With AI, remote work, and the end of full-time roles significantly changing how we work in 2024, it’s time to take another look at leadership.
What is it? How do we do it well?
In this guide, I’ve collected the latest research and paired it with time-honored wisdom on the art of leadership including:
- What is Leadership?
- Why is Leadership Important?
- How Is Leadership Changing in 2024?
- What are the Different Leadership Styles?
- How Do I Develop My Leadership Philosophy?
- How Do I Develop Myself as a Leader?
- The Bottom Line: Time for the People-Centric Leader
I hope it helps as you take on or continue your leadership role.
What is Leadership?
So, what is a leader? What is leadership?
Leadership is "the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants,” writes W.C.H. Prentice in a 1961 edition of Harvard Business Review.
Here, we see how changing times impact us as leaders.
In 2024, teams will involve human and non-human (AI) team members to achieve our goals. And even humans will no longer commit full-time to one team or leader.
Now, a better definition of a leader would be that “Leaders Make Strategic Goals Happen,” tapping into “human assistants” alongside AI workers and fractional talent from all over the world.
This begs the question: do you have the right skills to lead?
“We put it in a very simple formula, and it's the attributes times results. So leadership is about delivering results in the right way. That's it! Do I have the attributes and do I deliver results in the right way?”
Why is Leadership Important?
Few things impact people’s work experience more than their organizations' leaders, and business results are most directly linked to strong leadership.
Importantly, being a leader isn’t reserved for the C-suite. From first-time managers to CEOs, the rules of good leadership apply.
Humu data, for example, shows why managers are important: they are the most critical connection points between people and executives.
This holds even more true in hybrid and remote teams, where direct managers are often the only touchpoint employees have with the company.
Information flows through managers from multiple channels to the upper levels of organizations, and their action-taking directly influences engagement, productivity, and retention.
Humu data also shows that:
- Employees are 7.9x more likely to stay at a job when given consistent growth opportunities by their managers.
- Great managers can get 22% higher employee engagement across their teams.
- Teams with great managers tend to have 78% more psychological safety, which is one of the essential factors behind effective performance.
- 40% of the departing employees could be retained if their manager takes positive action on time.
- 58% of the employees consider their manager the most significant cause of their burnout.
The researchers conclude that all this puts much pressure on managers. Managers have twice the attrition risk compared to other employees and a 25% higher burnout rate.
And according to McKinsey, 56% of workers claim that their leader is mildly or highly toxic, and 75% of Americans say that their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.”
It’s no surprise, then, that for executive leaders to be successful, they must invest in their management at all levels.
How Is Leadership Changing in 2024?
Huge forces are changing leadership forever, include AI, remote work, and the end of full-time work. Here is what leaders need to know to succeed in 2024:
Artificial intelligence speeds up work by 41%, according to 2023 Bain data.
No wonder, that employees and employers want to tap into this technology.
Led by ChatGPT, Generative AI is finding its way to our laptops and workflows as giants like Microsoft, Google, and other software providers add the technology to their software.
As a leader, you need to adapt in several ways:
- Have and Communicate an AI Agenda: Asana research shows multiple gaps between executives and employees in ambition, transparency, and training. Leaders should have a company- and teamwide AI agenda and communicate it transparently.
- Get People onto AI Platforms: I pay for all my team’s ChatGPT Plus accounts, and the productivity increase is worth well beyond $20. Leaders should ensure people have access to the latest versions of general AI tools (like the upcoming ChatGPT 5) and tools for specific use cases (like AI productivity tools) or roles (like AI marketing tools.)
- Train, Share, and Socialize: Give people real-time to try out AI and share new use cases. Encourage sharing new best practices and bake AI literacy into your training and development programs. And as always, it's best practice for you as the leader to go first – show, don't tell.
- Anticipate Disruption and Displacement: Consider near-futures in which certain roles are fully replaceable by AI and which tasks in other roles can be automated to stay competitive in the marketplace.
Tapping into opportunities like these keeps teams lean and productive, as research shows that small teams often outperform larger ones.
See our complete guide on AI in the Workplace, discover 39 tools transforming AI in Management, and our Top 150 AI Tools.
