Are You A Future-Ready Leader?

This week’s article was originally published by Maureen Metcalf for Forbes Coaches Council on July 20, 2021.  Maureen is the founder and CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute.  It is a companion to Howard Tiersky’s on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance that aired on Tuesday, October 12th , 2021.

 

Across the globe, leaders are grappling with the future of work across a broad spectrum of considerations — ranging from mandating vaccines to what hybrid work looks like — to attract and engage employees to run operations.

I have seen lots of articles on the future of work. This article addresses the future of leadership. As work changes, leadership must also change. Helping leaders become future-ready has been an important topic for me for over a decade. I started a company focusing on helping leaders “innovate how they lead” to keep pace with their industries and stakeholders. Post-Covid-19, the leadership required to succeed has changed. Leaders must rethink their mindset (also known as their leadership algorithm) and their actions. Here are some of the changes that will be needed.

Organizational Impact In Place Of Personal Recognition

Many traditional leaders are guided by the desire for personal success and peripherally by organizational success. The future-ready leader’s vision of success provides humble guidance based on performance and the value of the organization’s positive impact. This leader seeks to maximize organizational success over personal recognition. This shift is significant as employees are increasingly making job choices based on the company’s alignment with making an impact. According to a January 2021 McKinsey article, “Future-ready companies recognize that purpose helps attract people to join an organization, remain there, and thrive. Investors understand why this is valuable and factor purpose into their decision making: the rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG)–related funds is just one of the ways they acknowledge that purpose links to value creation in tangible ways.”

Collaboration In Place Of Command And Control

Traditional leaders relied heavily on a “command and control” style, where they had most of the answers. Now, the future leader leverages the team for answers as part of the decision-making process. An example is companies surveying their employees to ask them how they want to work post-Covid-19 rather than leaders dictating policy. Leaders who ask and respond by balancing business requirements and employee preferences find more success than companies that dictate policies. According to a report by Monster.com, in what’s being called the “Great Resignation,” 95% of workers are considering changing jobs. With this level of workforce pressure, the stakes are high to get the return-to-work policies right because employees are more mobile, and attracting talent is increasingly challenging.

Experimentation Over Simple Solutions

Leaders who pick a direction in a “black/white” manner often tend to stay the course dogmatically. Future leaders perceive and behave like scientists: continually experimenting, measuring and testing for improvement and exploring new models and approaches. These leaders understand they need to make quick decisions and move into action before they have sufficient information. However, this fast-action leaves them at risk if they cannot refine their direction based on what they learn from their initial steps. Therefore, they take the smallest decision and action possible so they can learn and refine their approach. Agility becomes foundational.

Growth Mindset In Place Of Fixed Mindset

Leaders who focus on being technically correct and in charge put themselves at a disadvantage compared to the future-friendly leader who continually learns and develops self and others. With the volume of change, leaders need to continue to learn about their industries, businesses, and leadership craft. They need a growth mindset and need to help their organizations become learning organizations.

Engagement Focus In Place Of Autocracy

Leaders who managed people by being autocratic and controlling must shift to focus on motivating and engaging people through strategic focus, mentoring and coaching, emotional and social intelligence and empowerment. With a tight labor market, companies struggle to attract and retain employees required to meet customer expectations. Employee engagement is higher when leaders use a range of engagement modes and tools to drive success.

There’s a strong connection between employee engagement and company profitability. In a Gallup study of nearly 200 organizations, companies with the highest levels of employee engagement were 22% more profitable and 21% more productive than those with low levels of engagement. In addition, 94% of the companies on Hay Group’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies believe that their efforts to engage employees create a competitive advantage.

Multi-Stakeholder Model In Place Of Profit Only

Traditional leaders who tend to the numbers and primarily use quantitative measures that drive those numbers need to expand how they define and manage performance and broaden their focus. The future-focused leader continually balances customer satisfaction, employee engagement, community impact, cultural cohesion, social responsibility, environmental impact and profit. This leader is balancing a broader range of stakeholders with nuanced expectations.

Movements like conscious capitalism expand the definition of capitalism and encourage leaders to be more aware of the impact their decisions have on the broader stakeholder community they serve. Similarly, the increasingly popular ESG movement requires that leaders consider the environmental, social and governance impacts of their decisions. Increasingly, large institutional investors are focusing on companies with healthy ESG performance records. From Citi’s 2020 ESG report, “The events of 2020 are a stark reminder that companies like ours have a role to play in helping tackle the world’s toughest problems — and this sense of responsibility drives our ESG agenda,” said Jane Fraser, Citi CEO. “We don’t see ESG as a separate effort. Instead, it is embedded in our daily efforts to support our clients, colleagues and communities, and our work as a bank. We take great pride in our work and are delighted to share it with all our stakeholders in this report.”

Final Thoughts

As leaders, we are the stewards of our organizations, employees and stakeholders’ expectations. Therefore, we need to build future-ready leadership mindsets and skills required to lead in a manner that promotes success short- and long-term for our broad range of stakeholders.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunesTuneInStitcherSpotifyAmazon MusicAudible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO, the Innovative Leadership Institute, is dedicated to elevating the quality of leaders globally.

Photo by Memento Media on Unsplash

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