Is the strong leader of today well-suited to be an effective leader five years from now? 10 years? What trends do leaders need to be aware of so that they and their organizations don’t get left behind in the business landscape of 2025 or 2030? How do they need to change?
We talked with futurist Jacob Morgan, author of the new book The Future Leader: 9 Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade. In his book, he interviewed 140 CEOs from companies around the world and conducted an extensive survey of the people who work for them.
What he learned is that some things about leadership are timeless, such as the ability to craft a vision, motivate people to follow it, and execute on strategies. But over the next decade, there are new skills and mindsets that will be critical to leading effectively. Morgan identified six key leadership trends that executives must understand if they want to remain successful. In the first of a two-part blog post, we address the first three:
Leadership trend #1 – Automation and what it will mean
Automating a job is not the same thing as replacing a human, and leaders are going to need to understand which jobs can and will be automated and how humans can subsequently pivot within their organizations.
In his book, Morgan describes how a major financial services company automated 17,000 finance jobs, yet didn’t lose a single employee. The company used artificial intelligence to handle the more mundane number-crunching aspects of these employees’ jobs, which ended up freeing those employees to serve in more strategic client service roles.
This AI trend will also impact leaders, whose role is to make decisions and present an organizational vision toward which they can lead their people. Those leaders who lean too heavily to the “decision” side – thinking that issuing orders is all it takes to lead – will be weeded out. As AI does more of the decision making these command-and-control leaders will become increasingly unnecessary.
But for an effective leader who focuses on the vision and on motivating, engaging, empowering, and inspiring people, his or her stock will clearly rise in the organization.
“Technology and artificial intelligence will make it blatantly clear who are the good leaders and who aren’t. This will be a wake-up call for organizations to think differently about leadership,” Morgan says.
Leadership trend #2 – The pace of change
The fast-changing business landscape is already an issue, but change is only going to come more rapidly and be more challenging.
“A lot of leaders are going to have a very hard time coping because they’re essentially trying to lead in a future that doesn’t yet exist,” Morgan says. And leaders are going to have to understand that this will be the new normal, because what worked in the past isn’t likely to work in the future.
As a result, leaders will have to be comfortable with experimentation, with testing ideas, with challenging the status quo, and with embracing uncertainty. They will also need to accept that they can surround themselves with people who are smarter, and better at many things, than they are yet still lead them effectively.
“This can be very uncomfortable for leaders because this isn’t how we were trained. Why would you want to hire somebody better and more talented, who could be a threat to you? It’s a very different way for us to think about leadership in the future,” Morgan notes.
Leadership trend #3 – The purpose and meaning of work
Increasingly, employees want to understand how the work they are doing is having an impact; part of the job of leaders will be to enlighten them.
“We’re seeing a change in society around what we value and care about at work. We are coming to care more about quality of life than about money, and about better integrating our work and our lives,” Morgan says.
What leaders must focus on is the purpose and meaning of the work their people are doing. Purpose, Morgan explains, is the bridge between the work that someone does and the impact that work has on customers, fellow employees, or others.
The purpose of someone in customer service, for example, is to solve problems for customers, and someone in sales is there to sell products. But the impact concerns the actual outcome of your purpose. As a customer service person, are you effectively solving customer problems? Is that all?
Ideally your impact will be equal to or greater than your purpose. For instance, are you going beyond solving their problems but lightening their burdens or improving their lives in some way? If so, that impact is greater than your purpose.
Where employees will struggle, Morgan says, is when they don’t have insight into the impact they have. Leaders need to communicate that to employees so they better understand the scope of their contribution.
Finally, employees want meaning, they want a positive feeling about the work they do. They want it to be important to them, and they want to enjoy it and even love it. Leaders must help them achieve this.
In the second part of this blog post, we look at the remaining three key trends for leaders.