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The capabilities we need from future leaders

The future demands a leader who inspires trust and confidently turns toward technological change.

The capabilities we need from future leaders

Leadership development initiatives are not sufficient for the challenges that managers will face in coming years.

This was the main finding from a white paper Maximus wrote two years ago. We challenged Australian organisations to rethink the way they approached leadership, lest we be left behind. Simultaneously, a 2017 report by executive recruitment organisation, Six Degrees Executive, found that only 8% of Australians strongly believe that the country’s corporate culture encourages the development of great leaders.

As we look towards 2019, little has changed, with most organisations and their leaders still mired in the day-to-day of business as usual. And yet, everything has changed, as data-informed marketing upends industries such as retail and media, artificial intelligence offers to take analytical decision-making off our hands, and the dark side of a power-based leadership system has been exposed. In Australia, trust in the responsible use of power, in political leaders, and in the trust-dependent financial services industry, is at an all-time low.

On the broader global commercial stage, Australia still needs to diversify its product base, embrace technology while strategically transitioning workforces away from jobs that are being replaced by automation, and identify new global opportunities for our skills and services. The Economic Complexity Index tellingly ranks Australia’s economy 65th out of 122 economies assessed – making it glaringly clear that complexity is one of the attributes lacking in our economy and leadership thinking.

Specifically, here’s three things that will define successful leaders in the future.

  1. Purpose and social responsibility

    Society and employees are demanding change from organisations when assessing the impact they have on the whole supply chain. Increasingly, people want to work for organisations that provide a benefit to the world around them. Job satisfaction is no longer judged by financial success alone, or the quality of a company’s products and services, but on its social impact as well.

    The message is that ethical practices matter, and businesses need to be the drivers of that change –leaders have to be ready to deliver it and live it every day. At a bare minimum, leaders will need to be able to articulate the purpose of their organisation as an aspirational reason for being, and inspire stakeholders to help it realise its aims.

  2. Look beyond the hierarchy

    Organisational trends over recent years have moved towards a more team-based approach, taking momentum away from traditional hierarchies.

    Years ago, if people rose through the ranks to a position of authority and achieved some of the attendant privileges, they were admired – others aspired to do the same. Now, people look to leaders who are more connected and authentic.

    Then there is the advancement of real leadership, over management. Adam Grant, bestselling author and professor at Wharton business school in the US, last year said that, “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed, to advance a vision or an idea or a project that’s bigger than ‘me’.

    Leaders who put other people first end up inspiring a different kind of effort, a different level of motivation and a greater sense of belonging.” This will be crucial as we move from management as a position of direction and control to a broader role of influence.

  3. Encourage curiosity, not reactivity and fear

    Cultivating genuine curiosity and empathy will help leaders nurture the diverse teams needed to innovate and tackle future challenges.

    Leaders can use curiosity to reframe their response to change, to be open rather than apprehensive, interested rather than defensive. A future-ready mindset is eager to continually learn, to explore what’s happening in a variety of industries, to delve into how global markets are evolving.

    Learning doesn’t have to be formal: it can include voluntourism, listening to podcast series on topics that interest you or trying your hand coding for Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service.

The leaders Australia needs

Leaders of the future will be comfortable with uncertainty, curious in the face of the unknown. They will imbue diverse teams with mutual respect, and motivate them with a clear sense of purpose, helping them perform to their highest potential.

Bringing authenticity and moral integrity to all their interactions, they will renew public trust in organisations and employee faith in what it means to be a leader. I look forward to it.

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