According to research from Stanford professor Nick Bloom, one in four workdays is now remote. And if it were up to employees, that number would be even higher, says Gallup. Globally, numbers vary, but we’ve never been less in the office than in 2024.
And remote and hybrid work models significantly change the way we lead.
Since we can no longer walk around a physical workplace, leaders need to increase intentionality in how we work, including modeling how we perform, collaborate, and communicate remotely.
Expert advice on managing remote teams includes:
- Focus on the ‘new basics,’ including psychological safety at work, team agreements, and personal operating manuals.
- Improving collaboration: encouraging working in public, meeting less and meeting better, and finding intentional moments of synchronicity.
- Boosting performance and productivity: focusing on outcomes vs. hours worked, tracking transparently, and coaching for excellence.
- Growing people: creating learning plans and rethinking learning locations and formats.
Unfortunately, we’re doing pretty poorly on most of these measures.
McKinsey advises that top leaders should be present and accessible in new ways, such as office hours (I know, the irony!), internal newsletters and podcasts, and virtual town halls.
We also need more data than ever to ensure our employee experience management evolves with our new working methods and fits with what our teams expect from us, today and tomorrow, creating a stronger need for employee surveys.
For more, see our detailed guides about hybrid remote and remote work, and check out expert advice on managing remote teams for the people-centric leader.
The End of Full-Time Roles
The third megatrend disrupting leadership today is the disappearance of full-time roles.
As I wrote in my article about fractional work last year, the idea of having just one job doesn’t make sense for most people.
Whether it’s to supplement income (finances are now the number one cause of workplace stress, ahead of even workload), be less exposed to the risk of a layoff, or because it’s to add some purpose, more people than ever have second and third jobs.
As a people-centric leader, it's paramount to understand that full-time commitments are not the norm and let go of that expectation.
This holds especially true for Gen Z and Millennial employees: Deloitte data shows that half of Gen Zs work a second part-time or even full-time job.
At the same time, leaders should tap into opportunities that this new working model brings:
- Internal Talent Marketplaces: Let people do work they love doing instead of on top of their current role in a company. Set up an internal talent marketplace matching skills and interests with projects across teams, departments, and geographies. For this, mapping out the skills that matter to your organization is key.
- Freelancers and Gig Workers: Hire people on gig marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr. This gets you the resources you need while retaining maximum flexibility. Rather than hiring someone mediocre at five things, hire five freelancers who all excel at their specialties.
- Fractional Talent: At a higher level of seniority, hire people directly as fractional talent. This adds specific high-skill labor and expertise for which you don’t need a full-timer. It strengthens your capability and works wonders for retaining talent who want to learn from these experts.
According to Kelly Monahan, Managing Director of Upwork's Research Institute, there’s a clear divide between older and younger leaders when adopting these new working models.
Upwork data additionally shows that Gen Z’ers are much more likely to work for companies that employ freelancers and hire more freelancers themselves.
But even big, trusted brands like Unilever are putting fractional work into action, already completing “half a million hours of people that raised their hands to get on projects, offer their skills, or learn a new skill.”
What are the Different Leadership Styles?
Some things are universal.
Global McKinsey analysis found that four types of behavior account for 89% of leadership effectiveness:
- being supportive
- operating with a strong results orientation
- seeking different perspectives
- solving problems effectively
Still, you will have your own style of leading, an important guide for all the challenging moments you’ll encounter.
So, let’s look at some of the most prevalent leadership styles, some of which fit certain companies at certain stages better than others:
1. Transformational Leadership
Transformational leadership is a style that focuses on change and transformation. It inspires followers to achieve their potential and is effective in organizations that want to make significant changes.
Transformational leaders look ahead, are comfortable with change, and develop their followers' strengths and abilities. They show characteristics including a focus on the future, change, and people.
Impact: A meta-analysis in "The Leadership Quarterly" consolidated findings from various studies, showing that transformational leadership positively drives profitability and productivity – something companies care a lot about.
Example: A prominent example of transformational leadership is Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. He was known for his visionary approach and ability to inspire innovation and change. Jobs' leadership transformed not just his company but entire industries, embodying the essence of transformational leadership.
