The future of work: what skills will a leader need in 10 years?
Over the last few years, I have spent a great deal of time reading about leadership and learning from the various schools of thoughts on what it takes to be a good leader. As COVID continues to evolve and the global pandemic crosses the 18 months mark, I can see many changes taking place in the corporate world and many trends being accelerated by the global pandemic. Over the last few months, I have been thinking and reading about the future of work and more precisely, the future of leadership.
As a Digital Marketing Director in a large multinational manufacturing company, I can see that my role is slowly changing and that expectations are shifting, but why and how?
What changes will impact future leaders in 2030 and how will these changes influence leadership in 10 years from now? What new skills and competencies will leaders require when we enter the next decade? After much reading and reflections, here is my humble attempt to answer these questions.
Changes shaping the future of work and leadership
Already today, many trends are shaping the future of work and leadership. Changes might be happening in incremental steps, but in 10 years from now, work and leadership will be different from what we know today. Think 10 years back… Large companies were barely starting to build their social media presence and many still believed at the time that social media was not something for companies but only for individuals. Working from home was not common, automation was only used in specific fields and only a few people knew about cryptocurrencies. The world has changed a lot over the last 10 years. Many billion dollar companies were founded in the last decade such as Snap Inc (Snap Chat), Stripe, Robinhood, Discord, OnePlus, TikTok or Tinder. Fun fact: I met my wife on Tinder. Many new jobs have appeared over the last 10 years such as Blockchain analyst, Instagram influencer, Drone operator, Podcast producer, Crossfit instructor, Twitch streamer, Telemedicine physician, Uber driver, Contact tracer, TikTok Marketer, Crypto trader and so many more. Actually, 15 years back, there were very few digital marketers and my own position would not have existed in my current company. Changes over the last decade can be seen everywhere, also in our homes. Alexa and Google home were launched in the last decade, Netflix only started making its original content in 2013 when House of Cards debuted, Slack was made available in 2014, mobile payments, self-driving cars, etc.
In short, so much has changed over the last 10 years, imagine what changes will occur over the coming 10!
What trends will impact the future of work and leadership?
Work and leadership by 2030 will be shaped by many trends that are already ongoing today and some of which have been accelerated by the global pandemic. Here are the trends I believe will shape the future of work and leadership over the coming decade:
1- Technology evolution
Technology is moving fast and this is nothing new. I grew up in a house with a VHS player and a landline. I got my first cellphone when I was in my 20s and I remember thinking 15 years ago that it was absolute madness to think people would accept to pay a monthly subscription to have the Microsoft office package on their computer or that music wouldn’t be free. I grew up with Napster, I burned DVDs and I remember hearing fairytales of having the internet on your phone everywhere you went. But guess what, it all happened and fast.
Technology isn’t slowing down, but accelerating. Automation, AI and Machine Learning used to be nerdy topics reserved for PHD engineers, but now it’s for everyone and in every industry. We automate emails for marketing purposes and use AI to assist physicians in their medical diagnostics. Robotic is being used across manufacturing, machine learning is used to create better product recommendations to customers. The list goes on. New technology is no longer only reserved and deployed by nerds or geniuses, but these technologies are becoming part of our everyday jobs. Repetitive jobs are being replaced by automated processes and human resources are being moved to more value-adding responsibilities. Technology will continue to evolve and this will greatly impact jobs and leadership in the coming decade. How? Won’t leaders need to better understand technology going forward? Yes! For sure! And let me get back to that a little later in this article.
2- Shift in the importance social values
Another important trend that will impact the future of work and of leadership is the ongoing shift in social values. For quite a few years now, there has been a shift in social values globally, some of which have been accelerated by the global pandemic. By this I mean climate change, the black lives matter movement, diversity, inclusion, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, animal rights, etc. As we continue to face threats across many social values, ethical practices expectations from people towards businesses will continue to increase. People will want businesses to do the right thing, to back values they care for and to walk the talk. As younger generations grow up such as Gen Z and Gen Alpha, such demands towards businesses will continue to grow. This will impact the future of work, businesses and leadership.
