Top leadership skills as we move into 2020

Top leadership skills as we move into 2020

‘A fish rots from the head down’, goes an age-old adage. As someone in a corporate leadership position what this wise and time tested observation has meant to me is that an organization’s failures often originate at the top. On the other hand an effective leader can positively impact not just their immediate subordinates but the entire organization. As we approach 2020, some of the challenges that corporate leaders are forced to reckon with include technological disruption and ever-changing workplace dynamics. To my mind, the only response that is effective in such a scenario is for a leader to constantly revisit and revise their existing skill-set, to better reflect the complexities of our contemporary work culture.

Changing circumstances

In the current socio-economic climate, characterized by market volatility and uncertainties, organizations are pouring billions of dollars into leadership development. At a slightly less organized level, the internet is also rife with self-help leadership content, catering to a growing demand. However, rapid technological advancement and changing expectations often render a lot of this content obsolete, just as rapidly. Things are further complicated by the fact that workforces now consist of much greater diversity in opinions and backgrounds, than they have perhaps ever included. As Generation Z enters the workforce in large numbers, and professionals aged 65 or above continue to be employed, the corporate sector now consists of almost five generations of employees.

Contrary to the traditional prescription, the ‘tell-them-how; approach to management is being replaced by workplaces based on transparency, accountability and collaboration. If an organization is to thrive in this new paradigm, the onus lies on leaders to adapt and seek to gain competitive advantages through an effective evolution in strategy, before they lose ground to competitors who are more clued-in. In my own experience in such roles, I have found that striking a balance between stability and constant responsive change, is often the key to acting in the best interest of one’s organization.

Leadership skills to consider, going forward

In my opinion, the complexity of business operations has increased in recent years, as the market is subjected to greater competitiveness and less ‘set-in-stone’ methodologies. This necessitates innovative new solutions, and a proactive rather than reactive approach. Leaders are increasingly required to take on the role of change-agents, and churn out future-proof solutions that include emerging strategies, technologies and business practices. For instance, being “tech-savvy” is an indispensible aspect of a contemporary leader’s playbook. As technologies such as AI, IoT and Big Data continue to make inroads into business operations, the new corporate culture needs to be responsive to changes in both operations and human resource management.

At the same time, I feel many of the changes that leaders need to respond to are those happening in society at large, not just within the corporate environment. We cannot hope to be effective as leaders if we downplay cultural awareness and sensitivity, especially in the context of marginalized and previously disenfranchised groups. Age-agnostic policies and inclusiveness across gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation is an inevitable evolution in workplaces that leaders need to be seen to be supportive of. Such diversity is also known to bring multiple perspectives to the table, paving the way for comprehensive and effective problem-solving.

Employee engagement is increasingly becoming a major talking point, supported by claims that profitability is significantly higher, in highly-engaged teams. In my opinion, creating open lines of communication and overall transparency goes a long way towards building employee trust and boosting morale in the face of routine change. I have found it very helpful to work on my own awareness and emotional intelligence, to better equip myself, and in turn empower my team members and forge future leaders. Emotional intelligence enables leaders to be receptive to change and open to new, alternative ideas. Once you facilitate collaboration instead of coaxing, employees become invested in the outcome, which also creates a healthy environment of accountability in workplaces. As the world gets more connected, any employee infraction or unethical behaviour can trace back to the employer. Increased employee accountability allays fears of bad PR, and leaders can stay focused on addressing critical business goals.

Embracing change

With competition becoming fiercer by the day, leaders need to constantly enrich their critical thinking, judgement, decision-making and negotiation abilities. Successful businesses are emphasizing wisdom-based leadership, as opposed to knowledge-based practices. This makes sense to me, personally, as well. Wisdom-based leadership and business practices can help distinguish organizations, enhance integrity, build deeper customer engagement and foster much more innovation.

When all is said and done, I believe leaders can better address the changing circumstances through the process of self-discovery, understanding their own motivations, strengths and shortcomings. The future belongs to altruistic—not egocentric—leaders, who can strike a healthy balance between employee well-being and capacity building. A leader becomes effective not only through their own actions or inactions, but by making other people do great things, and it this will hold true for generations to come—across disciplines and continents.