What makes a good leader?

Things like integrity, honesty, and personal responsibility immediately come to mind. While those are all vital traits, they’re not the leadership traits I’m addressing right now.

There’s a new leadership principle leaders must embrace if they want to be relevant and effective in today’s world of technology-driven transformation and move forward into the future.

You sometimes hear people refer to managers and leaders interchangeably. In fact, they are crucially different. Managers control what tasks people perform and how they go about it. They can enforce this through policy, staff guidelines, rules on best practices, and by example. You’ve heard the word “micromanage,” but nobody says “microlead.” That’s because leaders don’t work the same way.

Leaders don’t change how people behave; they change how people think — and they do it without ever telling them what to think. Leaders change the way people think about the future, change, and opportunity — in essence, the way they think about the fundamental concepts that inform their worldviews, plans, ethics, and life strategies.

You’ve perhaps heard the tenet “show, don’t tell.” Well, a manager tells people to follow him; a leader shows people he or she is worth following.

Of course, your ability to lead is directly tied to your ability to inspire confidence. And to earn the confidence of your people in a world of technology-driven transformational change, you need to learn how to identify the driving forces that are shaping the future.

Keep in mind that a proven track record of success only goes so far. From a leadership perspective, a successful past does not guarantee a successful future, because the world is rapidly changing at an increasing rate, and the skill sets that may have once brought great success no longer hold the same promise. This has been well known for a long time, but in the past few years the increased pace of change has taken many leaders — even those with long histories of success — by surprise.

In the recent past, leaders have focused on agility — being able to change quickly based on external circumstances because change from the outside in has been coming at an ever-increasing speed, and it’s only getting faster. To be a strong leader both today and in the future you need to become adept not only at reacting quickly to events, but anticipating change before it occurs.

A few weeks ago, a CEO from a Fortune 50 Technology Company shared with me that “the pace of change is now faster than our organization’s ability to respond to it.”

I hear this observation quite often as I travel around the world working with executives from some of the largest companies on the planet. For those of you who are not directly in the technology business, creating, manufacturing, marketing and selling various types of hardware, software, or both, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect a statement like that from a tech company. You might expect it from an insurance company, or a retailer, but not a major tech company executive.

But the truth is that the accelerating pace of change is disrupting all businesses, large and small, regardless of industry. As an industry leader, it’s more than likely you’re already heavily involved in — and informed about — the changes taking place in that arena. However, by being so immersed in your industry, you may be missing what’s going on outside, where others have been innovating.

Industries don’t change in a vacuum. Look outside your industry for the larger view, the solutions you need. Find out about the new technologies that have been developed and implemented in other sectors. How are they changing the way other companies do business? And how can you modify these advancements to suit your situation? How can you learn from the mistakes of those outside your field so you don’t err the same way? That’s a good way to proactively approach the disruptions you know are coming.

So while we all know the timeless traits of leadership, there’s no competitive advantage in being just like everyone else. That’s why being anticipatory is so important. What do you see that’s about to happen, and how can you use that to your advantage? Instead of getting stopped by things you don’t know, it’s time to use Hard Trends to anticipate what’s coming so you can see the disruptions that are heading your way and do something about it before you are disrupted. This leadership competency is not limited to the tech industry. No matter who you are or what you do, you can learn to anticipate.

Don’t wait for your future to unfold randomly or be shaped by a competitor because if you do, you may end up in a place you don’t want to be. Instead, identify the certainties that await you, pinpoint the looming disruptions so that you can choose to be the disruptor rather than the disrupted. Look at what you are certain about and what you can do rather than what you are uncertain about and can’t do, and you’ll emerge a much better leader.