This is an interesting question. The pace of change in our workplaces is accelerating each year. The demands on our leaders are therefore changing at pace.
I have been fascinated by this subject and have read various articles and spoken to many people on the subject. My company is about helping businesses succeed through the engagement of its people. This subject is therefore important to me as the capability of leaders is causally linked to the engagement of the people within the business. Understanding our future leaders needs now will help us develop a proactive path of learning and development so our businesses are ready for this future change.
From my interactions on this subject, I think the question “What is the future of leadership?” can be broken down into three areas:
- The technology surrounding the people
- The needs of the people
- The mobility of the people
Currently, technology is dominating these discussions, yet I think there are more fundamental pressures on how business leaders need to evolve. Most importantly, we need to look at the future mobility and societal needs of people and the implications this will have, with respect to the technology that we now have access to.
Therefore, looking at a different angle, i.e. the external pressures that are driving the need for change in our leaders, we can identify three rapid changes in society:
- The drive for equality and therefore inclusivity in our organisations
- Globalisation and population diversity
- The location in which the population resides
1) The drive for equality and therefore inclusivity in our organisations
Recently in the UK, we have finally produced our first mandatory reporting on gender pay from larger organisations. Obviously, this still needs to go further and look at all other comparisons between demographics in our populations but at least the UK Government has started a ball (albeit a small one) rolling. (See our previous blog by Evie Samuel on Intersectionality). Shareholders now really want to know what is being done around the diverse mix of its workforce. This is mainly due to the potential impact on share price (!) as this is unfortunately how many western businesses work. Plans are now happening to address this from recruitment and selection reviews, to talent procedure changes and, in some great cases, obtaining high quality feedback from employees for analytical review and action.
The impact on the future of leaders here is the conscious work that needs to be done to overcome bias. Unconscious bias is in every decision we make unless we purposefully challenge ourselves on this. Training and coaching to develop high Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the way forward here. Every future leader competency model I have read recently has EQ at its core to shift towards future leadership styles. The ability to understand the individual, communicate in an effective way and respond to their specific needs fundamentally needs high level of EQ.
2) Globalisation and population diversity
The future leader will need to understand a great deal about the many cultures that exist in the world as these cultures are being represented in our nations, communities and workplaces more and more. Globalisation has led to a very rapid mix up of nationalities in a short space of time meaning that often customs and values have journeyed with the migrants rather than been forgotten and local ones adopted fully in their new home. This is a challenge, on average, for some more mature leaders who would have probably grown up in a more homogeneous community – or even those who grew up in rural locations. This knowledge gap needs positive action. We, as HR professionals, need to not assume that just because someone lives in a diverse place/community that they understand the nuances of the diversity around them. (Especially with some current media biases on the subject acting in an opposite direction).
Future leaders need to actively understand the needs of the individuals in the team. This is often seen as religious beliefs but also includes the value set. For example, compare the South East Asian focus on Confucionism compared to the West’s Egalitarianism approach. This has a huge impact in the workplace for the concept of hierarchy to the method and style of communication.
The future leader needs to act as almost an orchestra conductor to get the most out of each individual within the team.
I find the diversity of populations fascinating and how it varies around the world. Western Europe has one of the most diverse populations in the world. To get an idea on this, have a look at the team line-ups at the Fifa World Cup at the moment. Look at the England, France and Germany team diversity compared to some other, more homogeneous nations. Does this represent their communities and thinking?
3) The location in which the population resides
This is an interesting area. In our cities, overcrowding and high accommodation prices are causing pressure for the younger generations especially. This situation, that is being mainly unchecked at present will result, in my observations, in a shift in how we work. This can now only happen potentially with the technology that has now emerged and is available to the mainstream.
This has led to the rise of the “Co-working Space”.
Co-working spaces are opening at an exponential rate in our biggest cities. As big businesses understands that large offices are too expensive, commuting is a turn off and small businesses cannot afford their own building, the rise of these micro-shared office spaces is astonishing. In London one of the biggest chains is WeWork. With 39 offices now in London alone, with one opening every few weeks, there is a huge appetite for people to share an office space with those from other organisations. Indeed, people I have spoken to who work in these co-working spaces say that networking, innovation and even making new friends through these micro communities is better than a corporate office.
Now, extrapolate this concept into the future. Imagine if this idea took off for organisations that are primarily office-based. In the future, a “Head Office” could be a compact area for a core team and meeting/conference call areas. All the rest of the workforce might work in small hubs within co-working spaces around the country. Therefore, co-working locations would spring up in other cities, then large towns and then smaller communities. Eventually this might lead to small communities being reenergised as co-working spaces appear on High Streets keeping the community, therefore the economy, more local.
The future leader will have their work cut as their workers will be in remote places. The workers will not feel “remote” as such as they will have friends within these offices from a diverse mix of businesses and other organisations. The future leader therefore will need to work hard at communicating and storytelling what is needed for performance. They will need to adapt to dealing with virtual teams whose emotional attachment may be outside of the organisation. Motivating them will be hard but essential.
As you can see above, if we look at the outside pressures on society and the workplace we can see that this is driving the changes needed for the future of leaders. Leaders need to be able to deal with, and understand, the diversity of the team and figure out how to make everyone feel included. This will be made harder as the workers will be dispersed and will probably be related to the people in their co-working spaces more than their remote manager.
The future of leaders is therefore to challenge themselves in everything they do to overcome their unconscious bias and use high EQ to get their team members engaged and motivated in the future.
P.S. Tap’d runs HR Forums, webinars and has its own podcast channel: Tap’d Talks HR. If you want to find out more, go to www.tapdsolutions.com.