilities related to perfectionism, impatience, and patriarchal/matriarchal approaches to solving problems also emerge in the workplace and at home. This “controlling” style of leadership becomes a bottleneck, and the ability to create an empowered workforce dissipates.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” – Einstein

It’s normal and natural for human beings to have found these, and still other, places of safety and self-worth.

The challenge is that if we don’t grow beyond these reactive states of being, these liabilities override a leader’s ability to operate within the complexity, volatility and ambiguity that is our workplace today.

It becomes overwhelmingly difficult to scale a business.

From safety to purpose

So, how do you make the shift from a reactive style of leadership to one that is better equipped to deal with a complex and rapidly-changing workplace?

At 5.12 Solutions, this is the core of what we focus on with leaders in our executive coaching and leadership development programs. This journey of elevating your consciousness takes time, reflection, hard work, and motivation.

Here are a few ideas and questions to get you started.

STEP 1: Recognize your reactive tendencies.

Reflect on (and journal about) the following:

  • Whose love did you seek most growing up?
  • Who did you have to be for that person in order to gain their love?
  • How does your perception of their expectations still drive you today?
  • How and where do you find safety and self-worth in those tendencies?

Common responses I hear from my executive coaching clients include:

For complying styles:

“I had to be perfect”

“I had to get along with others”

“I had to be polite”

“I had to be buttoned up”

“I had to be good” (but maybe not great)

“I never got in trouble for not speaking up”

And for controlling styles:

“I had to be the star athlete”

“I had to an A student”

“I had to accomplish more than my father/mother believed possible”

“I had to win (at all costs)”

“I had to be better than others (no matter what)”

“I had to get everything just right (perfect)”

STEP 2: Understand the implications.

The tendencies you reflected on are critical to know about. They drive your leadership behaviors and shape your results.

It’s not wrong or bad to be the star athlete or an “A” student, nor to be “polite” and “buttoned up.” Those are all gifts.

The challenge is to see which parts of your thoughts and actions are based on the expectations of others and which are based on the purpose and vision you have for yourself. External validation can make us feel worthy, but true leadership comes from within.

Consider these questions:

When I lead based on others expectations for me:

  • How do my behaviors impact other people?
  • How is my decision making and approach to conflict distorted?
  • How do the assumptions that I have about myself and others limit my thinking?

If you were an overly-driven star athlete or straight-a-student with a win-at-all-costs attitude, that may show up in the workplace as perfectionism (the worst standard a leader can have – more on that in a future post) or difficulty in relationships.

The overly agreeable, polite and buttoned-up person may fail to share their voice or assert their perspective in team meetings. Those tendencies are just as destructive as the aggressive, controlling style leader.

STEP 3: Lead with purpose.

Now that you’ve reflected on when you are relying on a reactive style of leadership, take action.

  1. What do you really want for your own life? Are you sure that’s your purpose instead of trying to be something for someone else?
  2. What is the vision that you have for yourself and your team? How will you create a shared vision?
  3. What would you need to do or believe differently to be the architect of your life?
  4. How can growth and contribution become a driving force for why you exist as a leader?

Once you begin to start operating from a purpose-driven stance based on your own belief systems, values and reasons for being, you will be more likely to…

Show up as your true authentic self instead of how others want you to show up. This builds commitment, credibility and trust with the people around you.

Be less externally validated and more internally confident and steadfast.

Clearly express your beliefs, what you stand for and what the business stands for.

Lead from a place of vision and accountability, instead of autocracy.

Empower and engage people around you, instead of leading from a patriarchal/matriarchal position of power.

View courageous conversations as the essence of great relationships, instead of the bain of it.

Involve the right people in solving the complex problems that face us today.

Hold up multiple, even competing, visions as you are solving for the most significant problems in the workplace.

Remain composed in the face of constant change and intense pressure.

Make decisions because it benefits the organization as a whole, and not your personal agenda and priorities.

Where do you go from here?

The leaders that most successfully make a shift in their level of consciousness have the courage to seek feedback in order to better understand their impact; they have the humility to consider how their reactivity impacts people, process and the business; and have the drive to put systems, practices and habits in place that make lasting and meaningful change in their leadership approach.

Do you want to make this level of deep change in your life?

Our executive coaching programs support you, alongside a group of like-minded colleagues, along the way of your path to leadership. You can learn more by emailing us at

Download: Upgrade Your Leadership Thinking Toolkit

We also have a tool that you can use to help you radically shift your thinking as you are making day-to-day business decisions. It’s a one-page infographic to help you consider your current situation, the assumptions and beliefs that may be driving your decision making, and new questions to challenge your point of view.