What do you look for in a leader?  What qualities or attributes do you think they should possess?  I used to think that there was one set of answers.  Now I’m not so sure.

First of all, let’s not use the military definition of a leader (someone who leads people) as that is too generic and, to be honest, more or a manager than a leader.  Forbes.com’s Kevin Kruse has a more nuanced definition of leadership by which we can create our definition of a leader.

Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximized the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.

The section of the article I like the best is the following:

Leadership has nothing to do with seniority or one’s position in the hierarchy of a company. Too many talk about a company’s leadership referring to the senior most executives in the organization. They are just that, senior executives. Leadership doesn’t automatically happen when you reach a certain pay grade. Hopefully you find it there, but there are no guarantees.

Too often we conflate leaders and managers.  Leaders inspire people to achieve a goal, whether personal or business related.  Leaders are relevant towards the issues that you face and that’s where I think my idea of what is necessary for a leader has, no so much changed, but evolved to understand that some people may be a good leader, but not the right leader at this time.

A leader needs to have a strong vision, an idea as to where the organization should be in ten, fifteen years.  They need to be relatable, someone that you could talk to about your problem because you know that they will understand where you are coming from.  They needed to be a bedrock that other people could attach to, so as to provide a solid base from which to operate.

Or, at least a leader used to need to be those things.

I think the Internet, the rapid pace of change and the accelerating expectations have changed the type of leader that people are now looking for.  While a leader needs to have a strong vision, that vision is no longer ten, fifteen years in scope, it is two or three years.  And it is constantly evolving.  The firm target that was envisioned last year may be irrelevant next week.  A modern leader needs to adapt and change as rapidly, if not more rapidly, than their clients and their followers.  And while they still need to be relatable, that solid bedrock?  Well, it’s more of a raft on the river of change.

A leader needs to be flexible and change the target based on what is happening.  Five years is too long.  The vision, the target that needs to be a source of inspiration needs to be two to three years away.  At most.  Anything beyond that is a fantasy.  Starting from 2009 it took a mere three years for a billion smartphones to be sold with almost 1.5 billion sold last year.  In that same timeframe, there were over 400,000 apps on the Apple App Store (currently over 2.6 million).  In addition, mobile internet usage rose to 15% of the worldwide usage.

There are tremendous changes that can occur in three years and a leader, a true leader, needs to understand these changes and change course when necessary.  A leader in today’s world needs to understand that change is inevitable and to factor that into their vision.

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