October 2019

Tips for a future leader

  • By Dr Ali Burston Managing Director – Metisphere

As the world changes, leaders also need to adapt to ensure that they’re effective in a drastically different landscape. By being emotionally intelligent, comfortable with change, and someone who develops those around them, future leaders will drive performance in their teams. 

The current work climate is changing at a rapid pace. Over the past five years, we have seen an increase in automation and technological implementation, which is altering the way we work in dramatic ways. Research shows that people are spending more time than ever looking at screens and communicating through technology. 

What does this mean for workers? Some argue the changes we are seeing have impacted how effectively we communicate, by reducing our empathy and making it harder to read emotions in others (Twenge and Campbell, 2018). Increased automation and more complex systems have also resulted in a surge of demand for highly specialised IT experts, who have skills that not all of us possess. 

So it’s worth asking: what can future leaders do in this drastically different landscape? I believe it is important to emphasise a new and diverse skillset, made up of the following elements.

1. Emotional intelligence

As screen time and new ways of communicating are increasing, our ability to perceive and understand emotions is decreasing. This means that leaders with high emotional intelligence are worth their weight in gold. In simple terms, as workers climb the corporate ladder, their role generally is more about managing others (and themselves) than it is about their specified technical skills. 

We also know that perceiving and understanding emotions, two of the core elements of emotional intelligence, are both directly related to a leader’s capability to lead (Forbes, 2018). Future leaders must be able to use their emotional intelligence to manage highly technical experts to achieve best outcomes.  

2. Being comfortable with change

Change is unavoidable. And it’s not always easy to manage. As good leaders, it’s imperative to learn how to become comfortable with change and facilitate it within your team (Forbes, 2017). Resistance to change occurs at all levels, and leaders are required to reduce perceived fear of the unknown and enable others to move through change more smoothly. Why? Well, the future is uncertain, and if we cannot facilitate innovation or creativity in our team members during complex systems change (such as introducing artificial intelligence or automation), then the team and entire organisation may find it difficult to adapt to new ways of working.

3. Provide challenges to your team, encourage innovation and provide a sense of purpose

Leaders need to do more than facilitate and manage change; they need to encourage innovation as well. A leader that can promote innovative and creative thinking nurtures a culture that is flexible and offers rapid problem-solving and solution-finding during times of change (Forbes, 2017). Moreover, a leader must logically frame issues to team members in such a way that creates investment in the work and avoids thinking from team members such as ‘I do not understand why we are doing this’ or ‘we’ve always done it this way – why change?’. Understanding yourself first and then communicating the change provides an opportunity for team members to connect and believe in their purpose (Lewis, 2019).

By assigning tasks that challenge and encourage team members, they are able to explore their comfort zones more frequently, developing a sense of adaptability and resilience (two incredibly powerful traits to have in an ever-changing environment!) (Bass and Avolio, 1994; Dumdum, Lowe and Avolio, 2013). The additional benefit of upskilling your workforce increases the total capability of your team. Providing team members with the autonomy and independence to explore tasks with guidance and mentoring provides further challenge and engagement.

That’s not to say that leaders should assign new tasks every week; the caveat for this is that if you don’t plan and implement these challenges strategically, team members can become overloaded, thereby achieving the opposite effect (Belmonte and Murray, 1993). Rather than feeling empowered, team members may feel overwhelmed, helpless and incompetent (Day, Crown and Ivany, 2017). Instead of experiencing achievement during uncertainty and independent work, they may feel isolated and abandoned. 

In summary, leaders should allow their team members to be innovative and creative by: 

• questioning assumptions

• reframing problems

• approaching old situations in new ways.

Leaders understand the importance of including team members in the process of addressing problems and finding solutions. Team members are our greatest asset in generating new ideas and solving problems creatively.  Which is why it is integral that individual member’s mistakes or divergent ideas should not be publicly criticised. Team members should be encouraged to try new approaches and feel safe in sharing their ideas to improve the team. 

Conclusion

Future leaders need to be emotionally intelligent, comfortable with change, and be able to develop those around them for new and disruptive solutions. As the world changes, our leaders should too; we should all endeavour to be future leaders! 

References

Bass B M and Avolio B J, 1994. Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership, 248 p (Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA)

Belmonte R W and Murray R J, 1993. Getting ready for strategic change: surviving business process redesign. Information Systems Management, 10(3), 23-29.

Day A, Crown S N and Ivany M, 2017. Organisational change and employee burnout: The moderating effects of support and job control. Safety science, 100:4-12.

Dumdum U R, Lowe K B and Avolio B J, 2013. A meta-analysis of transformational and transactional leadership correlates of effectiveness and satisfaction: An update and extension, in Transformational and Charismatic Leadership: The Road Ahead 10th Anniversary Edition (Monographs in Leadership and Management, Volume 5) (eds B J Avolio and F J Yammarino), pp 39-70 (Emerald Group Publishing Limited).

Lewis L, 2019. Organizational change: Creating change through strategic communication, 336 p (John Wiley & Sons).

Forbes Coaches Council, 2017. 16 essential leadership skills for the workplace of tomorrow [online]. Available from: www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/12/27/16-essential-leadership-skills-for-the-workplace-of-tomorrow/#600fe56654ce

Forbes Coaches Council, 2018. What does an emotionally intelligent leader look like? [online]. Available from www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/12/14/what-does-an-emotionally-intelligent-leader-look-like/#2e301cbd22c9

Twenge J M and Campbell W K, 2018. Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive Medicine Reports, 12:271-283. 


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