3- Workforce changes
Believe it or not, the workforce is drastically changing and on many levels. Where to start?
3.a The global citizen
First, the talent landscape is transforming. Citizens are becoming global and talent is no longer constrained by borders. The workforce is not only more mobile, but the pandemic has shown everyone that working remotely is feasible if the right tools and support is put in place. Many companies are adopting hybrid workplace models while others offer their employees to work anywhere they want. This changes how we work, where we work, when we work. This will also have a great impact on how we lead.
3.b New ways to learn
In addition, the talent landscape is changing as the way we learn has evolved. Skills and competencies that used to be reserved for school benches can now be learned online through various learning platforms, youtube, etc. School diplomas remain the official learning accreditation but for how long? Will we continue to require specialists to have engineering degrees when kids can learn to build 3D printers on Youtube? Will we continue to send employees through training courses when other learning platforms make learning flexible and available anytime and anywhere?
3.c Longevity of the working life and having more than one career
While my parents were expected to retire at the age of 65 and have most likely kept the same job their entire life, such expectations are changing. We will all work until we are 70, if not more and it is becoming more and more common for people to have multiple careers during their work life. This will impact the future of work as people stay within the workforce for longer and as their experience expands across domains and fields. This will also require a different type of leadership to be able to make the most of the talent available and ensure a certain level of talent retention.
3.d Generation Z and Generation Alpha
Millennials are already a large portion of the workforce globally and with our arrival, some changes have already taken place. That being said, over the coming decade most of Gen Z will enter the labor market and the first cohort of Generation Alpha will start working. These younger generations will have a clear and strong impact on the future of work and the future of leadership. First, they are the first generations to be brought up fully immersed in digitalisation and in social media. Their ways of presenting themselves and interacting with the world are different from the generations that preceded them. This will impact organisations and managing multi-generational diversity will be a challenge. This will require for organisational culture to be more flexible and for leaders to be able to manage very different needs and expectations. Additionally, Generation Z and Alpha will join the workforce with expectations of purpose beyond salary and, going back to the points made above, they will be tech savvy, they will have social value expectations towards their employers and they will have done a large part of their learning online instead of school. I believe these two generations will have the largest impact on the future of work and the way we lead.
3.d Employee experience focus and expectations
To sum up how I believe the workforce is changing, I need to add a point around the employee experience (EX). As the talent landscape is transforming because of global citizens, new ways of learning, multiple careers and gen Z and gen Alpha, the employee experience expectations from the workforce will change drastically over the coming decade, at least according to me. Employees will have much higher expectations towards their employers in terms of EX from the hiring process all the way to leaving the company. Employers will have to rethink how they manage, interact, communicate and lead employees across all touch points. Employees will expect a good EX and will leave companies when the employee experience doesn’t meet their expectations. This will require massive changes in the way we lead as people leaders have a huge impact on the employee experience. For a decade now, we have been talking heavily about CX, the customer experience. As the fight for talent increases, I firmly believe the next decade will have a huge focus on Employee Experience and this will be a key differentiator and competitive advantage for organisations which want to attract, recruit and retain talent.
4- Pace of changes
The last trend I believe will impact the future of work and leadership over the coming decade is the pace of change. Things are changing rapidly and many of these changes or advancements are happening fast, very fast. This ongoing pace will impact the future of work and leadership as we will need organisations that are agile and leaders that can adapt to change at a much faster rate than we have seen in the past.
What skills will the future leader need?
