Since the time of early humans, the influence exerted by leaders like kings, queens, military generals, and even dictators on their "subjects" has shaped history. In modern times, the impact of presidents, governors, corporate executives, and other influential individuals in shaping our world is quite evident. In fact, leadership at all levels, in humans, animals, and insect kingdoms, is a key aspect which determines survival and evolution of species. It is not surprising that leadership is the most written about topic in human history. However, even after over 20,000 books authored on leadership, a universally accepted definition of leadership is still lacking. The irony here is that although leadership is a highly valued universal phenomenon with a plethora of academic research, publications, models and experts, it is also the also the most misunderstood subject in history. A good question to ask ourselves is, "How can we be leaders when we cannot even agree on a universal definition of leadership?" This is evident from the fact that traditional leadership, consisting of autocratic, democratic, transactional, transformational, servant and authentic models, seems to be floundering at all levels, social, corporate, national and international, leading to the existing depressed state of our planet today.
One approach scientists employ when faced with complex problems is to go back to the basics and distill the subject matter of the problem to the core essence. Distilling leadership to its core principles allows us to recognize that "leadership involves an influence of a leader over followers to achieve a common goal" (Northouse, 2013). However, a critical factor that prevents effective execution of this principle into practice is that leadership is a dynamic and context-based phenomenon, rather than a static and independent practice. To be effective and relevant, leaders need to consider the volatile and vibrant nature of business needs, motivation, culture, social interactions, and technology while reacting to the global competitive and innovative indices.
The problems leaders face today are indeed dynamic and perplexing, to say the least. Due to global market pressures and pseudo-performance metrics, leaders today are forced into short-term decision making. Commonsense suggests that a singular focus on short-term gains seldom translates into long-term successes, yet, if one dares to peer over the horizon, he/she faces a stern warning to stay focused on the month or the quarter at hand- this is just one of the mountains facing modern leaders. Another mountain traditional leaders need to climb is the dramatic evolution in the mindset of the work-force as the generation transitions to the millennials (1980-2000), from the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to about 1961) and the Gen-X (born 1962-1981) workers. Although the evolution of a workforce is always positive, the leaders need to be ready for that change. An article in Time magazine, calls it the "The Me Me Me Generation". A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds millennials "more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community than were GenX and Baby Boomers at the same ages." A correlating factor found in a 2014 study by Gallup, indicates that 68% of the US workforce is currently actively disengaged or not engaged. Thus, leaders are failing in the most critical role of leadership, "to inspire followers to realize a common objective." Adding to this the rapid technological changes and complexity of globalization and evolving innovation, leaders of the future seem to have a Mount Everest of issues to overcome to be truly effective.
It is becoming increasingly evident that the new generation of leaders needs to closely evaluate the validity of traditional models of leadership. They also need to determine if they need shift their mindset away from these traditional models in order to be a truly successful leader, leading teams, and organizations to a higher level of success in this newly evolving world. If leaders are truly mindful of the lessons that ancient civilizations have taught us, we will wake up to the fact that success and even survival of the species on this planet hinges on a single factor, "effective leadership." The only way leaders will be able to effectively lead the future generations of followers will be to evolve beyond the existing traditional approaches to leadership and to transform their skillset and mindset to adapt to a new level of leadership practice. Thus, the future leaders will need to personally evolve with the rapidly changing needs and develop neuro-dynamic skills, or "superpowers", that can allow them to inspire a diverse team to soar to the pinnacle of Mount Everest, and to guide them safely to the base camp - on a daily basis.