Leadership skills of the future

The leader of the future is likely to build deeper, closer relationships with staff and all stakeholders in order to more quickly influence and take stakeholders forward, says Mathew Donald

The nature of leadership is changing, and old techniques will likely become irrelevant or ineffective without new skills.

The leader will remain as the important person to guide an organisation forward. The pace and nature of change today can be characterised as being fast, uncertain with high risk where the pace has been aided by social media, fast internet and globalisation as I discuss in my book Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and Artificial Intelligence. There is now great interconnectivity of trade, new ideas and speed of change that transmits information quickly and often without independent filtering or analysis.

Recent research indicates that leadership may be a significant factor that can influence change success, that is also closely interconnected to a number of other factors. It is widely agreed by business thinkers, that organisational change has been associated with leadership and performance, involving factors of trust, engagement and communication, so the skills of the leader are important to organisational survival when disruption emerges.

Back in 1965, Amitai Etzioni defined leadership in the American Sociological Review as, at a basic level, a set of factors that gathers some form of support, where the support arises from that of influence rather than by power or position.

The influence required may derive from the setting of organisational direction, method, integrity and conflict resolution theorises Philip Selznick in his 1957 book Leadership in administration: A sociological interpretation.

Vision statements

In order to influence, argues Bernard Bass in his 1985 book Leadership and performance beyond expectations, vision statements are often created by organisations, where a sharing of visions with staff to alter behaviours has the potential to inspire and explain organisational direction.

In order to develop influence effectiveness, leaders may rely on ethics as it has been associated with leadership argues Mike Thomas and Caroline Rowland in the 2014 Journal of Business Ethics. Employee engagement and satisfaction may increase when leadership influence is effective, requiring directives, procedures and edicts.

In this faster paced future, staff and stakeholders may be confused if changes occur without contextual understanding, so the leadership influence and explanation may be more important. Strategy has been a long held tool of corporate leader, often used to signal direction, yet this tool in the future may be too slow and too inflexible for a fast paced, changing world.  It is possible in this new fast future that any particular strategy may be redundant before it is approved or implemented. It is possible for staff and stakeholders to lose trust in leaders that have to continuously start and later amend strategy before the first is implemented. In disruption the environment from trade wars or presidential social media announcements make policy directions hard to predict, even harder to build a long-term strategy around. A real challenge for the modern leader is to successfully build appreciation of this environment with all stakeholders.

The modern business environment may change quickly without context, without independent verification or analysis, hence there may always be heightened risk and uncertainty in the decision making of the future. The leader of the future will need to have skills of data analysis, investigative skills, scepticism in case of fake news as information may not always be reliable or filtered. Increased governance skills will likely be required as decision making may be riskier and yet need to be faster in delivery. Where there is increased risk and uncertainty for the leader, the risk for the organisation will be increased, so requiring some level of change in governance overview practices.

Challenge and cynicism

Staff and stakeholders may be confused in the absence of good leadership, so in the modern environment it may be prudent for leaders to possess increased skills of confidence with succinct and timely explanation, be excellent communicators. The leader will need to be comfortable with challenge, cynicism and enquiry of staff, where some may even decide to closer involvement of staff and stakeholders, even considering them as a partner.  Historically many leaders may have made strategy and directional change privately for commercial purposes, sharing the strategy irregularly with staff without full explanation, that irregularity and privacy may no longer be appropriate in a disruption future.

Presidential social media bulletins can now almost instantly affect markets, set off trade wars and change government policy, issues that organisational leaders may have only occasionally had to consider regularly in the past. Leaders of the future will likely need to engage with new forms of media, be ready to protect their brand reputations online and be cognisant of fast moving developments that may harm, or provide opportunity, for their organisation.

As communication is a key element of not only leadership but also organisational change, leaders of the future, will need to spend considerable time explaining direction, reasoning in order to achieve influence.  A well thought out strategy may be insufficient unless the future leader can quickly and easily explain the options and the risks. Communication that will be required is more than an annual speech, memo or presentation, the information will be so critical that the leader must consider a variety of forms, various intervals and a range of audiences in their communication plans.

To enable a strategy and direction to be communicated effectively, staff will require trust in their leadership in order to listen, trust may also be required in order to achieve higher employee commitment conclude Antonio Giangreco and Riccardo Peccei in their 2005 article in The International Journal of Human Resource Management. Trust is achieved when messages and promises of leaders are regular and consistent, where any divergence in delivery performance may likely decrease trust. Trust is important as it can have a positive or negative effect on change. In a fast-changing environment, there is likely to be a trust reduction if messages and promises are not able to be delivered, so staff and other stakeholders may dislike, or be unwilling to accept situations where strategy or promises are under constant change.

Organisational change

Engagement is but another element of leadership that may also assist in organisational change. Leaders may improve engagement if they provide information and risk understanding whilst they seek genuine feedback and opinions. In constant and uncertain change, it may not be clear what is changing or why it is to be different, so the lack of clarity may frustrate staff and all other stakeholders without the intervention of leadership. In order to achieve full engagement staff will need to feel that they can reciprocate opinions without fear, they will want to be listened to in an active way, where they can see results from their feedback. It may be that the leader of the future can utilise games and sense giving in order to improve effectiveness and deeper engagement, according to Israel Drori and Shemuel Ellis in the 2011 edition of the American Sociological Review.

Failure to engage with staff and stakeholders may render the leader ineffective, unable to influence and provide real change.

The leader of the future will need to comfortably deal with constant change and uncertainty, one that is relaxed at explaining themselves even when promises are broken in quick succession. The leader will likely be able to provide a backdrop of change, able to easily communicate decision reasoning and related changes in direction, despite any emerging complexity or divergence. Communication from the modern leader will likely be in multiple forms, across an array of media with increased regularity. The leader of the future is likely to build deeper, closer relationships with staff and all stakeholders in order to more quickly influence and take stakeholders forward.

Mathew Donald, is a fellow at CPA Australia, and a member of the Australian Institute of Project Management. He has over 30 years of business experience. As an academic he has qualified to teach at institutions such as Charles Sturt University, Macquarie University, and Western Sydney University. Topics taught so far include the subjects of management, accounting, business strategy, international business, and leadership.

Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and Artificial Intelligence by Mathew Donald is out now, published by Emerald Publishing. For more information go to www.drmat.online

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