Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes and many believe that leadership today is different from what it was in the past. Some believe that successful leaders of the past will struggle to be an effective leader in this new era of people-power, where consumers (and employees) have many options and a different level of confidence.
The debate on what it means to be an effective leader continues to offer up a multitude of opinions and perspectives, but at its heart, leadership has always been about influencing, engaging and guiding people towards a common purpose. From Alexander the Great, to Jack Welch, to Jeff Bezos today, the foundation of leadership remains constant. Yet, in each era and situation, context plays a huge role in defining leadership style, success factors and effectiveness.
And yet, while we all agree that effective leadership is crucial to the success of any organisation, research suggests that as few as 10 per cent of C-suite executives believe leadership programmes to be of benefit to their organisations.
On the other hand, most organisations (roughly 90 per cent) agree that developing leaders is a worthwhile and much-needed practice in order to cope with the growing demands that change continues to bring.
Organisations that perform well are those who not only have strong leadership development initiatives in place, but are also able to adapt those initiatives according to changes in the needs and objectives of organisations, as well as global shifts in context and leadership situations.
As we look ahead to 2020 and beyond, leaders have rarely been in such a position to take on as many challenges as there are opportunities. Business leaders who are aware of evolving trends that reflect technological, social, and environmental changes will be better placed to make the most of the new landscape that will unfold over the next decade.
Underpinning the ability to adapt, thrive and survive will be the avoidance of complacency.
“This is the way we’ve always done things” is an attitude that needs to be forgotten entirely if organisations expect to keep up with changing consumer demands, employee needs, shifting markets and business models, and other considerations that we’ve yet to think about – such is the speed of change and technological innovation.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some leadership ‘trends’ that will define and shape the coming year and beyond. While it’s impossible to be completely ‘future-proof’ (whatever that means), being as prepared as possible can help leaders to successfully adapt to whatever may come.
1. Leading a multi-generational workforce that seeks deployment, not employment
Today’s leaders are being faced with having to guide and support employees born in the 1990s and early 2000s, members of Gen X (1960s-80s), and even Baby Boomers (1940s-60s), as people now work well into their ‘retirement’ age.
Even more challenging will be another ‘trend’ intersecting with this diversity – that 50 per cent of the workforce could be ‘contingent’ and not permanent. This means that leaders will have to manage a workforce that is very mobile and could be based anywhere.
Leadership will be about managing this deployment of workers, especially since they could be part of different teams in different time zones, working partial hours and with limited ‘love’ for your organisation.
Leaders who are able to inspire and create purpose and alignment for these new teams will be the ones who succeed.
2. Continuous learning is not a competitive edge, but a pre-requisite
To win today, it is not about how much you know, but what you do with what you know. Knowing is a given. As such, continuous learning has to be something that every leader must champion.
With the increasing demands and pace of change within our competitive world, employees (and leaders!) need to be at the top of their game when it comes to their knowledge, skills and abilities. But that’s only the beginning.
Employees (and leaders) must do something with what they know. They need to use what they learn to make the organisation faster, smarter, leaner, differentiated, and more valuable to their customers and stakeholders.
So, if your employees are not learning every day – and more importantly, using it to make a difference – then you need to explore platforms (e.g. Necole) to ensure learning is institutionalised, and also set up rituals and processes to ensure what is learnt is leveraged fully for the organisation.
3. Maintaining accountability across the organisation
As new practices such as remote working and flexi-hours become commonplace, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the challenge of maintaining accountability. Accountability gets lost in teams with no clear leadership and ownership.
Yet, great leaders will create processes, structures, and a culture of accountability in their organisation to navigate this new challenge imposed by the new workforce.
4. Embracing collective leadership
Today, a company’s average lifespan has dropped from 45 years to less than 10 years. To survive these emerging adaptive challenges, companies will no longer be managed by one individual.
In some organisations, the concept of ‘collective leadership’ is taking hold, whereby challenges and innovations are attended to by a group of people – rather than a single decision-maker – who will take leadership to a whole new level.
We have already seen that some organisations have co-CEOs; we will start to see more and more collective leadership practices emerge.
As a leader, you can start the ball rolling by getting diverse employees from different divisions of your organisation to collaborate on new product introductions, or even to collectively discuss, evaluate and recommend new business models for your organisation to survive and thrive.
5. Leaders must lead organisational culture design and live the new culture
Many organisations and leaders practise a hierarchical, top-down, siloed, one-size-fits-all approach. Structures have been built to lead according to these principles. Leaders must transition their organisation into 21st century business practices by taking ownership of the organisational culture and intentionally designing and living it.
Human resources (HR) cannot be expected to drive culture. Culture must be designed based on where the organisation is headed, its future vision, and its business model and strategy – there must be alignment of business strategy to culture.
This cannot be delegated to HR. It is strategically important for the leader to drive organisational culture – and to ensure everyone lives according to its rituals and beliefs. Leaders have to ensure work environments are not infused with tension and stress, but are instead places of deep purpose and meaning.
6. Leaders must eradicate ‘old’ beliefs and ensure new mindsets permeate
One classic belief in many organisations is that revenue and monetisation is key. In today’s world, providing value comes first, with monetisation second. For example, in the online space, successful leaders are offering a new model to existing and potential customers: “I give you value first, monetising comes later”.
The concept is straightforward: as consumers have an increasing amount of choices, there is no longer room for the hard sell. Instead, online entrepreneurs and offline salespeople who are making their mark are doing so by offering added value before any sale is even discussed, let alone pushed.
Ask not what your customer can do for you, but what you can do for the person who’s not yet your customer.
This principle will disrupt many traditional businesses. Leaders have to ensure old beliefs such as this and many others (e.g. “we are not a tech business so we don’t need to be tech-savvy, or “no one quits our company”, etc) are eradicated and replaced with new, 21st century mindsets.