Leaders in an uncertain future: A skills outlook
Business leaders have long been at the forefront of change, facilitating innovation, collaboration and the company's overall success. Over the years, their active role has been pivotal in surviving market and technological disruptions and ensuring customer satisfaction. But today, the skills required to execute that role mandate a reassessment.
The current nature of work and market uncertainty has meant leaders today need to actively step out of their comfort zones and ensure they are ready to adapt to external shifts. In 2023, the need is further accentuated with companies facing rapidly evolving consumer preferences and worsening economic conditions.
Adaptability is the name of the game
The economic reality of 2023 makes it simple for companies; adapt or perish. For business leaders today, adapting to an ever-evolving nature of work and productivity is critical to success. With newer, more agile digital systems, shifting consumer preferences and workforce behaviour that have modified significantly since the pandemic, today's leaders are responsible for helping their companies adapt.
To facilitate adaptability, however, leaders have to focus on building diverse skills today. The need for adaptability can arise from various factors, but today is core to how companies respond to rising uncertainties in the external market. With technology and behaviours—both talent and consumers— fast reshaping old ways of working, leaders who can learn and think flexibly and efficiently showcase better, more future-ready skills.
In recent years, the rise of digital systems, for example, has been a significant force of business uncertainty. To ensure opportunities presented by the advent of digital systems are sufficiently leveraged, leaders have had to adapt and reinvent constantly. Aon's People Priorities Report found that building strategic solutions, driving business agility, and having the drive to succeed were the top most essential skills for leaders to navigate their companies in an increasingly digital world.
In addition, the importance of other soft skills like enthusiasm, energy, resilience, trustworthiness, and creative problem-solving has magnified in the last few years. Moving ahead, these skills will prove critical to how successful companies grow and remain ahead of the curve.
Empathy and the ability to be persuaded
Business leaders must focus on the people they have and ensure they have the right skills. Though not without reason. Talent today is a cornerstone of how businesses create more value for their customers and enable growth. And to be able to lead people to success, empathy is key.
"Empathy is an important skill for leaders today," said Nitin Sethi, CEO of India and South Asia at Aon, during a conversation with Ester Martinez, CEO and Editor-in-Chief at People Matters on the future of HR in 2023 and beyond.
For him, those tasked with building leaders of the future needed to ensure that leaders have empathy was important for CEOs and business leaders and played an essential role in ensuring success. This was closely followed by being open to change and embracing newer possibilities.
"Leaders today who come with 10 to 15 years of experience also require the ability to be persuaded," he added, stating how today, many have set ways of doing things, and to be able to change those is necessary.
Leading organisational agility
Agile businesses have paved the blueprint for success in the past few years. The post-pandemic business world centres around agility and how quickly companies can respond to changes and improve performance. From building newer business models that reflect changing market priorities to ensuring they have people with the right skills, enabling business agility today is highly sought after.
Leaders at the helm of affairs are responsible for setting the right tone. And the best way to develop business agility is to remain agile in how they learn, reskill, and respond to business change.
The importance of learning agility remains critical for Nitin. "It is important to remember," he noted, "that the skills, behaviours, experiences that got you till here will not work tomorrow."
"That's not only because a book was written in that, but also because business models are rapidly changing, and how you can drive value will be different. So being able to learn is an essential skill that leaders should have.”
Building the right leaders
With what's been discussed about skills that leaders require for 2023 and beyond, a lot lies on the shoulders of those who help leaders build the right skills. For HR leaders tasked with building the right leadership pipeline, many have begun prioritising curiosity and a growth mindset as important behaviours that reinforce the leader's ability to learn.
In addition to building personalised learning journeys to help train leaders, HR can facilitate the creation of sustainable habits and diverse perspectives through continuous feedback.
Not having leaders with the right skills to respond to business unpredictability adequately or at the right time can be costly for companies, especially when many say they face challenges.
Research by Mckinsey indicated that over 50 percent of leaders face business problems due to an unforeseen skills gap; the majority believe that upskilling and reskilling are the crux of the solution. What's more telling of the present scenario is that only 13 percent feel confident about implementing and undertaking such reskilling.
Those responsible for building leaders suited to a world of fast-evolving equations must pay close attention to how they support leaders with robust learning frameworks and ensure they can make the right decisions.