Of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aims fulfilled

They will all say, “We did this ourselves.”

–Lao Tzu (6th Century B.C.)

Our world is changing rapidly due to colliding influences that include economic volatility, increased financial debt and health care challenges precipitated by COVID-19, political polarization, social justice issues, and an overall erosion of trust in societal institutions. Combine those influences with some of the recent impacts on the workplace, such as higher levels of remote work for knowledge workers, shifts in skill requirements for employees, and increased expectations to deliver results faster, leaders in every sector are being called upon to respond in new and innovative ways.

As I’ve been reflecting on these colliding influences, I’ve been asking myself: “what skill sets will this require of leaders today and in the future?”

In his book, Nobody in Charge (John Wiley & Sons, 2007), Harlan Cleveland states that he believes that there are four major attributes the leader of the future will need to have:

  • Energy to work hard, long hours. Future leaders will need to go the extra mile to study and learn cutting edge technology and information that will be needed to make good decisions.
  • Managing through consensus. With a wide range of people in charge of various aspects of the enterprise, future leaders will need the ability to include them all in the decision-making process.
  • Facing ambiguity with enthusiasm. Leaders of the future will need a personal disposition that is enthused, rather than daunted by choices and options. They will need to thrive on ambiguity to be successful.
  • Ability to guide rather than taking the reins solely in their own hands. They will need to be adept at influencing direction without necessarily mandating it.

While Cleveland’s book is now almost 15 years old, I think his assessment is spot on. I’m also amazed at how the age-old wisdom from Lao-Tzu aligns with Cleveland’s point of managing through consensus. In my experience, the best leaders inspire and empower their teams to accomplish work, so that they can say “we did this ourselves.”

When you think about the challenges ahead in your environment, what skill sets do you think leaders need to successfully navigate challenges today and in the future?

Note: Throughout this year, I’ll be writing about the skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics needed by leaders to be successful. I hope you’ll join me for the journey! You can sign up to get my weekly blogs sent to your email by signing up on my website at: https://riosconsulting.org Scroll to the bottom of the home page and enter your email address. It’s that simple.

Anita Rios

One thought on “Navigating the future

  1. Thank you Anita for shining light on this subject, especially with consideration for all of the colliding influences that are driving shifts and evolving methods in leadership trends. I completely agree with the quote from Lao Tzu, that the sign of a great leader is essentially when the people say, “Look what we did!” I find this team outcome rises from those leaders with high emotional intelligence who are known for their servant leadership.

    While I agree with the need for “energy” I’d like to think we are learning from the physical and mental health ailments across our employee bases, that we will “leverage energy to work smarter, not harder over extra hours.” Key leadership skills to weave into those you mentioned:
    1) Showing genuine commitment to a balanced life. Work and personal time are a complete blur, so let’s not even bother with work/life balance, and instead allow personal and professional efforts to intermingle with good boundaries. Showing means modeling, so don’t be afraid to let your team know you are taking intermittent breaks to help your child with online school, or taking the necessary time to take five to talk with your significant other to keep things in the home running smoothly.
    2) Demonstrating and encouraging employees to take necessary brain breaks, mindful minutes, stress-relieving stretches, and wakeful walking across the day. Yes, during core work hours or any work time that is flexed into personal and family time. This will produce the energy, reset the brain, and provide motivation to get work done efficiently.
    3) Leveraging experts who know technology well to teach you and your team the cutting edge technology and information that will be needed to make good decisions. (Rather than setting the expectation that your team needs to just keep up with it and learn it on their own.) I love what technology does for us, but I get overwhelmed with having to constantly learn and adapt to rapidly evolving platforms and systems. Empower those technology gurus on your team to help everyone and meet common goals productively.
    4) Tying in with facing ambiguity is: Instilling the concept that, “The only constant is change.” Mentally prepare your team to accept changes, and help them let go of past work (yes, this sometimes includes a little grieving over what they once owned and did). This allows your team to take on new work most effectively. When we hold onto old work, while trying to manage new work, we decrease our productivity. At times, this behavior can come off as defensive and offensive to others who may be picking up your old work. A great book that helped me and my fellow Deluxers move through massive organizational restructuring is, Managing Transitions by William Bridges.

    I hope this helps others and sparks more professionals to comment on this blog.

    Thank you, Mary

    Liked by 1 person

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