The future of leadership is the ability to bring order into a system of constant disorder. Daniela Eberhardt shares stories from her own leadership practice, the megatrends driving tomorrow’s workplace, and how we can react.
Are you interested in leadership and leading? If so, you must be able to handle an already complex and fragmented job in a future teeming with change.
Change is the only constant
In my role I lead an institute for counseling and education programs. Our staff is made up of individuals, each with his or her own personality, all working together in a fast changing, growing organization.
“Nobody knows where our company actually ends.” – Peter Waser, former CEO Microsoft Switzerland.
Recently, and within a short period of time, a whole cohort of employees retired at once, leaving me and the organization with a generational shift in the way we work together. Internally we are facing some of the same issues that our intercultural training programs address abroad, except that for us the intercultural differences are replaced by intergenerational ones.
I am also exposed to generational differences in working style and philosophy through the trainee programs for young adults I offer and as a mentor in a female leadership program aimed at strengthening young female colleagues to become and stay successful leaders. Inspired by these young people and the changing nature of our institution, we are also increasingly considering what social responsibility at work means for us.
The balancing act between constant change and diverse needs is fascinating and overwhelming to me all at once. I struggle personally with a very specific question in my industry that I imagine you can relate to: How will work change next and what kind of leadership do we need in response?
Megatrends for the future of leadership
The leadership challenges I face exemplify the megatrends we are all experiencing, and which are also shaping the future of work and of leading. You are likely dealing with these megatrends, too. So what are they?
I was lucky enough to conduct in-person interviews with 20 great leadership experts and leaders from a diversity of sectors in the San Francisco Bay Area in summer 2013, during which I asked them about the future of leadership. In this hub for entrepreneurs and innovation I discussed with these experts what that future looks like through the lens of five key megatrends to watch and prepare for: individualization, flexibility, demographic shifts, rapid social and economic change, as well as social responsibility.
Leaders will increasingly need to balance individual and organizational needs in an era of a Do It Yourself (DIY) ethos, mass customization, and the convergence between work and private life.
Transition to Flexibility
Frequent reconfiguration of working arrangements and social networks create a need for more flexibility in organizational design and processes—things like virtual teams and technology convergence.
There are cultural challenges that come with changes in demographics, such as the generational shift in my own office or intercultural differences introduced by globally distributed employees. Women’s participation in organizations—especially in leadership roles—are part of this megatrend as well.
Rapid social and economic change.
This highlights the effects of globalization, especially relevant to intercultural understanding and leading cross-cultural teams.
Social responsibility and Sustainability
Leaders have an increasingly important role in securing sustainable economic and social growth.
How individuals and organizations should, no must, adapt
So how will these megatrends impact the future of leadership? The insights shared by the experts I interviewed vary and highlight different perspectives on the topic.
Everyone agrees, however, that the leaders of the future must be able to deal with these megatrends and will have to sharpen their skills in order to do so. Here are some of the ways in which the workplace of tomorrow must react:
The organization of the future needs a clear vision and a strategic view, and it has to become a learning organization.
The leader of the future, meanwhile, will increasingly need to manage the balancing act between proactive and reactive leadership. She or he needs different technical and social skills going forward, such as effective communication skills and social media savvy in particular.
The economic world is changing profoundly with digital transformation, demographic challenges, and intercultural co-working. Yet the organization and we as humans remain limited in our behavioral repertoire, tending towards old patterns that are already in conflict with current reality. That simply will not be sustainable.
Pressure to perform and speed of change will continue to increase. Translating individual perspectives, limitations, and constant pressure will be even more demanding. To rise to the occasion, we need resilient leaders who can deal with the challenges and can effectively solve leadership dilemmas for the benefit of the organization – and its employees.
Reflecting and discussing these trends and strategies helps develop one’s own leadership skills to deal with future challenges. Do you have a perspective worth sharing or goals to be met? Become a part of the evolving conversation during the Collaborative Leadership Lab at swissnex San Francisco, a two-day workshop with experts to develop community and define next steps for the future of leadership.