It won’t have escaped your attention that we live in dramatically changing times. In almost every aspect of our lives, it feels as if there are fundamental transformations taking place.

Change is the only constant. We are seeing a breakdown in traditional trade and political relationships globally. We’re seeing the subsequent uncertainty in the financial markets as they react to this new environment.

And then of course there is the greatest disruptor of all – technology – which is transforming almost every aspect of our lives. From the opportunities of AI to cloud technology, tech in all its forms has a huge impact for business. So what are the implications for those of us who are leaders in businesses today?

To get some answers, we asked someone with many years of leadership experience across a range of industries: investment expert Miguel Sánchez Navarro Madero.

Being a leader in the 21st century

So Miguel, what does it actually mean to be a leader in the 21st century?

“It’s important to look first at how all those factors you’ve mentioned have impacted the make up of the teams we now lead,” says Miguel. “For example, the teams we run now might be geographically remote, culturally diverse and cross functional.

“And of course these kinds of teams have huge potential. They present us as leaders with exciting opportunities to be more creative, more productive, more agile. But while technology has been the enabler for much of this change, it’s our role as leaders to translate this opportunity into reality.”

Miguel explains that the key to making this happen is creating the right culture.

“Having a productive culture has always been important in business,” he says. “But in this turbulent, complex business environment it’s more important than ever. A strong culture gives us resilience in the face of competition and change. It gives us strength, and a unique identity for our business that attracts talent. And it informs our purpose, building engagement among our teams.”

Building the right culture

As modern leaders, we can contribute to this in number of ways. Not least, by making sure we clearly and consistently communicate a company’s shared vision and purpose to everyone they lead. Miguel acknowledges this isn’t always easy, but he has a few ways of approach this challenge as a leader.

“For me, there are few strategies that we can adopt as leaders, that will help to build a positive, productive culture,” he says. “One is to hire for cultural fit, rather than simply on skills. New skills can often be taught, while someone’s ability to fit in with and contribute to the culture of a company is much more innate.

Miguel also emphasises the importance of regular, meaningful communications, especially when it comes to leading remote, cross-functional teams.

“Opening up regular lines of communication is one of the most important things we can do as modern leaders,” says Miguel. “Of course, we have plenty of new digital channels available to help us do that, but it’s crucial to still emphasise importance of human interaction. Book regular, face-to-face meetings in with your teams whenever you can and lead by example.

“As 21st century leaders we can instantly just fire an email to someone on the other side of the world. But make sure that doesn’t become the norm. Encourage regular, meaningful human interaction whenever you can.”

But while the modern business environment offers leaders plenty of opportunities, there are also pitfalls too. Miguel explains.

“There is clearly the danger of tech enabling an ‘always-on’ culture,” says Miguel. “This can help us to be more productive, and to operate on a global, 24 hour scale. But it is also important that we as leaders show, by example, how people need balance in their lives.

“Show them that this is actually the best way to bring value to your business. That it is the best way that they can contribute.”

A focus on engagement

Keeping our teams motivated has always been a challenge. So how do we as leaders keep people motivated? To us, it feels like there is a big risk of people becoming disengaged in this challenging modern environment.

“Very much so,” says Miguel. “That theme of engagement has always been a crucial one, for any leader, in any era. But it’s particularly relevant now. For example if we’re creating business systems built around the needs and capabilities of technology, rather than human beings, we’re storing up trouble.

“So, we need to make sure the humans we lead feel engaged with what we’re doing as a business. And the key to doing is to instil a sense of purpose in every single one of our team members,” he explains. “This is about giving people a reason to get out of bed and come to work every day. It’s not necessarily just about money either.

“In my experience it’s also about engaging people with the company’s vision. It’s often simply about encouraging them to contribute ideas to the strategies that will achieve that vision. And it is about us, as leaders, showing every single person who works for us exactly how what they do takes us one step closer to doing this.

“Instilling a sense of purpose is essential to engaging our teams. And engagement is the key to productivity and ultimate success.”

Finally, is there a change we can all make, right now, that will help us all to become better leaders? Miguel thinks there is.

“I was struck recently by an article that referenced a great piece of research in the MIT Sloan Management Review,” says Miguel. “The basic point was around the importance of self awareness as a factor in being a great leader.

“So many of us in leadership are so focused on the strengths and weaknesses of other people, that we forget about our own. My advice is to look again at things we’re each good at as leaders, and the aspects we need to improve.

“It will help us to delegate to those who are more capable in certain areas, and to focus on those things that we excel at. And it also encourages humility, which is no bad quality in a leader.”