Exceptionally talented leaders are life-long learners. Evidence constantly reminds us that the best and most creative leaders populate the most successful organizations. A huge knowledge and skill shift is underway, driven by generative artificial intelligence and automation. This wave of innovation is dramatically changing how businesses run and work gets done. Medal of Freedom recipient Eric Hoffer suggested 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 paused to consider what you need to be able to do that you can't yet do? Does your organization's strategy account for the factors likely to impact the future of your business? Here are three future-ready leadership characteristics to develop, two ways to ignite your strategic foresight, and one habit to create a brighter future for yourself and the people you lead.
Why being a life-long learner matters during times of change
Most economists believe that a more efficient workforce leads to competitive advantage and lowers the costs of goods and services. As the world changes, people and businesses must change too.
Advances in technology always attract attention because of their potential effect on employment. The scale and speed of advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have raised fears about the possibility of widespread job displacement in the near future because these advances are fundamentally different from previous technological advances.
You likely know someone who has personally experienced the impact of technology-assisted work or had their work replaced by innovation. 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.
Evidence suggests that three-quarters of jobs had more than 40% of their required skills change over the past three years, indicating that the future of the workplace involves change.
Economists are mixed on the employment impact of automation. A recent MIT study revealed that wages in the U.S. have declined by 0.42%, aU.S.he employment-to-population ratio has declined by 0.2 percentage points for each robot added per 1,000 workers. None of this is to minimize the hardships experienced by displaced workers. However, robotics and AI may be simply another in a long A.I.ne of waves of innovation whose effects on employment will unfold at rates comparable to those in the past.
Leadership development and organizational development are essential investments to realize your organization's potential and prepare the next generation. It is a clear benefit for today's leaders to become future-ready.
Falling behind in a fast-changing workplace is career-limiting and a competitive threat to your business. Although the amount of change today may feel overwhelming, it is essential to never give up on the person you can become. Check out this motivational video for some encouragement.
3 Future-ready leadership characteristics
Leadership qualities are not just something you are either born with or not. The following future characteristics may seem complex and challenging to articulate, much less measure. However, executive coaching and assessments offer deep insights into areas that lead to enhanced potential with attention.
When you think about the future of work and consider the leadership skills and qualities you will need, technical and analytical skills will likely come to mind. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, you are justified in thinking this way. It is projected by 2030 in the US and Europe that the time spentU.S.uring a workweek on information technology and programming tasks will increase the most.
While some skills will be less in demand, it is essential 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:
Leadership Characteristic #1: Selfless Love
Without selfless love, the best of what might be is impossible for you and others. When leaders adopt a selfless love worldview, they desire to bring out the best in their followers by giving them the best of themselves.
A couple of the most significant 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 enhances organizational commitment, productivity, job performance, and emotional well-being. Leaders who 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.
Leadership Characteristic #2: Humility
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.
After analyzing 1435 companies over forty years, leadership guru Jim Collins concluded that humility and professionalism 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.
Leadership Characteristic #3: Data-Driven Decision-Making
Innovations enable 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, reducing costs and increasing revenue. Cognitive and predictive analytics go one step further, allowing organizations to transform quickly during market changes. Embracing data-driven decision-making cuts through the haze that comes from relying on intuition.
2 Ways to ignite strategic foresight
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 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. Strategic foresight aims not to predict the future but to to enable better decision-making and preparedness.
Here are two practical steps to ignite strategic foresight 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 next few years. Network with peers and colleagues. Do some of your investigating of business trends. It is easy to become narrowly focused on the work at hand and lose sight of where it 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 skills and qualities are needed by leaders to be ready for the potential challenges?
What are the strengths I can leverage?
Where is my real challenge?
What trends and learning opportunities do I want to focus on?
1 Future-ready leadership habit
Reflection is critical to build a brighter and better future for yourself and those you lead. Adequate reflection involves doubting, pausing, and being curious about the ordinary.
Reflection improves critical thinking capacity. Critical thinking helps leaders navigate volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situations everyday in every business. It is the ability to use cognitive skills and strategies to increase the probability of the desired outcome when problem-solving. For businesses to grow, increase speed, and achieve sustainability, critical thinking for executive leadership is required.
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 has been demonstrated to be incredibly impactful on leader-follower relationships, clarity of purpose, and the improvement of new skills. Like building any habit, start small and tie it to an existing habit, like a routine before you leave the office for the day.
Critical reflection should be a social process and is 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 to "The Five Best Resources" an assembled collection of my top five favorite books from thought leaders on change management, coaching, culture, innovation and creativity, leadership style, servant leadership, and strategic planning.
Conclusion: Are you a future-ready leader?
In today’s fast-changing workplace, failing to consider what you need to be able to do that you can’t yet do puts you and your team at risk of getting left behind. Getting curious about the challenges and opportunities you will face in the future and taking an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses is a good place to start.
While technology and innovations are making some skills less in demand, human leadership skills will remain in the technology-driven workplace. Selfless love, humility, and data-driven decision-making are timeless leadership skills that enhance your effectiveness.
A habit of critical reflection unlocks a massive opportunity for you and your organization. It is achieved by developing the ability to doubt, pause, and be curious about the ordinary.
So, as you think about the future, what do you need to commit to learning that you can’t yet do?
Acemoglu, D., & Restrepo, P. (2020). Robots and jobs: EvidenceU.S.rom US labor markets. Journal of Political Economy.
BLS. (2022). Growth trends for selected occupations considered at risk from automation. Monthly Labor Review.
Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap--and others don't. HarperBusiness.
Doolittle, J. (2023). Life-changing leadership habits: 10 proven principles that will elevate people, profit, and purpose. Organizational Talent Consulting.
Ferris, R. (1988). How organizational love can improve leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4), 41-51.
McKinsey Global Institute. (2016). Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce. McKinsey & Company.
Mulinge, P. (2018). Altruism and altruistic love: Intrinsic motivation for servant-leadership. The International Journal of Servant-Leadership, 12(1), 337-370.