With thousands of books written on the subject, and many hundreds of existing models, it’s easy to think that leaders would have the concept of leadership nailed.

Only two years ago, the Centre for Workplace Leadership conducted a landmark study of Australian leadership at work, proving that there is significant room for improvement.

The comprehensive study found that Australian workplaces are underperforming, with more than 40% failing to meet their ROI and profitability performance targets. They are also not getting the basics right, in terms of management fundamentals such as performance monitoring, target setting and appropriate use of incentives.

At the same time, the business sphere is getting more, not less, complex as it operates in the time of what the World Economic Forum has called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Little wonder, therefore, that as the expectations on leaders to perform continues to increase, many of them are struggling to be the best leader they can be.

Renowned management expert, Gary Hamel, argues that the way we manage has hardly changed over the last 50 to 60 years. But it needs to.

To be successful, leaders need to be ready to confront the challenges of this rapidly changing world by finding their leadership edge.

It starts with three key steps:

  1. Awareness

    of themselves, others and the environment in which they are working.

  2. Acceptance

    of what they can and can’t change or influence, and a recognition of the rules of the work that need to change.

  3. Adaptation

    a willingness to change and alter aspects of their leadership style.

Build awareness

It starts with the leader being willing to look at what needs to change in them – before seeking to change others. This includes building awareness of their leadership style and derailers – and what triggers them to behave sub-optimally.

In their book, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey conclude that one of the core challenges for leaders is bridging the gap between what is required and a leader’s own level of development.

“It may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organisation without changing ourselves (at least somewhat).”

Understanding what personal changes a leader needs to make goes beyond pinpointing new technical skills. It’s about delving into the meaning that drives their behaviour, and the mental models they apply to decision-making.

Generate acceptance

We are told that leaders need to be visionary, certain and clear. They can have no doubt, need to have the answers, and never show vulnerability.

In a world that’s constantly changing, it’s impossible to have all the answers.

To be comfortable to move one step closer to their leadership edge, leaders need to recognise that some of these old paradigms about what it means to be a leader will no longer serve them.

They need to work out which rules they need to ditch, to reshape and to keep so they are fit for the future of work.

Start adapting

Leadership is about choice. Leaders have choices to make every day about how they lead and what they learn. These choices either create a culture of denial and exclusion, or an environment of opportunity and inclusion – for both them and their team.

When a leader stops trying to be the leader they ‘should’ be and starts learning to be the leader they ‘could’ be, they will find their leadership edge and step up to the task.