2. Coaching Leadership Style
A coaching leadership style is centered on developing individuals. It encourages employees to grow and reach their full potential, making it ideal for dynamic organizations focused on continuous improvement.
Coaching leaders invest time understanding and nurturing their team members' skills and aspirations. They exhibit traits such as personalized support, growth orientation, and a commitment to individual progress.
This style of leadership has proven highly impactful. McKinsey research found that organizations whose leaders successfully empower others through coaching are four times more likely to make swift, good decisions and outperform other companies.”
A good example of someone with a coaching leadership style is Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. She was renowned for her focus on employee development, mentoring her team, and encouraging them to reach their full potential, which aligns closely with the principles of coaching leadership.
To adopt this style, read our detailed guide on the coaching leadership style.
3. Servant Leadership
Servant leadership, coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970 in his seminal essay, "The Servant as Leader," prioritizes the needs of others. Flipping the org chart upside down, it focuses on empowering and uplifting team members, making it effective in organizations that value community and employee well-being.
Servant leaders emphasize support, collaboration, and the well-being of their team members. They exhibit empathy, active listening, and a strong commitment to the growth of individuals and the community.
Impact: According to a study published in the "Journal of Business Ethics," servant leaders often experience higher levels of trust, employee satisfaction, and organizational commitment, contributing to enhanced overall performance.
Example: Herb Kelleher, the co-founder of Southwest Airlines, was a servant leader. He was known for genuine care for employees, often putting their needs and development first. This approach created a loyal workforce and contributed to the high performance and success of Southwest Airlines, embodying the essence of servant leadership.
4. Democratic Leadership
Democratic or participative leadership involves team members in the decision-making process. It is effective in organizations that value innovation and diverse perspectives, encouraging collaboration and idea-sharing.
Democratic leaders facilitate open communication, value team input, and foster a sense of equality. They exhibit traits such as inclusivity, collaboration, and collective decision-making. Some experts warn that democratic leadership is harder to effect in hybrid and remote teams as fewer touchpoints exist between leaders and team members.
Impact: This leadership style has enhanced job satisfaction and team morale. According to research, teams led by democratic leaders tend to be more creative and effective due to the diverse input and shared responsibility in decision-making processes.
Example: Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, is known for her inclusive leadership style, regularly seeking input and perspectives from her team to drive innovation and change within the company. Barra's approach has led to successful transformations within GM and exemplifies the effectiveness of democratic leadership in modern corporate environments.
5. Laissez-Faire Leadership
Laissez-faire leadership is hands-off, allowing team members to work independently with minimal supervision. It is effective in organizations with experienced, self-motivated teams valuing autonomy and creativity.
Laissez-faire leaders provide freedom, trust their team's expertise, and avoid micromanagement. They exhibit autonomy, trust in team competencies, and a non-interfering approach.
Impact: This leadership style can be positive in the right context. According to a study in "The Leadership Quarterly," laissez-faire leadership can lead to high levels of creativity and innovation in highly skilled and self-directed teams, as it gives them the space to explore and innovate without constraints.
Example: Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, is renowned for his hands-off approach to managing his company. He advocates for allowing his employees to innovate and make their own decisions. Ma believes this autonomy allows for greater creativity and ownership, leading to more successful and committed employees.
6. Authoritative Leadership
Authoritative leadership is a style that commands respect and obedience. It may be effective in situations requiring clear direction, particularly in organizations needing a turnaround or where a new vision is being established.
Authoritative leaders are decisive, set clear expectations, and lead by example. They exhibit strong direction, clear communication, and a commanding presence. But there’s likely not much place for it anymore in 2024, where we value human beings for who they are.
Impact: Research suggests that authoritative leadership can result in quick decision-making and efficient organizational alignment, especially in times of crisis or major change.
Example: A well-known example of authoritative leadership is Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. He was recognized for his direct and commanding approach, reshaping GE with aggressive cost-cutting and stringent performance standards, like cutting the bottom 10% of employees annually.
Welch's leadership significantly enhanced GE's profitability and market value in the short run, but in the end, Welch's bad decisions caught up with the company, GE was removed from the Dow Jones, and Welch was left disgraced.
