The two capabilities that future leaders will require are a global mindset and being a capable virtual leader
Future leaders must be able to question business-as-usual to integrate social and environmental concerns into business operations
There is no question that the international business has changed and is continuing to change. Change continues to happen rapidly and in a relatively larger way. This makes the international business environment more volatile. The future can no longer be predicted with any exactness and this makes the international business environment more uncertain than it has been ever before. Challenges are multifaceted and few single causes or solutions present themselves. This makes the international business environment arguably more complex than it has been. And there is very little clarity on what specific events mean and the effects they might have in the short, medium and long-term.
All of this makes the business environment more ambiguous. Such a scenario in the backdrop of information overload, dissolution in traditional organizational boundaries, new technologies, difference in values and expectations of the new generation and increased globalization add to the ambiguity. All of these pose unique challenges for future leaders and demand a relook at the leadership capabilities for leaders.
A future leader’s armor - The new capabilities
Champion innovation: For businesses to compete on a global scale, leaders will need to create a workforce that thrives on innovation. To make this happen, business leaders will have to champion innovation. Innovation in leadership refers to a process of creating direction, alignment and commitment to design and utilize something new that adds value. Leaders who are champions of innovation will build an organization’s capacity to innovate and tap into the fresh value-creating ideas of employees, partners, customers, suppliers and other parties. Their focus will be to build an environment, which will encourage people to question the status quo and embrace risk associated to designing new products and services. These innovation champions will resource R&D more effectively, form cross-functional innovation teams, and provide a work environment which attracts and retains talent.
Adopt a global mindset: The two capabilities that future leaders will require are a global mindset and being a capable virtual leader. Leaders with a global mindset will be proficient in doing business and conceiving strategies on an international basis. They will understand international markets and world economic trends, as well as have in-depth knowledge about the different cultures. These business leaders will be passionate about diversity and be comfortable about being in uncomfortable environments.
Embrace virtual leadership: As globalization ramps up, businesses will have dispersed teams who belong to diverse cultures. Increasingly, virtual teams will allow business to recruit and retain the best talent who may have been inaccessible before. A concern is that many leaders view the task of leading a virtual team as the same as traditional leadership. However, in the absence of face-to-face communication, virtual leaders will be challenged to create a level of collaboration and productivity that rivals the experience of the best co-located teams. The critical question facing virtual leaders is – How do I bring people working together on a worldwide project, activity or operation, into one cohesive partnership?
Facilitate workplace flexibility: The entry of the new generation into the workforce brings in diverse expectations from the world of work that future leaders will have to cater to. Aspects like flexible work environment and building career prospects thus, come to the forefront of business capability.
Future leaders will need to facilitate a much higher level of flexible work arrangement in order to increase staff engagement and satisfaction, provide greater job satisfaction and encourage better work-life balance. Going forward, business leaders will not have a choice whether or not to embrace workplace flexibility, as their competitiveness will clearly depend on it.
For this, leaders must be prepared for the challenges that accompany a flexible workplace – it demands a significant cultural shift to mainstream flexible work practices which demand a relook at what is considered ‘normal’ in the workplace. There is an increasing concern with respect to how to supervise or monitor the performance of those working in alternative or offsite arrangements. Further, there is common perception that management roles ought not to have the same flexibility and this denies talented employees the opportunity to move into senior management position, because they do not want to give up their flexibility. So, leaders will need to mainstream workplace flexibility, provide flexible options for senior staff, and develop different supervision arrangements for those working in alternative locations.
Coach future leaders: Future leaders will have to adopt the practice of coaching in order to retain key talent. Taking command is a mandatory requirement in a business environment characterized by ambiguity, change, volatility and complexity. Coaching represents a collaborative, result oriented and professional partnership between a coach and an individual that promotes high level performance, by the individual, team and the organization. Thus, an important priority for leaders of tomorrow will be to be able to effectively coach talent to enhance the leadership capability of the business and use that as a strategy to retain talent.
Foster happiness at the workplace: The future business scenario will demand of leaders to foster a happy workplace environment to boost productivity. Happy employees are more likely to have lower rates of absenteeism and are more likely to be more efficient in what they do. A pertinent concern for leaders will be the concept of workplace happiness and how they can foster a happy workplace environment to boost productivity. Given the new workforce dynamics, leaders will find it impossible to achieve high performance without fostering happiness. And a happy workplace environment can be achieved if leaders encourage clear communication and direction as well as healthy work-life balance, which is important in facilitating a positive disposition to an organization.
Build high performance environments: Leaders of the future will need to possess the capability to build a high performance environment through enhanced performance management of the workforce. A common belief is that productivity and performance are inextricably linked. However, there is often a disassociation between what leaders think and how they behave; this is for reasons such as lack of transparency in the performance management system. Fture leaders will need to adopt a rigorous, streamlined and transparent approach towards performance management to drive productivity.
Deliver on CSR initiatives: Future leaders are becoming aware of demonstrating concern for the environment, human rights, community development and employee well-being. Future leaders must have in-depth and updated understanding of CSR and its application; be able to understand community needs, and be able to assess the impact of their business on the community. They must have the unique ability to question business-as-usual in order to integrate social and environmental concerns into the business operations and with stakeholders.
In the present context where business continues to face changing complexity and operates in an ambiguous environment, future leaders will need to acquire a complex interplay of leadership capabilities to respond to these challenges. Thus, the short to medium-term challenge for most business is to determine whether or not the existing leadership development programs, services and initiatives, will produce leaders with the required capabilities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Martin is the Emeritus Professor and Chief Executive Officer at Australian Institute of Management - Western Australia