What Do “Future Leaders” Look Like?

Operating on legacy systems and traditional, siloed workflows may have been viable even five years ago, but in the digitized world of business, characterized by increased globalization and accelerated speed-to-market, companies are never more attuned to the threat “adapt or die.”

The pressure to adapt has led to the reimagination of modern business. Not only does technology now drive entire industries, but the structure of the average workforce is in flux. Millennials now occupy the largest percentage of the American labor force, at over 55%, creating new challenges for intergenerational workplaces forced to confront differences in communication, leadership, and work preferences.

At the same time, more than 3.7 million employees work from home at least half of the time. Remote work a growing trend — the number of employers offering a work from home option has grown by 40% in the past 5 years.

It should be obvious that remaining agile is necessary for maintaining a competitive advantage in an evolving world. However, simply adapting is not enough — modernizing operational protocol, strategy, and processes does not magically drive an organization’s bottom line.

Only when leaders adapt in tandem with their business models do they strategically position their organizations to thrive in future markets. Read on to learn how future leaders successfully do this.

Reimagining Leadership in the Workplace

Preparing for the workplace of the future requires adopting the technological tools that position a business for sustained success and harmonizing multigenerational and dispersed teams. However, even more fundamental to future-proofing a businessis revamping tired leadership and management styles.

Traditionally, leadership styles in business have been modelled by subject matter experts whose knowledge of highly-specialized areas is used to inform strategy. Subject matter experts were able to occupy high-ranking positions, dictate an organization’s direction, and dole out responsibilities based on what they knew about the ins-and-outs of the industry.

While effective in recognizing potential impediments to desired business outcomes and developing action plans for overcoming such hurdles, this type of performance management is driven entirely by strategy.

A one-track mind on strategy, however, often becomes overly-focused on the minute details of employee behavior — tallying the number of tasks completed each day or sick days taken by a given employee — rather than acknowledging the factors that motivate employees to perform at a high level.

Effective, future-proof leadership requires that organizational leaders have a deep understanding of their employees beyond the metrics and are able to dig into who they are  and what motivates their actions. In short, leadership issues in business today often relate to micromanaging tasks due to an overemphasis on strategy; future leaders must be prepared to step back to let their workers flourish, focusing instead on cultivating a thriving culture.

Cultivating Self-Selecting Actions for Maximized Results

According to the evidence-based The Results Pyramid model, individuals’ experiences shape their beliefs, which in turn inform their actions. Finally, actions generate results — whether those results be the desired organizational outcomes or unwanted ramifications.

To illustrate the truth of this model, consider that individuals volunteer their time and effort for causes and organizations they believe in. Why? Even when volunteering means sacrificing valuable free time or even money, they partake because their experience tells them that volunteering is valuable or the mission of the organization aligns with their values and beliefs — not because a superior coerced them. This leads to self-selected actions that fulfill an end-goal — whether completing the construction of a house or serving 500 underprivileged people in one day.

In the workplace, shen leaders tap into their employees’ beliefs, they are able to cultivate self-selecting actions among them — rather than micromanaging every task or dictating how employees should act in all situations. As a result, employees feel trusted and valued, cultivating new beliefs in their purpose within the organization. Feeling trusted and valued within an organization fosters happiness.

And “happiness” is not just a fuzzy feeling — it has real, tangible effects on workplace culture. In fact, according to the Partners In Leadership Happiness at Work Survey, 85% of employees who feel happy at work report taking more initiative while 73% say they are better collaborators. Nearly 50% claim that they care more about their work. The outcome? A statistically higher likelihood of accomplishing topline organizational goals.

If traditional performance strategy tackles only the top tiers of The Results Pyramid (aiming to optimize actions to achieve desired results), leaders who are prepared for the future of business target the bottom of the pyramid — the beliefs and experience driving employee actions.

Effective Leadership Styles Drive Sustained Results 

While implementing smart digital tools to connect workforces and optimize project management is a no-brainer to most modern business leaders, and the need to create cultural harmony between members of a workforce across time zones and ages has become obvious, fewer leaders see the imminent need to revamp their leadership style for the future.

Ensuring that a business remains thriving and viable in the globalized, competitive markets of the future demands that leaders expend far less energy ensuring that every box is ticked on every employees’ “to-do” list — and much more energy providing employees with experiences that build trust and happiness, which inspire higher levels of employee engagement and personal accountability.

To drive home the importance of effective leadership, consider this: industry leaders report that managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement levels. Higher levels of engagement is the foundation for organizational success.

Sustaining topline success for years into the future necessitates that leaders move away from traditional micro-level performance management. The leader of the future will be an expert in cultural management, able to foster and align employee mindsets in order to create movement toward critical organizational goals.

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