The Future of Work is Forcing a Leadership Evolution

Oji Editorial Staff | May 22, 2023
The Future of Work is Forcing a Leadership Evolution
Business leader having a discussion with his team members in common area

We’ve hit an inflection point with the future of work. The pandemic forced organizations to challenge their conventional ideas around work. Using sales targets and optimization strategies to motivate teams and hit business goals isn’t enough anymore.

Leaders today face new challenges due to the speed of technological, social, and economic change. Employees need to feel valued and connected to their organization’s broader purpose. But how do you achieve this?

These new challenges are forcing an evolution in leadership. Your success as a leader in this new future of work will depend on how prepared you are to manage this change.

Leadership in a new context

As the workplace continues to evolve, the modern leader must evolve with it to meet the shifting expectations of the workforce. It’s clear that people believe organizations have new leadership requirements. In fact, 80 percent of respondents to a Deloitte survey expressed that they think 21st-century leadership has unique and new requirements that are important or very important to their organization’s success.

As much as leaders have honed ‘hard’ skills, the past few years have brought about new leadership considerations that continue to persist. Skills long-considered “soft” are essential for the future of leadership. Today’s modern leaders must embrace these core capabilities:

  • Adaptability: In addition to the operational skills most business leaders already possess, there’s a need for agility. Not just the ability to react to change, but the more proactive ability to look ahead, project trends, and encourage innovations that make the organization flexible in the event of future pivots. Whether this means adapting to new technology or embracing cultural shifts, leaders need to be cognizant of what is on the horizon.
  • Empathy: The pandemic demonstrated the need for empathy in leadership. Today, empathy encompasses a more holistic view of members of your team. What can you do to support their personal well-being, and how are you providing for their professional growth?
  • Inclusivity: The question of improving organizational diversity is not whether or when, but how. Leaders must be prepared to improve diversity in a way that is equitable and socially responsible. They must also be prepared to foster and maintain a culture that is welcoming and supportive for all team members and free of discrimination.  

At the core of these modern leadership capabilities is connection. Communication, trust, respect, and appreciation are all tools of the modern leader. How leaders express, model, and support each of these is a reflection of how well they understand the needs of their employees.

A humanistic approach to leadership is key to making employees feel respected, valued, and supported not just for what they do but for who they are.

Bolstering personal engagement within the workplace also helps employees feel more connected to their work and the people they work with, improving their productivity and performance levels by extension. This, in turn, fosters a healthy workplace culture and attracts and retains top talent.

In short, it’s never been more important for leaders around the world to put the needs of their people first.

New competencies for the modern leader

While traditional leadership expectations and outcomes still have a place in today’s new world of work, they are being combined with a new set of leadership competencies. Instead of being focused on traditional markers like financials, personal performance, and operational efficiency, leaders should now be focused on things like fostering collaboration within teams, finding ways to adapt to shifting marketplaces, and establishing success markers beyond financial achievements.

Ultimately, building teams and workplace cultures that value collaboration while rooting business goals within a broader context than just numbers (say, measuring success based on positive impact) is motivational for employees.

A Gartner poll found that 90 percent of HR leaders believe that in order to succeed in today’s work environment, leaders must focus on the human aspects of leadership. Yet, unfortunately, findings from another survey found that just 29 percent report that their leader is a human leader.

Organizations know that they must develop leaders for perennial leadership skills such as the ability to manage operations, supervise teams, make decisions, prioritize investments, and manage the bottom line. And they know that they must also develop leaders with the competencies needed to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving, technology-driven business environment.

Capabilities such as leading through ambiguity, managing increasing complexity, managing changing demographics, and handling cultural differences are paramount for the future of work.

New leadership competencies include:

1. Embracing vulnerability

There is no innovation without vulnerability. This is because people want to build relationships with other people, and that requires trust and human connection. Leaders who embrace vulnerability can show employees that it’s okay if you don’t always have all the answers. In doing so, they pave the way for other team members to open up about their questions, anxieties, or perceived weaknesses. The result is a communicative, collaborative team where members can work to support one another as needed.

2. Challenging convention

Today’s leaders must be constantly thinking of ways that they can challenge the assumptions that we have about how work gets done. They understand that what works best for one employee may not be as effective for another, and they must be open to outside-of-the-box solutions.

3. Leading through ambiguity

The goal of leadership in an ambiguous environment is not to “sell” the business strategy but rather to create an environment where employees “discover” where they are, where the company is going, and how they fit into the organizational story. Linking business goals to the impact they will have on other people is much more motivational for team members than a financial target. Helping people understand the “why” behind their job gives them a sense of purpose and accountability.

The bottom line

The world of work is changing quickly, and there is no place for those who are not willing to adapt. It has never been more important for leaders to be authentically human - putting the needs of their people first and seeking to understand each employee on a human level.

As the workforce continues to evolve, our view of modern leadership must evolve with it. Adapting to the changing landscape is paramount for ensuring the success of your teams and your organization as a whole.

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