Leaders of the future need to develop eight key areas to lead with confidence and manage their own capacity and resilience in a world of 24/7 demands.
The headwinds of change facing organisations today are mighty. As explored in the Changing Nature of Work deep dive series, technology, robotics, globalisation, disruption, social media and customer demands are just some of the challenges business leaders are navigating as they head into an ambiguous and complex future.
For organisations to succeed in this space, assured leadership is vital. However, one person in a business cannot be expected to have all the answers to the diversity of potential issues or opportunities ahead.
Stefanie Bradley, Partner in Charge, People & Change, KPMG, says traditional hierarchical leadership could leave organisations bereft of the deep insight, varied perspectives and adaptability that they need to survive.
“It is a very complex world for leaders to operate in,” she says. “To succeed, leaders must evolve their capabilities, mindsets and capacity. The must be comfortable with ambiguity, conflict and paradox.”
Dr Jane Gunn, Partner, People & Change, KPMG, adds that in the future, “every leader needs to be their own leader”. This means having the personal reserves to keep their head above water.
“They must manage their own capacity and resilience in this world of 24/7 demands,” Gunn says.
In this spirit, here are eight core areas that Gunn and Bradley recommend leaders will need to develop to not only lead their organisations with confidence, but to also manage their own wellbeing amid constant change.
Leaders need to be agile, adaptable, collaborative and communicative, explains Gunn. They need to be able to execute day-to-day strategy, while simultaneously adapting as dynamics shift.
“Leaders need skills for strategising in complex and changing environments, dealing with ‘wicked problems’ and disciplined execution of business strategy,” she says.
Adding to the challenge is the need to do this while encouraging their people to learn and adapt.
“They need to connect people with meaning and purpose, and support them through dilemmas and paradox,” she says.
Leaders of the future will need to be faster and more emergent in their approach to strategy than in the past, to ensure their organisation can be both proactive and reactive. Gunn describes this as “thinking of strategy as a compass, rather than a map”.
With change so rapid, leaders must engage people from across the business and facilitate networks of leaders. Rather than thinking they should be the one with all the answers, it is a collaborative gathering of insight.
“Self-awareness, connection with personal values, and approaching problems with curiosity and openness are critical. It is putting aside their own expertise and working with the power of others’ ideas,” Gunn says.
People have a desire to feel connected to a purpose in their work, and to own their contribution, and it is unlikely to be any different as the future of work emerges. Leaders need to support this, and encourage a wide range of viewpoints, Bradley explains.
She says it is a good idea to think about leaders ‘facilitating outcomes’ as opposed to taking a pure position of authority.
“We’re seeing great motivation in teams coming from leaders who bring an energy to the people around them,” Bradley says.
Engaging with stakeholders in a way that recognises that they have valuable insights to offer is central to leading change. Change doesn’t occur by edict, Gunn says, and people want their contribution and ideas valued.
“It’s essential to identify and embrace both the contributions and the inevitable tensions of competing expectations to build support and backing for the change effort,” she says.
Gunn says where once we may have considered organisational politics to be a “nuisance, something to be avoided” it is now a competitive advantage to field the interests and viewpoints of a variety of stakeholders.
“This is at the heart of achieving successful change,” she says.
It will be important for leaders to understand biases and how they are impacting their decision making, as well as having an understanding of how they behave in certain situations. This comes down to realising that better leadership is about growth as a human being, Bradley says.
“When we’re barrelling ahead into uncertainty, a leader’s experience really matters. But when we’re consciously open to diverse points of view, so much more can be achieved,” she says.
Future leaders need to look outward to make sure they see the forces that could impact their business, as well as make the most of opportunities to be competitive and relevant, Bradley says.
“At times leaders need to be disruptors and become the hunter-explorer to draw out innovation and map new thought into an as yet unseen reality,” she says.
When leading through change, Gunn says leaders need a communication style that draws on personal experience, practical examples and organisational context to provide a narrative to build support for the change process.
“Creating a meaningful narrative throughout the path of change is essential for facilitating the outcome,” she says.