Welcome to the Innovative Leadership Newsletter, brought to you by the Innovative Leadership Institute, where we bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.
This week’s article is written by Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute. It is a companion piece to her interview with Dr. Christopher Washington, Provost and Executive Vice President of Franklin University, on Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future titled Leadership Trends for 2024, which premiered on December 26, 2023.
Link to the entire interview:
Every generation of business leaders experiences social, economic, and environmental tensions that must be managed to achieve successful organizational results. What’s new in 2024 is that the volume and pace are accelerating. To navigate these changes, we must move from solving problems to managing tensions. What combination of problems, barriers, and opportunities will create the tensions and barriers that managers must manage in the coming year?
Here are the top trends I see for 2024 and beyond.
Trend 1: Artificial Intelligence & Computing Power
Technological advancements, including AI, robotics, sensors, and gene editing, are taking center stage in 2024. We can expect a significant impact of these advancements on how most people live and work. Bill Gates says, “This new technology can help people everywhere improve their lives. At the same time, the world needs to establish the rules of the road so that any downsides of artificial intelligence are far outweighed by its benefits, and so that everyone can enjoy those benefits no matter where they live or how much money they have. The Age of AI is filled with opportunities and responsibilities.”
Tension: As Gates highlights, we must balance the need for speed and experimentation with solid processes and operational excellence. Balance the cost and time investment in training and desire for novelty with the speed at which changes happen. Where do we invest, and where do we train? One crucial recommendation is to determine where to learn and where it is essential to unlearn outdated mindsets, skills, and behaviors.
Trend 2: Weather Disruptions and Environmental Degradation
Weather will elevate to the strategic level for many organizations. We are seeing changes in weather patterns that are disrupting weather prediction models. Accurate prediction is becoming more challenging. Since weather impacts every supply chain segment, every organization will be affected to varying degrees.
While weather is more visible, the issues are broader and more encompassing than weather patterns. Environmental degradation encompasses various environmental harms, such as pollution and resource depletion, while changing weather patterns refers explicitly to the alterations of atmospheric conditions. Corporate activities such as growing industrialization and overexploitation of natural resources can lead to environmental degradation and changing weather patterns.
Tension: Balance the need for data and certainty for weather-related strategic planning with the fast-changing climate disruptions. Mitigation can include creating a weather-related strategic plan to balance the need for data and certainty. The planning process and having a solid data source like the Weather Company to predict longer-term trends will provide a solid foundation for crucial decisions.
Trend 3: Polarization
The polarization of groups and communities makes agreeing on a path and moving forward challenging. As people in any group — whether a team, department, company, community, nation, or people sharing a planet — we need to find a process to identify common ground and develop agreements and solutions to address our most significant challenges. If the trend continues, we may see a rise in incivility in some groups and, in others, a willingness to find common ground.
Tension: Within organizations, we want people to have the opportunity to be authentic, and concurrently, the organization needs employees, contractors, and board members to focus on the business of the organization civilly and respectfully. We need to create a psychologically safe environment to explore the impacts of policies and business decisions among team members with vastly different perspectives. Then, we need to make decisions that team members will support. Tolerating disrespectful behavior and noncompliance with business decisions can lead to long-term damage.
Trend 4: Shifting Interest Rates
For over a decade, individuals and businesses alike have become accustomed to easy money offered in a low-interest rate environment. This all changed in 2023, with escalating interest rates significantly shifting ROI calculations and, in some cases, overall business models. While increasing interest rates tend to slow borrowing and business investment, reducing it has the opposite effect. Additionally, fluctuations in interest rates in either direction unevenly impact individual and organizational spending.
Tension: Balance sticking to your organization’s proven products and services with rapid prototyping and exploration. To regularly create a profitable product portfolio, organizations must monitor the economic environment and its impact on purchasing and selling power, maintain robust processes to evaluate current products’ viability, and simultaneously launch new products. These processes should align with the organizational strategic planning process and be agile enough to adjust as the interest rate environment shifts.
Trend 5: Work-Life Demands
For many, the aftermath of COVID-19 has changed workplace norms and expectations, and many people are trying to find a new work-life balance. While we read that AI will make a four-day workweek possible, others see the opposite: increased expectations and work volume. This is already leading to burnout and epidemic-level mental health issues.
