The Road Revisited

Analysis of future trends in leadership and leadership development


Last year, I published a short article entitled The Road Ahead: the changing business environment and what it means for leadership development. Today, I’m going to test some of the assumptions and predictions made in that article.

The article posited five key workplace projections captured in the chart below:


Projection 1 The workplace will become more flexible and engaging
When Yahoo’s chief executive Marissa Mayer recalled remote workers back to the office in 2013 because she felt they would be more productive in the office rather than working from home (see here), she caused indignation and resignations. The global business press took to their wordprocessors linking flexibility to productivity and engagement (here’s a recent example). In  the latest survey by Softchoice, 78% of employees valued remote working and 70% said they would quit their current job for one that offered more flexible working.  Most agree that this is a trend set to continue. Business Insider reports, “The workplace of the future is going to be less centralized, more mobile, and more flexible than anything most people outside the startup and freelance economy have experienced before.” Most agree things will stick because flexible working is at the heart of the millennial generation work ethic and they will make up 75% of the global workforce in the next decade (source: INSEAD Business School). Employee engagement was drawn into focus in 2013 with a renowned Gallup poll which suggested 83% of worldwide employees are not engaged at work. Engagement emerged as one of the top concerns in the Global Human Capital Trends 2015.  In addition to structural changes in the ways we work, leaders will need to continue to adopt a more engaging approach. Most agree, the workplace of the future will be less driven by a single iconic leader. As HR People and Strategy observes, leadership development of the future “will emphasize collective leadership mindset and skillset rather than individual heroics“ and BRW reports “Leadership is no longer about leading from the front, steering the ship as a lone captain making decisions with little or no input from others.” The global thinkers forum global leadership trends characterises this:

A great leader is one who responsibly takes the lead and inspires people to work in a collaborative, goal setting manner. A leader who has a charismatic personality, vision, courage and the determination to meet the defined mission will always achieve organizational success. A true leader not only motivates others to work, but he or she encourages the team to perform collaboratively to their maximum ability at all times in order to achieve results.

The continued rise of freelancers and contractors only serves to complicate the dynamic. Global Human Capital Trends 2015 suggests urgent action is needed by HR on the issue of engagement:

Every program in HR must address issues of culture and engagement: how we lead, how we manage, how we develop, and how we inspire people. Without strong engagement and a positive, meaningful work environment, people will disengage and look elsewhere for work.

Employee engagement is forcing organisations to rethink their performance management models, substituting the one-off end of year performance review for ongoing assessment and coaching – a trend that is set to continue (Washington Post ran an article on this recently).

Projection 2 Innovation Adaptability
In my original 2014 analysis, I narrowly focused on leadership and innovation. I would like to re-categorise this into a broader leadership behaviour… adaptability. We are living in uncertain and ever-changing market conditions (many commentators use the military term VUCA meaning volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). The Global Thinkers Forum reviews how this impacts leadership:

As leaders we are expected to anticipate trends, be agile and feel comfortable in ambiguous environments, see around corners and solve complex problems.

Future Trends lists adaptability as one of the key skills that future leaders will require to manage this uncertainty. The ILM 2020 Vision:future trends in leadership & Management also contends that future leaders need to be more agile and adaptive:

To succeed in the future, managers must be more agile, responsive and able to adapt to the needs of a radically different workplace over the coming years. They must also continue to contend with further technological and cultural change that will impact how organisations operate.

The ability to adapt and innovate will prove to be critical for future organisation’s’ability to survive; and embracing new technologies/approaches will be key:

At the core of the challenges and opportunities that face senior leaders is the need to adapt to a new chapter of competition by infusing new skills, new tools, new management models and new faces into the business (The Fluid Core How Technology Is Creating a New Hierarchy of Need, and How Smart Companies Are Responding)

Projection 3 Embracing Diversity
The workplace of the future is set to be very different and diverse. As Forbes Workplace Trends for 2015 recognises, the millennials are set to become the largest percentage of the workforce for the first time with 47% looking to become managers or senior managers in the next ten years. Isabel Williams (6 Leadership Development Trends for 2015) assesses their different leadership style:

Millennials are generally described as team-players and high achievers. They’re independent, but like to follow rules – they’re confident, but trust authority. They are the only generation that has grown up completely immersed in technology, so it’s only natural that their leadership style will be completely different than the one endorsed by Generation Y.

