Technology and globalization have brought complexity and uncertainty to the workplace, but also the promise of work that is more holistic, humane, and better integrated with employees’ personal lives. Both men and women can benefit from having more control over the time, place, and content of their work, but women, who are still culturally expected to perform the greater share of child and elder-care duties, and who must take time off from work if they become pregnant, may benefit more. Let’s consider the following necessary traits needed in order to be a leader of tomorrow.
Leadership by cultivation. As organizations become less hierarchical and more flexible and creative, command-and-control leadership will decline in prominence. Instead of giving employees directions to be followed, leaders will need to collaborate more closely with followers. They will see the best results when they take employees’ skills, motivations, work styles, and personalities into account, and aim to capitalize on their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. Good leaders will tap into followers’ values and help them achieve goals for personal and professional growth. Leaders of the future must be willing to share power and knowledge. They’ll need to be able to put ego aside and be receptive to new ideas, no matter whom they come from.
Lifelong learning. In a recent leadership survey, male and female managers were asked to rank ten activities needed for effective leadership in order of importance. Both male and female managers chose continuous learning as the most important activity for leaders to undertake. The bachelor’s degree, which gives a worker vital critical thinking, reasoning, and communication skills, will continue to be the gateway to the best jobs in the future. But employees will need to keep learning new skills and information long after they leave college. Workers will hold multiple jobs, if not careers, over a lifetime, and each job will require new learning. In most cases, employees will be expected to have “learned how to learn” and to acquire new skills on their own.
Experience. In the same survey, both male and female managers ranked gaining management experience as the second most important activity for leaders to engage in, followed closely by gaining industry experience, which both men and women ranked third. Managers of both genders also said having proven achievement in previous roles was the fourth most important criterion for effective leadership.
People skills. In organizations of the past, relationships were managed through clear chains of command. Your behavior and style of communication were dictated by your position in a clear hierarchy, and the position of those you were communicating with. In the future, workers will lack that tight structure. They’ll need to manage more kinds of relationships with more people in more places. The most valued workers will be good communicators who are empathetic and mindful of national, cultural, and generational differences. In a recent IBM survey, 81% of CEOs said people skills will be a top priority for them in the next five years.
Flexibility. Tomorrow’s employees will need to cope with constant change. They need to be able to adapt their work styles and approaches to different situations. Flexible leaders must intuit when to be directive and when to take a more hands- off or developmental approach. They should have clear goals, but be flexible about the means by which those goals are reached. Companies of the future will find that experimentation leads to innovation. They will give workers the chance to experiment with new ideas and strategies and even question the status quo, and will identify and implement the best findings.
An entrepreneurial mindset. When freelance work and ad hoc project teams are the norm, leaders will need to persuade others to buy into the projects they’re running by creating a compelling aura around themselves and their efforts. They’ll need to tap into the motivations and values of talented people to convince them to join their endeavors. Employees, too, won’t be able to wait for higher-ups to tell them what to do: They’ll need to sell themselves and their skill sets to be chosen for projects that interest them. Personal branding, reputation building, and creating an attractive virtual presence will be increasingly important.
Tech savvy and networking ability. To find talent, projects, and jobs, employees will need to have broad networks—in particular, online social networks. They’ll also need to create a compelling virtual presence and be comfortable managing virtual teams.
By guest contributor, Dr. Tracey Wilen
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