The pandemic caused us to pivot to virtual work environments, requiring a transformation in how leaders lead. In today’s uncertain environment, leadership capabilities are different from those that helped teams succeed in the past. Leaders need to reimagine the skills and capabilities that will be most critical to lead the future workforce. Organizations are facing what the World Economic Forum (WEF) has called a reskilling emergency. By 2022, 42% of the core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change, and more than a billion people will need to be reskilled by 2030.
Many organizations use the traditional leadership model of top-down direction, but some have successfully unstructured their models to become flatter and help build more flexible, agile, dynamic leadership models, minimizing the bottleneck of top-down leadership. The next generation of leadership requires companies to have flatter organizational structures to foster more rapid, effective communication among employees and make leaders more accessible. Organizations will continue to become more dynamic and collaborative, with a reduced power dynamic between employees, allowing all the opportunity to lead as people have clearer understandings of their roles and can make decisions without going through unnecessary management layers.
The past year shed light on inequality. Minority groups have suffered disproportionately, and racial and gender bias in workplaces were highlighted. McKinsey & Company has shown statistically that financial outperformed has strengthened over time as companies listen to their employees and have greater representation of women and ethnic diversity in leadership teams and executive roles. Visible diversity is important as ensuring the representation of diverse talent and advancing this talent into high-level leadership positions motivates employees and attracts top talent.
However, quotas, and hiring goals do not automatically mean an organization is inclusive. Leaders must learn to create value out of diversity and can do so by integrating it into all processes of the organization. Educating recruiters, upholding zero-tolerance policies for discrimination, actively helping managers and employees identify and address microaggressions, and not being afraid to have uncomfortable conversations will help sustain inclusive systems and drive innovative results. Diversity and inclusion will continue as a prominent topic and something that leaders will be responsible for demonstrating consistently as the next generation of leaders demands it.
Working in a hybrid workplace requires leaders who demonstrate a global mindset. As global connectivity increases and leaders build their cultural understanding, leaders will learn to appreciate different backgrounds and cultures and the large role diversity plays in an organization’s ability to succeed in global markets. Agile organizations will redesign roles based on digital transformation to embrace technological improvements. Top employers will also be at the forefront of ensuring their workforce is future-ready and sustainable. The future-ready workforce is rooted in a culture of continual, lifelong learning that leaders must help embed and integrate into the flow of work itself to ensure that employees are developing enduring capabilities and necessary skills.
During uncertain times, people look to leaders for guidance. As the pandemic caused a lot of disruption, people felt disconnected and anxious about the rapid changes. As leading during a crisis is unchartered territory for many leaders, what is of utmost importance during such a time is human connection and human leadership. Pre-covid, a study noted that “40% of people state they feel isolated at work,” and the pandemic has only heightened these feelings of isolation and burnout. Emerging leaders must focus on human leadership grounded in connections, uplifting, and empowering their employees to combat this. This can be done by expanding their emotional intelligence and factoring in other priorities such as employees’ well-being and physical/mental health. Such leadership matters as leaders play key roles in our workplace and societies as they shape and change people’s daily experiences.
Gary Burnison, CEO of management consultancy Korn Ferry, emphasizes the importance of becoming a “radically human” leader. The next generation of leadership will be one centered around togetherness. As the collective stress and turmoil of the pandemic were shared globally, this has accelerated leaders’ compassion and shone a spotlight on the idea of keeping all personal emotions out of the workplace as becoming old-fashioned. Leaders have had to adapt and meet their employees where they’re at and must continue doing so, not just while the pandemic is ongoing but post-pandemic as well. With work-life integration, as people’s homes became their places of work, rest, and reflection, leaders embraced empathy to forge stronger connections with employees. In today’s virtual, hybrid workplaces, leaders must be purposeful about creating spaces for connection. People need to know and feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and that the employers they work for care about them and their growth as human beings.
Organizations are beginning to incorporate hybrid workplaces as they transition back to some in-person activities after working from home for the past year and a half. An important aspect of this transition is leaders recognizing that the workforce is not likely to go back to exactly how it was before the pandemic. Workers may prefer to work remotely, either part or full-time, hence offering flexible work choices. Women, especially women of color, were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as some experienced losing their jobs, which negatively affected their financial security and reduced their opportunities. Schools also moved online, and daycare, among other childcare services, were closed or limited, so working parents had to take on the challenge of primary childcare duties, which caused a lot of women to leave the workforce due to difficulties of balancing all these responsibilities. Organizations can support women and those who face more barriers to reentering the workplace by providing workplace-based childcare, flexible work arrangements, and supporting upskilling and reskilling initiatives. Hybrid workplaces also improve diversity and inclusion as workers with physical disabilities and accessibility can create more job opportunities with work from home.
As millennial leaders outnumber baby boomers in the workforce, workplace dynamics and leadership styles continue to evolve. Many leadership roles are currently occupied by baby boomers, who incorporate a more traditional style of leading. However, millennials and generation X are changing traditional leadership and taking a new approach that emphasizes inclusive and collaborative leadership over authoritarian leadership. Millennials have grown up with technology, and it is attractive to them to incorporate technology in their communication. Millennials also value an employer that demonstrates corporate social responsibility while also supporting flexibility and work-life balance. The next generation of leadership wants more coaching, mentorship, and career development opportunities. These generations value organizations’ social responsibility and employees must better CSR initiatives as they move up the ladder in their jobs and land positions with more influence. The best way to support career growth in emerging leaders now is teaching them as much as possible but also [giving] them a chance to lead, providing measurable goals, and support accordingly.
The time to start developing the next generation of leaders is now. Winning organizations invest in emerging leaders as an essential part of their retention and succession strategies. This begins with identifying potential leaders who are motivated and striving to be and do their best and then fostering their leadership skills. High-potential leaders can be trained through coaching, mentoring, and self-directed learning to increase succession readiness for future roles and build connections.
It is important to inspire as well as be inspired. Research from the Institute of Coaching highlights that leaders who are yearning for transformation often turn to coaching for inspiration and support. Coaching can help leaders unlock their potential as they feel inspired and confidently explore ways to achieve goals and make positive changes. Coaches can help employees become more aware of what inspires them and use that inspiration to elevate performance.
Leadership is about making bold but informed decisions that are influenced by change. Facing these changes head-on will make leaders successful as they reimagine where and how work is performed. Technology, automation, and hybrid work environments will continue to elevate expectations and demands on leaders. Digital transformation and elevated expectations around CSR, D&I, and work-life integration, will define a new era of leadership that focuses on our shared humanity.
Susan Power is the Founder & CEO of PowerUp Leadership, a boutique consulting advisory and leadership coaching firm based in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. PowerUp Leadership helps organizations multiply their leaders to grow. The firm specializes in building leadership capability in Executive Leaders. Clients are typically executives in the technology industry, government, and professional services. Susan is a Professional Certified Coach and certified in administering Leadership Circle 360’s. Susan volunteers as President of International Coaching Federation Atlantic, Board of Directors. In her spare time, Susan spends time with her two sons (William and James) and likes to go to Pilates Barre class.
Riyah Hadi is the HR & Social Media Coordinator at PowerUp Leadership for her co-op term this summer. She is a third-year Honours Arts and Business student at the University of Waterloo, where she is minoring in Human Resource Management and Psychology. Riyah grew up in Kenya and through her volunteering experiences and leadership roles during her school years there, she has developed and continues to develop the necessary skills for her to thrive in the workplace and be an involved student. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking and spending time outdoors, especially at the beach with friends.