The future leader will need to have 4 leadership qualities to be a successful leader: be Future-Ready, have an inspiring Purpose, excellent Interpersonal Skills and be obsessed with their Personal Growth and that of their teams
The future will be nothing like the present. There will be new types of jobs, new organisational models, and new challenges, and it will require a new kind of leader, let’s call it the future leader, with certain leadership qualities.
As the world gets more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), and it changes increasingly faster, the leader of the past will struggle to succeed. We will need a future leader with new qualities.
I wrote about the leader of the future when I launched this blog a couple of years ago, but based on new research and a lot of reading, my thinking on the topic has evolved.
4 Leadership Qualities
I don’t particularly appreciate classifying people and jobs in competency frameworks and similar schemes. I don’t think there is an ultimate guide to the perfect leader, and I believe many of the proponents of leadership models are full of themselves. There are many ways to be a great leader. We have almost as many types of leaders as people, as each leader is unique in their own way, and each of us has the potential to be a leader in some aspects of our lives.
Having said all this, the future leader will need to have at least these four qualities to be successful. They could have others, of course, and the reader will find many other leadership models out there, but these are the four top qualities they will master to succeed in and shape the future world of work.
The leadership qualities of future leaders are these four:
Let’s delve deeper into each of them.
Read more: Leadership Quality – Being Future Ready
Being future-ready means understanding the possible futures that are most likely to happen, being prepared for them and taking the necessary steps to shape the most desirable outcomes in those futures. Being future-ready means having foresight and an innovation mindset, and being tech-savvy.
The world is changing increasingly faster, and great leaders need to have the capacity not only to follow the world around them but to shape it and make it better. To do that, the future leader will need to understand well the forces shaping the future. They will need to display foresight and be future-ready.
Foresight isn’t about prediction. Perfect prediction is not possible, so it’s pointless. Foresight is about understanding the trends and drivers shaping the future, getting ready for all possible futures and taking the necessary steps to build the best one possible.
The future leader must be in-tune with the trends shaping the future and be familiar with the toolkit of the futurist and forecaster. They will have to be comfortable gathering signals of change and other evidence of the parts of the future already here, looking at trends, and building scenarios and forecasts of possible futures.
The future-ready leader knows that the future is unpredictable and full of surprises but has the tools and mindset to be ready for the likeliest future and takes the necessary steps to contribute to the most desirable one. The future leader is an expert on the Future of Work and knows what needs to be done to build a human and humane Future of Work.
The future leader has an innovation mindset and knows things can always get better.
They apply this mindset to technological innovation but also to improving processes, their leadership and their organisational models. They unleash the power of their imagination to be more creative and think outside the box.
They know human beings think linearly, but they think exponentially as much as possible. Why improve things by 1% when you can increase them 10x?
Some think technological progress is slowing down and that we aren’t seeing the productivity increases we saw in the past. However, data shows that technology is still growing apace in many diverse fields like artificial intelligence, bioengineering, robotics, communications technology, computing, materials and many more.
The future leader will be tech-savvy and will thrive in this environment. A great leader creates new markets and opportunities by leveraging new technologies. They won’t necessarily have to be tech experts, but they will need to understand the general implications of new technologies and how to leverage technology to bring better results, better lead their teams and build a better world.
This is not the place to enter an in-depth analysis, but AI merits a special mention. We are talking about an emerging new type of intelligence. The future leader will have to know how to manage the two types of intelligence, the natural and the artificial sort, and integrate them into one team for maximum impact.
Without being future-ready, it is impossible to shape the world and build a better future, and we want future leaders who can do just that, bringing us nicely to the next dimension, purpose.
Nobody follows a leader without a purpose.
The future leader will have an engaging, inspiring and aspirational purpose and will transmit it to their teams, clients and society. This means the future leader will have an inspiring and engaging vision, clarity instead of certainty, and the purpose of building a better world.
As I wrote before, I believe in Simon Sinek’s mantra that people follow and buy into a WHY, not the WHAT. The future leader does things for a reason, and that reason transcends themselves, and it is there for the bettering of society. They have a vision that inspires people and engages them to follow them. This vision will have to come from clarity.
As the futurist and author Bob Johansen tells us in Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World, the leader of the future will have clarity in their purpose, but not certainty. The world is too complex and uncertain to have certainties, and if we want to be successful in this VUCA world, we need to have the flexibility and agility that will allow us to achieve our objectives. Certainty will bring unequivocal failure.
However, the successful leader will have to have clarity on their purpose and vision. They will have to know the general direction of travel but be flexible to change the way to get there if the context demands so. They will know the WHY and WHERE they are going, but not necessarily HOW to get there, and that will be fine.
This sounds exactly the opposite of the lion tracker’s mantra: “I don’t know where we are going, but I know exactly how to get there”, but it’s actually the same concept, told differently.
The future leader is purposeful.
They know themselves well, understand who they are and why they are here and have a clear vision of the future they want to build with their teams. They have a clear career and life purpose, and they know the purpose of their job and the jobs of their team members.
The future leader is an advocate for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. She understands a diverse team that feels included is a more effective team and that we all need to put our grain of sand to build a more sustainable world.
The purposeful leader wants to contribute towards building a better world. They know each of us can change the world and that this change starts with oneself.
The future leader is a wise leader, mainly because they have a clear purpose and can communicate that purpose very well.
