What are the core issues facing leadership in 2020 and beyond? Walk into any meeting comprising of senior leaders and the hottest topic of conversation will likely revolve around change, technology, clients and talent. While it is no surprise that these top-of-mind challenges are keeping many leaders up at night, the unrelenting need to constantly recalibrate is the most interesting aspect of doing business today and into the future. What will be different? And what, if anything, will be the same?
It’s no wonder that many organizations struggle to keep up. How to lead, hire, keep customers, attract and retain employees, integrate ever-changing technologies while maintaining a robust business strategy requires a dramatically different approach. However, in order to respond to new realities, it may seem paradoxical to suggest that some of these fundamentals will remain constant:
1. Great leadership never gets old
When it comes to leaving one’s footprint on the world, leaders are uniquely positioned to make an indelible impact. Throughout history, leaders have played a significant role setting the vision and influencing organizational culture, despite the fact that leadership styles continue to evolve. Fortunately, the carrot and stick approach is no longer in vogue, having been replaced by highly admirable traits that include transparency, courage and humility. Changing workplace demographics have resulted in a shift in the relationship dynamic between employees and leaders. Employees expect humanness, fairness and parity. Leaders have always been held to account for their decision-making and problem-solving abilities, as well as the bottom line. At the same time, we are witnessing an accountability “shift” as leaders are expected to exemplify character, composure and credibility in the eyes of future talent. A leader’s reputation is more closely scrutinized by today’s workforce…a trend that is set to continue. Consequently, it is incumbent on leaders to hone higher levels of self-awareness in order to successfully lead themselves and their organizations into the future.
2. Organizations are people
Bold and brilliant innovations such as AI, machine learning, blockchain and “hyperautomation” (noted in Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020) are revolutionizing all manner of things. Let’s keep in mind that it is people who possess the unique gifts and talents to conceptualize new technologies and bring them to life. Leaders ultimately make decisions regarding how these technologies can be used in ways to improve business efficiencies. While technology provides data that can profoundly impact operational processes, it is the expertise within organizations that helps leaders and teams to interpret the data and respond accordingly. If you have ever wondered how much data is generated every minute, in their 6th edition of Data Never Sleeps, DOMO estimates that “1.7 MB of data will be created every second for every person on earth.” Ultimately, the purpose of data is to highlight areas for improvement and transformation for the betterment of humans. i.e. our quality of life and work.
3, People are social beings
The need for human connection is in our DNA. We crave connection from birth and require connection for psychological survival. Psychology Today authors Shoba Screenivasan, Ph.D. and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D. note in their article Why We Need Each Other that “emotional connectivity remains a core part of being human.” In today’s digital world, fierce debate continues unabated regarding the impact of devices on a child’s social skills. It may be some time before common ground is established (on the merits or otherwise) regarding time spent on mobile phones or computers, no matter our age. However, perceptions and mindset may be the deeper issues. Older adults often say that technology overuse disconnects younger people from the “real world”. On the other hand, if you ask a young person whether they are disconnected, don’t be surprised to hear that their version of “connected” is completely different. Who is right?
4. Soft skills are more important than ever
It is somewhat unfortunate that “soft skills” often get a bad rap. In a recent LinkedIn Talent Blog post entitled The Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills of 2020, the difference between the two is described as follows: “Hard Skills concern an employee’s ability to do a specific task, and soft skills are more about the way they do them…Soft skills are more about behaviour and thinking, personality skills and cognitive skills. (Skills that are harder to measure) And the top five Soft Skills are Creativity, Persuasion, Collaboration, Adaptability and Emotional Intelligence.” Employers are actively seeking candidates who possess as many of these attributes as possible. As business necessitates human interaction, it is incumbent on individuals in any role to hone their soft skills for successful business relationships in order demonstrate outstanding leadership in 2020 and beyond.
5. Keeping customers remains a core business imperative
Customers are the lifeblood of every industry. Without them, businesses would not have a raison d’être. Marketers, sales and service teams would be unemployed. The advertising industry could not survive and service centres would disappear. Indeed, many bricks and mortar establishments have faced their respective days of reckoning. These enterprises have either gone belly-up or are struggling to keep up with the shifting demands of consumers seeking different experiences. Businesses that continue to thrive have channelled their efforts into the online shopping space, recognizing that customers remain one step…or ten, ahead of the curve. Statista reports that in 2018, 1.8 billion people worldwide purchased goods online, with global e-retail sales reaching $ 2.8 trillion. (Projected to reach $4.8 trillion by 2021.)
Many establishments have been forced to radically reinvent their operations in order to retain customers, or risk become irrelevant. It is the savvy organization that consistently anticipates, innovates and recognizes customers’ purchasing preferences. And while there is no doubt that shopping habits and use of technologies have shifted dramatically, our need for products and services continues to be the driving force in a global economy.
One can conclude that Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French critic, journalist and novelist from the nineteenth century was ahead of the game when he coined the most prophetic phrase of his time: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Or, in English: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.
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