How Do I Develop My Leadership Philosophy?
George Ambler, a former Senior Executive Partner with Gartner Executive Programs, describes leadership philosophies as: “a set of beliefs, values, and principles that strongly influences how we interpret reality and guide our understanding of influencing humans.”
A defined leadership philosophy is your compass, the continued guidance you give yourself on being a good leader. It helps you reflect, make better decisions, move up, build trust with your team, and deliver better results.
And a leadership philosophy is truly yours; it goes beyond the leadership styles above and is deeply rooted in your values, beliefs, and goals. Your philosophy can include:
- Your definition of leadership
- Your goals
- Your core values in making decisions
- Your core values in managing people
To write your personal leadership philosophy, take these ten steps:
- Reflect on Leaders in Your Life: Think about leaders who have positively and negatively influenced you. Consider what inspired you or what you would do differently.
- Reflect on Your Developmental Points: Write down two significant challenges, one positive experience that has shaped you, and how they influenced your leadership style.
- Vision the Future Leader Needs: Consider future leaders' qualities, such as ethical principles and embracing diversity.
- Define Leadership in Your Words: Craft your definition of leadership based on your style (democratic, transformational, coaching, etc.).
- Achievements to be Remembered For: Consider what accomplishments you want to be remembered for in your leadership roles.
- Set Your Leadership Goals: Define your work-related and people-oriented goals as a leader.
- Identify Your Core Values for Decision-Making: Determine the core values guiding your decisions about your product or service (e.g., honesty, inclusivity).
- Your Core Values in Managing People: Reflect on fundamental values (e.g., respect and care) that help you create effective relationships with your team.
- Seek Feedback on Your Draft: Share your leadership philosophy draft with mentors, friends, or team members for input.
- Finalize and Share Your Philosophy: Perfect your leadership philosophy, consider how to share it effectively with your team, and be open to revising it over time.
For more details, step-by-step instructions, and examples, see our complete guide to leadership philosophy.
How Do I Develop Myself as a Leader?
Dave Ulrich shared another leadership definition, all about how to be a good leader:
“My simplest answer is, does somebody leave an interaction with you as a leader feeling better or worse about themselves?”
Inspiring, but not an easy feat to pull off.
And in this fast-changing world of work, it takes more than ever to grow and develop leadership continuously.
The data proves this: DDI's 2023 Global Leadership Forecast shows that we're at the lowest point of leadership quality in a decade, as only 40% of those surveyed said their company has high-quality leaders.
So how do you develop yourself to be the leader you know you can be?
Here are some of the best ways to do it:
Leadership is a journey of continuous development and improvement.
This is why the best leaders tap into leadership coaching.
Like an athlete, to perform to your best ability, you need constant guidance, reflection, and motivation.
Becoming the best leader you can be isn’t something you can do alone. As ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt writes in a book about famed Silicon Valley coach Bill Campbell:
“This is the power of coaching in general: the ability to offer a different perspective, one unaffected by being “in the game.” ― Eric Schmidt in “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell.”
So, if you’re serious about your development, consider tapping into a leadership coach. Some of the key benefits of leadership coaching include:
- Increases self-efficacy, motivation, optimism, and resilience.
- Improves job satisfaction, commitment, and performance.
- Boosts team engagement, satisfaction, and productivity.
But don't get too excited yet!
Finding a leadership coach is like dating – you need to understand who you are and what you want, and then find that perfect match to ensure a positive, helpful, long-term coach-coachee relationship.
Fortunately, we've done the research for you and will help you where to start:
For more on why and how to choose your leadership coach, check out our detailed guide, “Leadership Coaching for People-Centric Leaders (Complete 2024 Guide.)”
Another and even more accessible way to hone your leadership skills is through leadership books.
Because while we learn a lot from experience, we don't have to make the mistakes others before us have already made.
This is why leaders love to read. Like investing legend Warren Buffet, who famously read 500 pages per day to improve himself based on lessons from the past.
"That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” – Warren Buffet.
