Opinion: The Shift From Chief Executive To Chief Influencer

By Julie Moreland – Fast Company

There is finally room at the top for a new word: “Influencer.”

In most industries, we’ve long ago moved away from the stereotypical existence of a boss who is a cigar-chomping, hard-charging guy in suspenders barking out orders to everyone within sight. The template for business leadership used to be very limited: A title, strategic directives, meetings, and a “management” mindset of supervising people and projects. Underlying that mindset? A single-minded focus on self-interest and the company’s bottom line.

But times change. And so, for a variety of reasons, are leadership models in boardrooms across America–and the world.

In a 2010 global study that surveyed 389 business leaders from 28 different countries, it was determined that management style had changed significantly in the past few years. Instead of a strict authoritarian top-to-bottom style as in the past, the head honchos now had a more participatory viewpoint towards their duties, allowing for more individualized thinking and ownership amongst their colleagues.

It reflects what Peter Grauer, head of Bloomberg, calls “the ‘and’ factor.” Instead of an “either/or” approach to leadership, we are evolving into an “and/or” dynamic that’s healthier and allows for more viewpoints to be heard and taken into account. The head honcho should be more of an “Influencer” than a “boss”–because it promotes happier and more productive employees.

Why is this rapid evolution in leadership taking hold at this moment in time? There are several important reasons:

* The New Economy

Since the recession took hold in 2008, the concept of “business as usual” is gone for good. The old systems have been rocked to their core and there is now both the room and the need for “new style” leaders who can do more with less, and that requires working more closely with everyone internal and external to the organization to achieve the necessary results.

* The New Generation

As Baby Boomers head closer to retirement, Generations X and Y are moving into more prominent business roles, and the new kids on the block have a completely different value system than their predecessors. Gens X and Y want more of a balance between work and life–they’ve seen their parents work hard for companies that ultimately did not reward that loyalty in many cases. They are also more independent–and yet, ironically, also put more of a value on teamwork, leveraging technology to facilitate group work efforts. New generation leaders completely blur the line between friends and play versus co-workers and ‘work’…they are living transparently in social media.

* The New Demographics

More and more women are ascending to business leadership positions. Studies show that women now fill the majority of jobs in America and that 60% of all masters degrees are also going to women. This isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon: a third of all the CEOs in Thailand and senior management positions in China are women. As I’ve noted in the past, female leaders tend to also have different approaches to leadership than their male counterparts.

* The New Technology

Let’s hit the big cliché button right now and get it over with: The Internet has changed everything. Instant e-communication tools and social media do more than motivate an open corporate culture–they make it almost inescapable. Arbitrary management decisions that override the facts and secret dictatorial commands that defy common sense face exposure at every turn–and that means transparency must be given at least lip service, if not a complete embrace.

* The New Reality

All of the above “new” reasons combine to create a new reality in which business can’t be just about business anymore: People need to be a vital part of the equation in a way they haven’t been before. Employees don’t want to just work for a paycheck anymore–they want to be part of companies they respect and which respect them in turn. They don’t want a new title, they want a better life. Concerns about broader social issues are increasing and they want those concerns reflected in how a business operates.

The upshot of all this? Instead of issuing top-to-bottom orders, business leaders must step up and fully assume the role of Influencer to achieve the best results. When they provide a collaborative dynamic with employees and when they provide that all-important element of inspiration that drives us all to give our best, it’s a win-win for all concerned.

Author and leadership expert Simon Sinek put it best in a 2010 TED talk when he said, “Leaders have a position of power, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow them not because we have to, but because we want to.”

So…do your employees want to follow you–or do they feel they have to?