Building Leadership Capabilities for the Future of Work

Alexandra Levit, People Results
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At last week’s SilkRoad Connections conference, keynote speaker Cheryl Cran challenged our attendees to upgrade their leadership operating systems to meet future work requirements. How can we change how we think, do, and share?

Twenty-First Century Changes and Challenges

The future of work will be about saying goodbye to blaming, bureaucracy, and bad leadership. Gen X, Gen Y, and Zoomers (baby boomers who refuse to age and retire) will work together to create an environment of shared leadership, freedom of expression, creativity, inspiration, and fun. And work will look very different. By 2020, 90 percent of employees will stay on the job three years or less, 50 percent will work remotely, and a majority will be independent contractors. Given these changes, the person who can embrace flexibility will have the most power.

Cran asked attendees about their top challenges related to HR and the future of work. Not surprisingly, they cited recruitment, retention, and skill development. We are fighting for talent globally and many twenty-first century skills such as creativity and agile leadership are sorely lacking. These skills are not natural and we have to teach them.

HR’s top three opportunities, according to Cran’s survey, are partnering, having a strategic advantage in the organization, and leading change. The biggest challenges, on the other hand, are transitioning to a fully digital and social mindset and mobile friendliness. In recent years, HR has made progress using dashboard analytics to get a real-time view of people and processes, and leveraging robotics to automate basic tasks, but there is still work to be done.

Cran pointed out the differences between the work environment of the past and that of the future. In the 1990s, for example, business was autocratic, centralized, task-focused, and based on the single perspective of the leader. But today and in the years to come, work will be shared, values-based, virtual, creative and revolutionary, and based on multiple perspectives.

Success Strategies for Future-Focused Leaders

What should HR do to be successful in this new world of work? Cran shared a few primary strategies, including promoting change through inspiration, and upgrading your leadership capabilities to increase innovation and collaboration.

Promote Change Through Inspiration: People are naturally fearful of change. They get stuck because they don’t see the value of what is being proposed and are skeptical and defensive. When you are under pressure trying to implement a change, this demonstrates to others who you really are, so do so by sharing energy, enthusiasm, and passion. Cran recommended having a vision, a map, and a plan, demonstrating connections for others, anticipating next steps, and engaging your people.

Upgrade Your Leadership Operating System: According to Cran, each leader is at a unique stage of development. They start at Level 1, which is Personal. A leader might ask: Why do I have to do this? Woe is me. They feel alone with little support. In the next stage, Level 2, Blame, they get angry. A change has happened, and they are in pain and energy is shut down.

Level 3, Learn, is the ideal stage where leaders should stay most of the time. Here, leaders ask what they can learn from a development or failure. They are accountable and inspirational.  The top stage of development is Level 4, Share. Leaders at this stage are less threatened by organizational change because they have developed their own sense of agility and can adapt successfully to anything!

Finally, Cran suggested that a critical part of leadership development is understanding and working with multiple intelligences on your team. When you are able to take into account IQ versus EQ, as well as varying human personalities, generations, and digital and creative savviness, and then integrate these differences into your management style, you will be well-prepared for challenges that come your way in the future of work.

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