To The Leader of the Future: Your New Reality Will Need A Change In Approach.

With all the talk of the future of work, the need to update our skills constantly, and the expected change in the responsibilities of our roles, what will the leaders of the future need to be able to keep up with this?

The bottom line is people will still be people, so the characteristics of the new leader will remain consistent with the hallmarks of great leaders of the past. People will still need empathy, teams will still need motivation, groups will still require a cause to rally to and businesses will still require strategy.  The skills required to be a great people leader won’t change. That is not up for discussion here.

It is the environment that will change and hence require adaptation. Same dance, but to a different beat and maybe with some new snazzy shoes. It is difficult to imagine this new world and where the new pressures will appear from, so let’s make an educated guess by extrapolating existing expected to continue into the future.

Symptom: The new world will be faster.

Leadership need:

Information synthesis and decision-making will need to be rapid and systematic, informed by a strategic framework and tactical protocol. Living in a hyper-connected world will provide leaders with insights and information in real-time using AI augmentation. New tools and techniques will be provided at a faster pace than ever before, and a greater degree of small decisions will fall to machines with brain-like abilities. This in turn will increase human productivity. However, this also means that leaders will be in the hot seat to make decisions faster, and regularly revise strategies and tactics.

Symptom: We will have access to even more data.

Leadership need:

Technology knowledge and the ability to use these tools will be critical to a leadership skill-set, in particular visualisation and the ability to synthesize large amounts of data to predict trends will be paramount to leaders. The future leader will be able to access user-friendly consumable information sources in real-time through deeper levels of AI computation and insights. The ability to absorb this information, retain it then use it for future planning and execution will be a fine art.

Symptom: There will be more decisions to make (with an expectation to make them even faster).

Leadership need:

Decision-making is a creative yet stressful process that requires brainpower and focus to get right. As the cadence of decision-making increases (it’s faster because there is more data), leaders will need to understand how to context-shift and maintain a low-stress state in the face of increased pressure. People make the most certain and complete decisions when they are low-stress and best-informed. Countless data sources and views can create ambiguity. so a leader will need to ensure they are ‘fit‘ decision makers through routines and personal controls so they can maintain strategic focus and reduce decision fatigue. Expect to see rigorous decision-making frameworks and criteria management tools emerge as decision-making expectation and cadence increases.

Symptom: Teams and resource models will be highly diverse

Leadership need:

An ability to manage people and personalities across multi-location, multi-language/culture, remote/local, part-time, not to mention AI resources, will become the norm of a contemporary business. The complexity of team and resource management will be difficult to orchestrate without sophisticated workforce management and collaboration tools. The future leader will need to ensure that the technology resources, people processes, operating model and strategy all work together through this distributed team structure whilst measuring performance, and providing interventions and feedback in a timely manner. Phew! Even writing that sounds hard.

Symptom: Communication will be key, and expectations will be different.

Leadership need:

As anyone will tell you, different people prefer and thrive with different forms of communication.  We all know the person who only calls to talk, and then the other that refuses to pick up the phone and only emails. In the new world of real-time notifications and an increasingly intrusive and constant stream of communication (driven in part by automated and AI systems), the new leader must navigate, prioritise and tailor her/his communication to meet the demands and preference of the team and nature of the engagement. The ability to create high-engagement communication through technology platforms will be critical. Bringing the intimacy of face-to-face communication through an immersive digital or AR platform will need to be used by a leader to create personal connections amongst the team.  The creation of specific communication protocols to cut through the noise of modern real-time life will allow the manager to triage and prioritise communication amongst the team.

Symptom: Continuous learning will be key.

Leadership need:

There is a great adage that says ‘Leaders are Readers’ and brought into the future context, this will be ‘Leaders are Learners’. The pace of change will not slow down, so if you want to lead in an exponential world of uber-competition and rapid pivots, you’ll not only need to be a learner you’ll need to be a voracious learner. The challenge isn’t that the leader will need to learn but actually deciding what they will learn and where they will invest their time (Chief Learning Officer for anyone?). The trend of micro-skilling and assessment in addition to the new AI learning frameworks emerging to manage people’s competency development will assist in managing the team’s capability growth, but the leader’s skill-set is managed by no one. Enter the coach and mentorship programmes. The modern leader will need a coach, probably more than one, who takes ownership for a specific area of the leader’s professional development. More than likely, at least one will not be human. As bizarre as that is, development in AR and AI means cybernetic teaching may outperform people-to-people teaching very very soon, and will present the best approach for a manager or leader to learn and upskill.

Symptom: The one constant thing in the future of work is change.

Leadership need:

It seems obvious that this will happen at a higher cadence. But as humans, we tend to resist change. So, how will the modern leader manage this in a high-paced environment where every second counts? Leaders will need to provide programmes where consistent and iterative changes are the approach rather than big bang. High-cadence communication and buy-in will be critical with a dedicated amount of time in a leaders schedule to frame change and to ensure people can understand ‘WIFM’. This dovetails nicely with the consistent learning environment and the communication requirements mentioned above. Orchestrating organisational and personnel skill changes will be a difficult dance to ensure a smooth transition. By using timeless leadership skills of providing empathy, rallying people to a cause and connecting them with a vision means they will be able to help employees overcome the discomfort of a job that never stays the same.

The Far Future.

Symptom: There will be leadership, but no management?

Leadership need:

A provocative statement but indications show it may very well be the case. Leadership skills to create cooperation and unity amongst team without the need for management. Given the trends of collaboration tools and processes, and the ability of systems to intervene and monitor performance, will we really need people management? Leadership undoubtedly yes, but management... no? This remains to be seen, but commentary on this topic is beginning to gain traction in light of the advancements in both the gig economy and distributed, AI augmented teams and systems. Only time will tell.