The best leadership books roughly break down into five key categories, which I've listed below, along with some books to explore for each:
- Leadership books to understand concepts, strategies, and principles, like "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" by John C. Maxwell.
- Books about personal growth, effectiveness, and productivity, such as Brené Brown's Dare to Lead (which I loved!) and Stephen R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."
- People Management books like "The One Minute Manager" by Kenneth Blanchard and Simon Sinek's "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action."
- Leadership books about team dynamics, building trust, and effective working environments, with famous examples like Patrick Lencioni's "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team."
- Leadership books about innovation and change, such as Jim Collins's "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't, " are also available.
I don't know if you've experienced this before, but sometimes, reading the right book at the right time can help you see everything in a completely new light.
This is especially true for these leadership classics. Even if we feel we have a good sense of how to lead companies and people, returning to one of these evergreens can help us look at the same problems with fresh eyes.
If you don't know which one to read, check out our in-depth review of the 21 Best Leadership Books of all time. If you want to look at something more specific, take a look at our 21 Favorite Remote Work Books.
From one end of the spectrum (timeless advice) to a new but already invaluable resource for modern leaders: podcasts.
Leadership podcasts are as accessible as books but with the freshness of ongoing conversations.
If you, like me, want to improve and innovate, regularly tuning into these podcasts makes a lot of sense, as they draw lessons from diverse voices in the field.
The best leadership podcasts include:
- Research-Backed Leadership Insights: Podcasts like HBR IdeaCast and McKinsey Talks Talent, which offer deep dives into the latest business research and trends.
- Work-Life Balance: Shows like The Anxious Achiever (also the title of my upcoming autobiography) (kidding) and WorkLife with Adam Grant explore happiness and mental health in the workplace.
- Future of Work Trends: My own Future Work and HBS Managing the Future of Work provide insights on evolving work dynamics and innovations. (Yes, I had the audacity to name my podcast in the same sentence as HBS.)
- Empowerment for Women Leaders: Women at Work and The Art of Speaking Up focus on challenges and opportunities for female leaders.
- Expert Leadership Wisdom: Engage with seasoned advice on practical leadership through At The Table with Patrick Lencioni and the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast.
- Daily Leadership Advice: For quick, actionable insights, Founder’s Journal and The $100 MBA Show are perfect for daily inspiration.
- Founders' Journeys: How I Built This with Guy Raz and Masters of Scale share the stories of entrepreneurs who've impacted their companies significantly.
Like the timeless wisdom found in leadership books, these podcasts present opportunities to see challenges through a new lens, leveraging the collective experience of seasoned leaders.
Hearing my daily challenges and opportunities discussed by other leaders and researchers, is one of the best way to improve myself.
If you want to do the same, diving into these podcasts can offer inspiration and practical advice and deepen your understanding of leadership in a modern context.
To get personalized podcast recommendations, visit our 2024 Guide to Leadership Podcasts for People-First Managers.
Love listening to inspiring leaders, but prefer face-to-face?
Then, leadership conferences are your best bet for continued leadership development.
The great news is that some of these are as affordable as $199 and can even be attended online.
In 2024, expect these leadership conferences to deliver the most value for busy executives:
- Technology and Digital Transformation: Events like the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit and The Evolve Technology Conference focus on the impact of digital innovation on the workplace.
- Diversity and Inclusion: Conferences such as the Women Lead Festival and The World Diversity In Leadership Conference emphasize leadership diversity and creating inclusive environments.
- Human Resources and Talent Management: The SHRM Annual Conference is tailored for HR professionals to discuss human resources and talent management trends.
- Leadership and Business Strategy: Events like the EntreLeadership Summit and World Business Forum provide insights into effective leadership and innovative business strategies.
- Innovation and Social Impact: The Social Innovation Summit, for instance, addresses the role of innovation in achieving social impact.
For more, check out our detailed guide to the Top 2024 Leadership Conferences.
The Bottom Line: Time for the People-Centric Leader
Whether you’re leading a team or a Fortune 500 company, the world of work needs more trust, humanity, and meaning.
You influence how people spend up to 100,000 hours of their lives like no other.
Let’s make those hours count.
And end the misery that’s called work for many.