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  • Dr. Jeff Doolittle

Are You A Future-Ready Leader?

Effective leaders are good learners. And a huge knowledge and skill shift that is looming will serve as a leadership validation test. Innovations are changing the nature of work, and many jobs are getting disrupted by process automation and robotics. Medal of Freedom recipient Eric Hoffer noted that "in times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." Have you recently paused to consider what you need to be able to do that you can't yet do? Here are three future smart leadership qualities, two steps for rethinking the future of leadership, and one good leadership habit for keeping you moving in the best direction.

Why does being a life-long learner matter?

As the world changes people and businesses must change too. Thriving in a complex technology-driven workplace demands that leaders and employees continually update their knowledge and skills.

Likely you know of someone, who has personally experienced the impact of technology-assisted work or had their work replaced by innovation. In the warehouse and distribution industries staffing challenges, and increasing competitive pressures have accelerated the use of technology.

Development is an essential investment to realize the full potential of your organization and prepare the next generation. Automation is everywhere and is a controversial employment topic. This TikTok video and news clip of a robotic server at Denny’s went viral with people on both sides of the debate.

Most economists hold a belief that a more efficient workforce leads to competitive advantage and lowers the costs of goods and services. However, the employment of impact of automation is not all positive. A recent MIT study revealed that wages in the U.S have declined by 0.42%, and the employment-to-population ratio has declined by 0.2 percentage points for each robot added per 1,000 workers.

It is clear that today's leaders and employees can benefit from giving thought to becoming future-ready. Falling behind in a fast-changing workplace can become career-limiting. Although the amount of change may feel overwhelming at times and it is important to never give up on the person you are capable of becoming.

3 Future smart leadership skills and qualities

When you think about the future of work and consider the leadership skills and qualities you will need, it is likely that technical and analytical skills will come to mind. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, you are justified in this thinking. It is projected by 2030 in the US and Europe that the time spent during a workweek will on information technology and programming tasks increase the most.

While some skills will be less in demand it is important to consider the human leadership skills that remain in the technology-driven workplace. Leadership is a relationship and technology is changing the relationship.

Selfless love, humility, and data-driven decision-making are a few timeless leadership skills and qualities to enhance your leadership effectiveness:

Selfless Love

Without selfless love the best of what might be is impossible. When leaders adopt a selfless love worldview, the leader desires to bring out the best in their followers by giving them the best of themself. A couple of the biggest challenges leaders will continue to face in the future are retaining top talent and creating inclusive workplaces that bring out the best in all employees. Selfless love cultivates an organizational culture where healthy and caring leader-follower relationships break down the adverse effects of our differences. Selfless love is proven to enhance organizational com, productivity, job performance, and emotional well-being. Leaders that emphasize selfless love bring out the best in how people think, act, and feel in the workplace leading to success and significance both personally and professionally.


Humble leadership behaviors reduce costs and increase revenue. Humility is a demonstrated lever for sustainable company development, enhancing employee innovation, team empowerment, company performance, and self-improvement. Leadership guru Jim Collins concluded after analyzing 1435 companies over forty years that humility and professional will are the most transformative executive leadership characteristics. Humble leaders recognize and are self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They appreciate others and believe that life is less about themselves and more about the greater good. Humble leaders walk the line between self-confidence and over-confidence. They can be both competitive and ambitious. Humble leaders are not weak and indecisive.

Data-Driven Decision Making

Innovations are enabling businesses to make sense of the chaos and complexity in the world. Technology is creating massive amounts of data with the potential to create a competitive advantage or overwhelm and paralyze leaders. Data-driven decision-making has become somewhat of a buzzword as many leaders and organizations aim to be data-driven. It is when leaders use facts extracted from data and metrics to guide business decisions that support business goals rather than relying on experience, intuition, and stories alone. Data analytics provide leaders with new insights and understanding of how to transform their business. Using data enables organizations to optimize operations leading to reduced costs and increased revenue. Cognitive and predictive analytics go one step further, allowing organizations to transform during market changes quickly. Embracing data-driven decision-making cuts through the haze that comes from relying on intuition.

How to develop future-ready qualities

Leadership qualities are not just something you are either born with or not. These future smart skills may seem complex and challenging to articulate, much less measure, however, validated measurement instruments exist. Leadership assessments are practical tools for creating self-awareness. Feedback is a gift; however, feedback on character gaps is not commonly provided. Assessments give a leader a metaphorical mirror that helps them see where to improve. Executive coaching combined with executive assessments offers deep insights into areas that lead to enhanced potential with attention. According to outcome-based research, a coach's timely and appropriate use of executive assessment leads to improved personal and organizational outcomes.

2 Steps for rethinking the future of leadership

The past few years have made it abundantly clear that no one can predict the future with absolute certainty. Strategic foresight can offer some valuable insights when it comes to rethinking the future of leadership.

“Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Wayne Gretzky

Strategic foresight is a systemic view of change, considering not just the likely changes but all the possible potential changes. The goal of strategic foresight is not to predict the future but enable better decision-making and preparedness.

Here are two practical steps to help you think about what you will need to be able to do that you can’t yet do:

Step 1: First, get curious about potential challenges and opportunities facing your business over the few years. Network with peers and colleagues. Do some of your own investigating of business trends. It is easy to become narrowly focused on the work at hand and lose sight of where the work is going. It is important in this first step to avoid narrowing in on any potential trend too soon. You may find it helpful to use the strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat (SWOT) analysis to categorize the trends you identify. When doing this assessment don’t be overly optimistic or pessimistic but focus on what is likely:

  • Consider, what poses the greatest opportunity and risk for the business?

  • Ask yourself, what strengths do I have that could be leveraged?

  • Where do I need to improve to meet the challenges and opportunities identified?

Step 2: Now you are ready to focus and explore your shortlist of trends. Consider the impact and likelihood as you consider each point. Zero in on the more likely and critical challenges and opportunities. Ask yourself:

  • What are the skills and qualities needed of leaders to be ready for the potential challenges?

  • What are the strengths I can leverage?

  • Where is my real challenge?

  • What trend and learning opportunities do I want to focus on?

1 future smart leadership habit

Reflection is key to being future-ready. Effective reflection involves the ability to doubt, pause, and be curious about the ordinary.

Reflection improves critical thinking capacity. Critical thinking helps leaders navigate volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situations common in every business. It is the ability to use cognitive skills and strategies to increase the probability of the desired outcome when problem-solving. Critical thinking for executive leadership is required for businesses to grow, increase speed, and achieve sustainability.

There is a saying in the military that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The following are some tips to embed reflection into your leadership habits.

  • Journaling is demonstrated to be incredibly impactful on leader-follower relationships, clarity of purpose, and improving new skills. Like building any habit, start small and tie it to an existing practice like your routine before you leave the office for the day.

  • Critical reflection should be a social process and is proven to be most successful when collaborative. Leaders need to understand how followers perceive their actions.

  • Leadership books, articles, and assessments can enable you to examine a particular situation from different points of view, supporting critical reflection. Here is a bonus link (The Five Best Resources) to an assembled collection of my top five personal favorite books from thought leaders on the topics of change management, coaching, culture, innovation and creativity, leadership style, servant leadership, and strategic planning.