04 July 2019

The Future of Work: Skills of a Modern Leader

Leadership development / Talent Development
skills of a modern leader



Digital transformation is disrupting every industry and today’s leaders require a constantly evolving skill set. If you look at today’s headlines, it is easy to assume that political figures such as Donald Trump, have cornered the market on “how to lead” literature. Regardless of your personal view of him, he has an unmistakable leadership style. But is that the best way to lead? Is this the future of work? Or is there a better approach to modern leadership skills? In this Insight, we shine a light on what areas we could focus on as leaders of the future.

Communication: control the message

Employee engagement surveys worldwide highlight the number one deficiency in any organization: communication.

Information is too scarce, too late, too complicated, too inconsistent, too restricted or often non-existent. A leader who stays on top of the communication flow will retain high performing teams.

soft skills
Soft Skills Development
Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace
soft skills
Soft Skills Development
Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

But communication is more than just tweeting a stream of consciousness.

Leaders who talk don’t hear dissatisfaction, are unable to change direction and are surprised when key workers quit.

The advice of your grandmother still stands today: you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.

The modern world and the nature of work complicates communication further. A leader who focuses on only what he or she can see is doomed to failure. The future of work is connected through digital and virtual channels.

Teams are much more likely to be spread over several locations, be multi-lingual, multi-cultural and rarely meet face to face. A leader has to be able to communicate effectively by email, phone, video conference and in person – sometimes all simultaneously!

A good leader will do this with authenticity, being honest when there are things they don’t know or can’t share. They will develop trust as they treat their colleagues as adults who deserve to know the truth about tough decisions and who have earned due praise for good work.

Lucy Adams, former Head of HR at the BBC believes that too often organizations treat their staff like children, who need lots of rules and instructions to function. Treating them as adults and communicating with them as adults may surprise you.

Further reading

Skills of a Modern Leader: March on regardless

Richard Branson and Steve Jobs are both reputed to have said that there’s no point hiring smart people and then ignoring their advice. We do not have to look far to see where the great autocratic leaders have not noticed that people are no longer following them.

It is a truism that two heads are better than one. One of the essential skills of a modern leader is to develop discernment – to listen to radically opposing views and pick out the wise decisions and bring a group of people to consensus.

Some of the highest performing organizations, such as Facebook, Microsoft, or Google remove line management from their top performers. In a University environment, your best researcher is not necessarily your best people leader. A leader is a generalist, not a specialist, so must rely on the advisers around them.

Be humble

Similarly, it is easy for a leader to believe their own CV. When a new leader is appointed, it is easy for them to hear the list of expectations, particularly as they are introduced to the organization: “We have great hopes for Helen. She is going to do amazing things here!”

soft skills
Soft Skills Development
Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace
soft skills
Soft Skills Development
Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

The problem is that leaders are judged on results, not hype. More and more often we can see that the trusted and respected leaders are humble and authentic – Angela Merkel, for example. They have the humility to recognize their own shortcomings and to empower those around them to over-perform.

The heroic leader disenfranchises those around them. They are the best, the authority, and because they are number one, people either give up leaving jobs to “the expert,” or sit back and wait for the hero to fail.

Professor Damian Marsh in his book, “Unlocking the DNA of a Winning Culture” quotes Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona FC’s director of football:

Talent will get you into the dressing room. How you behave determines how long you remain there.”

The future leader will be humble enough that their example will inspire others to overachieve, rather than putting others down.

Nurture your team

The age of a job for life is gone. More than likely, you will move to a different role in a different organization, but your responsibility now is to prepare a succession plan.

Delegation is not just about relieving you of the bits of work you don’t enjoy. It gives others the opportunity to experience leadership, particularly if you, as the leader, step back and give others the room to lead.

A good leader is the head coach of a sports team. They can’t do everything themselves, but must enable and empower those around them.

Don’t just restrict this to formal one-to-one feedback sessions, but give constant encouragement and constructive feedback. When a project appears to fall behind, don’t step in immediately, but offer, gently, support. Be a mentor not a dominator.

Don’t treat your team as assets or resources. Treat them as potential – the potential of your organization to grow and explore new markets, develop new products and services and respond to the demands of the future.

The future of work depends on developing leaders who see their responsibility primarily in terms of the people they work with. They join in during difficult times; encourage their teams and model value-driven behavior.

  • Rather than controlling the message one of the skills of a modern leader is to enable two-way communication
  • Don’t ignore dissent: encourage healthy disagreement and facilitate consensus
  • Don’t believe your own hype: modern leadership should be humble and authentic
  • Don’t dominate your team: nurture and grow them through effective coaching

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