Also, the amount of females in executive positions is set to improve. A recent UK report (see here) authored by Lord Mervyn Davies shows that more than 25% of FTSE 100 companies have women on their boards which is set to rise to 33% by 2020. Norway and France are the leaders of gender equality in Europe with US trailing behind at 16.9% of women serving on US boards.

Projection 4 Strengthening the bench
The Global Human Capital Trends 2015 Leading in the new world of work predicts, “As the economy recovers, companies see an accelerating demand for leadership at all levels, especially among Millennials.” One thing that is more apparent since last year is that there is a looming global talent crisis. Digitalist research in The Digital Economy Is Changing The Future Of Business outlines how the nature of the workplace will evolve, prophesying 2 billion jobs being scrapped by 2030. The Business Insider The Future of the workplace predicts low skill labour will be replaced largely by a robotic economy and that organisations will compete for high skilled workers increasingly using social media to identify them and talent analytics technology to manage/categorise them (see Delloite teporting in The Wall Street Journal). As this graph from Business Insider clearly shows, the average age for receiving leadership development is 42:


This number needs to decrease going forward if organisations are to have a strong leadership bench to select from. Current Trends in Leadership Development argues “We need to develop leadership skills among our managers early in their careers, ideally before they step into their first management role.” Indeed, a Forbes/ study carried out a few years ago reported “nearly 13% of all millennials in America were managers already,” a figure that has clearly grown since the survey.

Projection 5 Changing approaches to developing leaders
“Leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new environment” reports Future Trends in Leadership Development.  Single, programmatic content-heavy (“bootcamp”) training approaches to developing twenty-first century leaders is simply not effective or relevant.  Future Trends in Leadership Development and others have coined a new phrase for this age-old problem – vertical versus horizontal development. Horizontal development is a competence based approach to developing leaders where a list of leadership competences are identified as relevant within the organisation and (very often) classroom-based training is designed around these core leadership competences, oftentimes delivered by an ‘expert’ – a kind of leadership bodybuilding. Vertical development is “the transfer of greater development ownership to the individual… “stages” that people progress through in regard to how they “make sense” of their world.” (definitions borrowed from Future Trends in Leadership Development). The trend will be to move away from “others” (HR, managers, trainers) being responsible for the leaders’ development to the leader being responsible for their own development. This principle of self-directed-learning (SDL) has become more prevalent as web-based learning has improved. I addressed the benefits and pitfalls of this approach in my 2014 article The Autodidactic Learner. A move toward vertical development will shift the role of the LD practitioner away from organising competency-based learning interventions to facilitating “people, processes, systems, and structures that connect networks of people to each other and spreads a culture of development throughout the organization” (Future Trends in Leadership Development).  This approach will support collective/collaborative leadership as will a leader-developing-leader model which seems to be back in favour.  Another key development which social media is stimulating is an “outside in” perspective. HR People and Strategy writes:

External environmental context and understanding will likely trump deep mastery of internal organizational issues as the leadership currency of choice.

This clearly is going to have an influence on internal leadership development as it will place value on “the ability to see around corners, and the willingness to appreciate and learn from others” (HR People and Strategy).

Since writing the article on future trends in leadership last year, the legacy of the global recession is more apparent and there’s been a lot more research carried out in the five key areas of engagement, diversity, adaptability, emerging talent and developing leaders.  The broad/popular consensus from research academies, business schools, consulting houses and global news/journals is that these five trends will remain significant in the coming few years and the recommendation is that in-house HR and L&D specialists should be reviewing their leadership models through the lens of these five key trends.

Richard Kelly PhD.
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