Purpose is possibly the most important leadership quality a leader must have, as, without it, all the rest becomes empty and meaningless. There is no point in having all the other qualities on this list if the leader doesn’t have an inspirational purpose beyond maximising profits or earning more money.
The future leader will have to know how to leverage technology, yet people will continue to be the most critical asset in any organisation. A leader will continue managing people and interacting with clients, suppliers, and other human beings, so interpersonal and people skills will be essential.
This leadership quality encompasses many different skills and competencies; we will group them here into three: emotional intelligence, communication, and managing hybrid teams.
Emotional intelligence was first introduced by Abraham Maslow in the 50s but was popularised by Daniel Goleman in the 90s. It is well understood as a theoretical concept in leadership studies circles and the self-help and personal development movement.
The central tenet of the model is that emotional intelligence is more critical than traditional intelligence and other skills in predicting good performance.
We continuously interact with other human beings and need to understand our emotions and how they impact others.
As I wrote in We Need to Talk About Emotions, all emotions are important and have a function. Some are more pleasant than others, but they all have a role to play, and that’s why they exist. Knowing how to manage and regulate your own emotions and understanding those of others will help you improve and better manage yourself and your relationships with others.
As the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” We often believe effective communication has happened between us and others, but more often than not, we end up understanding different things.
Communication is a broad concept. It can relate to delivering a clear message, both in written or orally, in a one-to-one conversation or to a team, in a presentation or a conversation, but it is also about listening and understanding well what others are trying to convey.
The listening part is as important or more important than the delivery part. Active listening is about being present, listening with all your being, and paraphrasing and summarising to ensure you have understood correctly. It is also about asking powerful questions that derive from that listening.
We can learn a thing or two from the ancient art of storytelling when communicating with others. When we are trying to convey a message, we are telling a story, after all.
Managing hybrid teams
With the advent of hybrid workplaces and more flexible working arrangements, the future leader will also have to be a master in engaging and connecting with virtual teams, which have different needs and require different management skills.
The challenge is when a part of the team is more regularly present at the office, and another is working remotely or in a hybrid. How to make sure they all receive the same attention and those working remotely don’t feel forgotten? The leader of the hybrid workplace will have to pay special attention to the needs of the remote teams to keep them engaged and connected.
A human and humane Future of Work will require humane leaders, which means leaders who understand people, love working with them and can get the most out of each person.
All these dimensions are equally important, but the one that will allow the future leader to grow and improve themselves and their teams is Personal Growth. The future leader will have to continue growing and developing.
As the late Steven Covey said in the popular The 7 Habits of the Effective Leader, a leader must Sharpen the Saw. This means the future leader needs to take care of their spiritual, physical, social and mental needs and make sure they learn new things and improve daily.
The future leader will have to have a Growth Mindset and be open to being challenged and making mistakes, learning from them. They will have to be self-aware, know themselves well, ask for feedback and have the right mindset to receive it positively in order to keep growing.
It means they will also know how to build the right habits that will allow them to become a better version of themselves every day.
The future leader will know about the different learning and development methods and philosophies out there, and they will use them for their and their team’s growth and development. They will participate in training and e-learning and attend seminars and webinars, but they will also work with coaches and mentors, undertake stretch assignments that will allow them to test and develop new skills, play games, get immersed in virtual reality worlds, and a long et cetera, all in the service of learning.
The future leader won’t stay still and will keep growing and learning. The future leader will be a lifelong learner.
Interconnected Leadership Qualities
All these qualities are connected. They influence each other and constitute different steps in a process. Being future-ready means the leader understands the future forces and has the tools and resources to impact that future positively.
They decide the kind of positive impact they want to have thanks to their purpose and their clear vision. Future-ready helps them understand the future world, but purpose will give them the impetus to do so and will signal the path forward.
Once they have decided on the path, they will have to work with people to get there. They will have to communicate that vision well, engage other people, influence them, and lead them. This is where interpersonal skills get to the forefront.
As they do this, the future leader will continue growing and learning because they will have an essential focus on their personal growth. As they grow and develop new skills and competencies, they will look at the world and understand the future differently. They will be able to have an increasingly more noticeable impact on the world, thus impacting again in all the other leadership qualities.
The future leader is made today
These are the leadership qualities of the future leader. I have already written about these four areas and linked some of those posts in the relevant sections, but I will be writing more about them. I have also changed the structure of the web to organise some of the content around these qualities.
Having the correct type of leadership will greatly impact the kind of Future of Work we will build, so I dedicate the proper focus to this topic in this blog.
The future leader is made today. Future leaders are learning, developing and being forged in the challenges of today. Thanks to the challenges of today’s world, a new type of leader will emerge: a leader that will understand the future they will want to shape, a leader with a clear and inspiring purpose, who has excellent interpersonal skills and a focus on personal growth that will make them unstoppable.
Who will be this leader? We all have the potential to be one. When I talk about the future leader, I’m not talking about CEOs or founders of great companies. Everybody can be a great leader in their own scope or range. We all need to be leaders in some areas of our lives, even if we don’t manage teams at work. Leaders emerge when they are needed. That’s why when I talk about a leader, I want to do it in an inclusive way. What I wrote above and will continue writing in other posts applies to anyone and everyone.
I will be writing in more detail about each of these leadership qualities and how you can develop them (because, yes, the good news is that all can be developed).
In the meantime, how ready do you think you are to be a future leader? How would you rate yourself in each of these qualities, and what can you do to improve those needing development?