Tension: We all want to attract and retain the best talent while managing increasing cost pressures and inflation. As organizational leaders, we must find approaches to balance sustainable workloads with meeting our financial goals. High levels of retirement and long lead times to hire are straining many organizations during the current labor shortage. Companies are experimenting with approaches such as a four-day workweek with some success. The Chamber of Commerce recommends, “Businesses can increase their hiring pools by removing barriers to entering the workforce like expanding childcare access, offering innovative benefits, participating in second-chance hiring, and providing opportunities for new and existing staff to be upskilled and reskilled on the job.”
Trend 6: Multigenerational Workforce
The presence of five generations in the workforce creates a level of diversity not previously seen. This diversity of thought, experience, and approach will allow companies to leverage a wide range of talent. Still, generational diversity will also create challenges ranging from clashing workplace and cultural norms to more complex decision-making processes.
Tension:Balance the broad perspectives that relate to almost every topic, from remote work to technology use. Some organizations engage members representing each generation to create organizational norms and agreements. They work past the stereotypes to understand one another and structure communication approaches, benefits, and leadership approaches for each group. Each generation must feel respected and engaged to create a thriving workplace.
Trend 7: Shift in Post-Secondary Education Pursuits
According to the Fall 2023 National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s regular updates on higher education enrollment, “Students continue to gravitate towards shorter-term credentials, with enrollments in undergraduate certificate programs jumping 9.9 percent over 2022, compared to 3.6 percent for associate degrees and just 0.9 percent for bachelor’s degrees.” There are lots of workforce implications here.
Tension: Employees will need retraining at an accelerating rate based on the range of disruptions we see. They will need to choose between a range of options for retraining and balance the cost and time involved. Concurrently, organizations and governments must weigh these investments based on the broader community, social impact, and cost. Also, universities and corporations can collaborate to incorporate relevant micro-credentials that lead to employability into full degree programs that can reduce the overall time and cost to obtain credentials, and benefit both individuals’ future career prospects and corporations’ need for more advanced talent.
Trend 8: Geopolitical Uncertainty
Reshoring of manufacturing, CHIPS Act implementation, new alliances, diverse worker perceptions of global conflicts, and the state actors involved are among the range of factors driving geopolitical uncertainty. Geopolitical factors drive tensions that spill over into organizational policies and staff interactions. Geopolitical issues can be very personal, highly charged, and polarizing. Leaders must understand how their colleagues and employees are affected. Often, uninformed statements have the potential to damage relationships. Part of leadership is to create a safe environment for employees to work.
Tension: Beyond creating a safe environment for people, organizational impacts can cover every aspect of the enterprise. Organizations and their boards must develop clear points of view about when and how to respond to geopolitical issues. Responses may evolve as conditions change.
Leaders must take care of themselves first to lead their organizations effectively. For many, this means maintaining resilience-supporting practices ranging from having solid relationships and exercise routines to meditation and prayer practices. After self-care, leaders must then create environments where their organizations can thrive.
These trends mean everyone will face challenges in the next year. Some will be excited by the opportunities; others already fear the risks. No matter which tendency people have, each individual will be in a situation where the changes impact them personally in ways they didn’t expect. Leaders need to excel at the human skills of communication, acting with empathy, and even compassion and love for the precious humans who will struggle and overcome complex challenges. Everyone will be called to dig deep and do difficult things in 2024 — and the years that follow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maureen Metcalf is the founder and CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute. She is an expert in anticipating and leveraging future business trends. Ms. Metcalf helps leaders elevate their leadership quality and transform their organizations to create sustainable impact and results. She captures 30 years of experience and success in an award-winning series of books used by public, private, and academic organizations to align company-wide strategy, systems, and culture using Innovative Leadership techniques. Ms. Metcalf is a Fellow of the International Leadership Association. She also serves on the advisory boards of the School of Strategic Leadership at James Madison University and the Mason Leadership Center at Franklin University. Ms. Metcalf earned an MBA from Virginia Tech. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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