Old-School Leadership is Out

By Gerald Walsh ©

Old-school leadership used to be about “command and control.” As an employee, if you put your head down and did what your boss said, you eventually would make your way up the corporate ladder.

Your best strategy was to behave according to your boss’ norms, wishes, and values. If you did this well, you could rest easy because he (it was usually a ‘he’) would look out for you.

That’s all changed.

Now, this hierarchical, top-down leadership is ineffective and often kills workplace culture. To succeed, you must possess a new-school approach to leadership:

1. New-school leaders inspire others. They are passionate and committed, and work with a sense of purpose. Those around them recognize and respect these qualities and become motivated themselves to achieve at higher levels. They are facilitators not dictators.

2. New-school leaders possess integrity. They behave ethically and always take the high road in disputes. They admit their mistakes, do not make excuses, and avoid blaming others.

3. New-school leaders are coachable. They admit they don’t know everything, recognize their own limitations, and encourage constructive feedback from others. They seek role models and mentors, are open to new ideas, and are willing to try different ways of doing things.

4. New-school leaders are kind people. They are effective communicators and can carry on good conversations with everyone, from the door attendant to the CEO. They are respectful of others and don’t let their egos get in their way. Others enjoy being around them.

5. New-school leaders are self-assured. They operate with a sense of optimism, always looking for the good in people and events. They are confident in their ability to overcome problems.

6. New-school leaders display a high level of independence. They readily seek advice from others on important decisions but are quite comfortable making up their own mind and drawing their own conclusions.

7. New-school leaders have initiative. They quickly identify the things that need to be done and undertake those tasks with minimal prompting and supervision. They don’t wait to be told what to do.

8. New-school leaders demonstrate a high level of analytical rigour. They get to the heart of issues quickly. They are intelligent, not distracted by inconsequential issues, and make sound, well-thought-out judgments.

9. New-school leaders are both strategic and tactical. They always keep the big picture in mind, can spot trends, and constantly think two or three steps ahead. Yet, at the same time, they “sweat the details” and are good at execution.

10. New-school leaders take a deliberate approach to decision-making. They don’t jump to conclusions quickly and are not impulsive. Instead, they approach problems with an open mind and consider several different perspectives before arriving at a decision.

11. New-school leaders like to question and challenge the way things are done. They don’t automatically accept the traditional ways of doing things. But this is not because they are being difficult. It is because they refuse to blindly accept the norms and are assertive enough to speak up.

12. New-school leaders share their knowledge and enjoy helping others succeed. They are comfortable in their own skin. They understand that the more they share, the more they get back, and everyone is better off because of it.

13. New-school leaders care about their community. They recognize that business is not all about maximizing shareholder wealth. They conduct their business according to a set of principles that benefits their community and society in general. 

One last thing.

How do you measure up against these new-school leadership traits? Why not complete a self-assessment? And then ask your employees and peers to rate you. It will be interesting to see how they compare.


To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at

Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh