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How Future-Proof Are Your Leadership Skills?

It’s that time when people start to talk about a new year. You might be entirely on board and curious about how work and leadership will be different in the future. But maybe you are feeling a bit resistant. Especially given the unpredictability of this past year, it is no surprise that you may feel skeptical about preparing for the future or even a bit exhausted by the idea. No matter if you find yourself resisting or embracing change in the workplace, more is coming. Disruptive innovation, increased global competition, and evolving market pressures are converging. Businesses are responding by speeding up transformation. No leader sets out to become obsolete, and developing leadership habits is a competitive advantage. Now is the time to 'bet the farm' on you. Here are two timeless leadership skills and four low-cost, high-impact leadership development ideas to keep you growing and bring out your best in the new year.

Why develop future-proof leadership skills?

Every business is vulnerable to threats. But too few businesses and leaders stop to consider the possibility of becoming irrelevant. Harnessing the potential of company growth takes well-equipped leaders.

"If you believe that training is expensive, it is because you do not know what ignorance costs." Leboeuf

Well-equipped leadership makes a difference. Here is how:

  • Team Performance: Several research studies have investigated the connection between the leader and business performance. Studies have demonstrated that effective leadership improves follower performance and promotes higher business results, follower job satisfaction, and follower organizational commitment.

  • Innovation and Creativity: Evidence suggests that leadership is essential for driving innovation in a company. A study involving over 400 executives from 48 companies connected strategy and innovation performance directly with good leadership habits.

  • Trust and Change: Studies have demonstrated that the level of trust in leadership directly correlates to employee retention, organizational commitment, and support for organizational change. Furthermore, when executives build trust, evidence suggests that organizational change readiness increases.

  • Internal Communication & Relationships: Words shape worlds. Studies have revealed that influential leaders enhance two-way communication, creativity, collaboration, job attitudes, and organizational commitment.

  • Leadership Transitions: Leadership transitions, whether successful or not, are costly. Evidence suggests that, on average, 35% of internally promoted executives fail, and direct reports spend 10-20% of their time helping a new leader transition. Successful leadership transitions increase company revenue, have 13% lower attrition rates, and are 90% more likely to achieve long-term performance goals. Leadership development is a leadership transition acceleration tool.

2 Future-proof leadership skills

Future-ready leaders need the right skills to be effective. In a complex and fast-paced digital workplace, leaders need to be able to quickly discern and apply the appropriate leadership skills to bring out the best in followers. Leaders need employees that go beyond what is expected in ways that contribute to the organization’s results and make the communities where they operate better.

  • Leadership Behavior – is how a leader responds within the leadership system. A behavior is something that can be seen and described.

  • Leadership Attribute – is an inherent quality of a leader as perceived by others.

When you think about the future of work and consider the leadership behaviors and attributes needed, it is likely that technical and analytical skills will come to mind. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, it is projected that by 2030, the time spent during a workweek on information technology and programming tasks will increase the most.

Leadership is a relationship, and technological innovations change the work, worker, and workplace. While some skills will likely be less in demand, it is important to consider the human leadership skills that remain in the technology-driven workplace.

Evidence suggests that more dynamic leadership skills are the most effective. Idealized influence and inspirational motivation are two key leadership behaviors and attributes to help leaders meet today’s and tomorrow’s complex organizational challenges.

Future-Proof Leadership Skill #1: Idealized Influence

Leadership is achieved through others rather than by a leader alone. Establishing idealized (positive) leadership influence is vital. Idealized influence increases trust, enhances learning, increases emotional connection, and empowers followers to think independently and express their individuality.

Leaders that can display idealized influence tend to possess a high degree of moral behavior, virtues, character, and work ethic. These leaders reflect the organizational culture, impart pride in followers, and reinforce the importance of teamwork and shared success.

Idealized Influence Behaviors:

  • Talk about their most important values and beliefs

  • Communicate the importance of team trust

  • Reinforce the importance of purpose

  • Evaluate the ethical consequences of decisions

  • Reinforce the need for teamwork and its possibilities

Idealized Influence Attributes:

  • Infuse pride in others

  • Make personal sacrifices for others

  • Create respect

  • Demonstrate confidence

  • Encourage others about the future

A modern example of a leader that displays idealized influence was Jack Welch. He was the former GE CEO known for achieving tremendous organizational results by developing others.

Future-Proof Leadership Skill #2: Inspirational Motivation

Leaders in a volatile and uncertain marketplace need to adapt and motivate followers toward a challenging and aspirational vision. Human nature focuses on what is missing or needs to be fixed. However, inspirational motivation behaviors involve creating and effectively communicating a shared positive vision and purpose for followers.

Inspirational Motivation Behaviors

  • Optimistically communicating about the future.

  • Enthusiastically communicating about what needs to be achieved

  • Communicate a compelling vision of the future

  • Provide an exciting image of what is essential to consider

  • Express confidence that goals will be achieved

Like idealized influence behaviors, inspirational motivation enhances the leader-follower relationship by increasing trust and emotional connection. Additionally, inspirational motivation behaviors heighten the willingness of followers to excel.

Jack Ma is a modern example of inspirational motivation leadership behaviors and attributes. He is the former Alibaba CEO known for his ability to communicate a small business eCommerce vision, leading Alibaba to become the world's largest retailer and online marketing company.

Are your leadership skills future-proof?

Taking time to self-assess is a valuable means of deepening your awareness to ultimately enhance your leadership capability.

Here are a few questions to consider that encompass the idealized influence and inspirational motivation leadership skills:

  • How often do I build trust and act with integrity?

  • When have I experienced positive or adverse trust outcomes?

  • When have I experienced positive or adverse integrity outcomes?

  • How often do I encourage others?

  • When have I experienced positive or adverse motivation outcomes?

4 Low-Cost, High-Impact Leadership Development Ideas

Many leaders recognize a need to develop their skills continuously; however, they often lack the resources to make it happen. Leaders wanting the best chance to thrive in the future need to be continuously developing.

Here are four ideas to keep you growing:

Development Idea #1: Reflection

It is easy to move quickly from one task to the next and miss opportunities to learn and grow from experiences. Simply try asking a question to create the space for focused reflection. The following powerful questions come from an after-action review process used by the military to provide a structure for reflection:

  • What was expected to happen?

  • What occurred?

  • What went well and why?

  • What can be improved and how?

Development Idea #2: Executive Coaching

An executive coach is not a counselor or mentor. Counseling deals with past or current trauma, mental health, and symptoms, to restore emotional wellness. Executive coaching focuses on the future and not the client's history. A mentor, unlike a coach, sets the agenda for their client using their experiences to guide the relationship. While that approach can be helpful in reality, we are all created with different strengths and backgrounds. A coach draws out the executive's desire and works to co-create options to achieve the executive's goals with individual and organizational benefits.

In a literature review of 81 executive coaching studies, researchers found that executive coaching positively impacts the leader and the organization. These benefits range from becoming more confident to contributing more effectively to empowering employees and improving employee retention.

The confidence and growth from a creative thought partnership can't be beaten. Now more than ever, executives need coaches to support their continuous development due to the complexity placed on leadership roles.

See how our goal-oriented executive coaching turns your aspirations into your future.

  • Accelerate your career - Coaching keeps you challenged and increases your blind spot awareness.

  • Live life to the fullest - Coaching facilitates experimentation and self-discovery.

  • Shift your mindset - Coaching helps you challenge your assumptions and views.

Development Idea #3: Networking

Results-driven leaders have a bad habit of working harder and longer hours. Hard work isn't bad, but isolation is hazardous. If achievement-oriented leaders are not careful, their drive can limit career opportunities, professional success, and the joy of living. In an increasingly uncertain world, executives need high-quality relationships with followers, but also peers, and others outside the workplace. Relationships impact the leader's effectiveness and ability to get help and information necessary to innovate and solve complex issues.

In one study, high-performing leaders were found to establish high-quality networks and use those connections to establish better priorities and obtain necessary resources, support, and approvals for their team. The study also revealed that leader networking effectiveness of low-performing leaders was attributed to a lack of awareness associated with a lack of relationships.

Development Idea #4: Thought Leadership

Books, articles, and assessments on leadership can enable leaders to examine a particular situation from different points of view. Thought leadership grounded in research provides leaders with proven solutions that can be applied and short-cycle the learning process.

If you are not a skilled speed reader, you may be surprised that you can learn how to read a book in an hour. Like any skill, there are tips and tricks to increase your speed and retention. Here is a bonus link to 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.

As a word of caution, while leadership skills are essential, they are insufficient. The effects of your character, the company culture, the quality of your leader-follower relationships, your traits, and the traits of your followers are all elements that directly impact leadership effectiveness.

What do you do to keep growing personally or professionally?


Conger, J. & Fulmer, R. (2003) Developing your leadership pipeline Harvard Business Review.

IBM (2014) The value of training IBM Corporation

Sosik, J. & Jung, D. (2018). Full range leadership development: Pathways for people, profit, and planet. Routledge.

Acemoglu, D., & Restrepo, P. (2020). Robots and jobs: Evidence from US labor markets. Journal of Political Economy.

McKinsey Global Institute. (2016). Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce. McKinsey & Company.

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I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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