In order to meet the changes listed above, the future leader will have to adapt to new ways of working and new ways of leading. Here are the skills and competencies I believe future leaders will need to have over the coming decade:
1- Digital literacy
Digital transformation is everywhere. This is no longer something reserved to the IT department and detached from the rest of the business world. Digital transformation is key to Marketing, Supply Chain Management, Sales, Services, Manufacturing, Operations. This also spans across all industries. Whether we are talking about production of goods, service deliveries, transport, energy, education or medicine, digital transformation is key for companies to remain competitive. This means that the future leader will have to be tech savvy and that digital literacy will no longer be an advantage as it is today, but a requirement. Why? Because digitalisation will be fundamental to all parts of work. It will be part of the strategy, it will be integrated in the way we work through tools we use, it will support processes, it will shape the way we develop expertise and functions, etc. The future leader will need to understand broad digital concepts and their implications to the business as well as understanding digital tools, digital processes and digital developments specific to their area of expertise and responsibilities to lead and support their team. This will also become an increasing requirement as younger digital generations enter the labor force and the overall definition of being tech-savvy will change. A few years ago, being tech-savvy meant being able to share your screen during an online call or fix the projector when it didn’t work. In the next decade, being tech-savvy will mean understanding concepts like automation, data science, cybersecurity, cloud, information architecture, data storage, it will mean understanding the tools and platforms available for people to work with, etc.
To be successful, the future leader will need to understand new technology and understand when, how and where humans can add value to technology and vice versa. This will require a broader understanding of technology AND human skills to constantly find the right balance between the two to create value and a competitive advantage.
2- Soft skills at the core of leadership
In addition to digital literacy, the future leader will need a great set of personal capabilities. As mentioned above, understanding human skills is critical in creating the balance between people and technology. Human skills encompasses both hard and soft skills and this means the future leader will need to also be what we call a people’s person.
Moreover, to meet the new expectations of the changing workforce, the future leader will need personal capabilities in regards to self-awareness to manage themselves and their emotions. The future leader will also need to be willing to be vulnerable to create a safe space that promotes curiosity, experimentation and that encourages teams to think beyond the current frame and what’s available out there. The future leader will have to make room for new ideas, mistakes and new ways of working as a team. They will also have to balance multi-diverse and multi-generational teams with various sets of expectations and ways of working. It will no longer be enough to have a diverse workforce, the future leader will have to ensure that inclusion is core to the organisational culture so that all employees feel comfortable speaking up and sharing ideas.
Younger generations will expect their leader to be a human first and a leader second and therefore the future leader will need to present themselves as a person first. They will also expect their leader to act as a coach and help them find purpose in their work as well as success. I firmly believe that it will be expected that the future leader is authentic, honest and empathetic, which will be required to create and meet the employee experience requirements in the future and create the needed organisational culture. Through authenticity and empathy, future leaders will be able to build honest relationships with employees and build the trust required to adapt, innovate and collaborate. The future leader's soft skills will also enable them to engage and persuade employees to follow their vision.
3- Adaptability and continuous learning
As presented in the first section of this article, many changes are influencing the future of work and the future of leadership: technology evolution, social values, workforce changes and the overall pace of change. To meet all these changes, the future leader will need to be adaptable, innovative and collaborative.
Leaders in the future won’t be able to follow the idiom “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. The future leader will need to be interested and willing to be on an ongoing never ending learning journey. This also means that the future leader will need to be able to embrace change in order to grapple the disruption that will come with technology evolution such as AI, automation, machine learning and whatever else appears over the coming years.
I also believe that the future leader will have to become a master of communication. Not only will they have to communicate and persuade employees to follow the company’s vision, but the future leader will have to communicate AND listen to the ongoing employee conversation spanning across multiple channels such as emails (if these still exist), chats, texts, collaboration tools, social media, etc. This ongoing dialogue with the organisation will require the future leader to lead in a two-way conversation and to acquire the ability to communicate across multiple channels. Moreover, future employees might be scattered around the globe as remote and hybrid working models are being implemented. The future leader will not only need to manage a remote workforce but find ways to implement and promote organisational culture across and outside of the physical workplace. This will be a challenge and an important part of creating a good and consistent employee experience for all employees.
Finally, the future leader will no longer only have to appeal to customers, but also to future and current employees. This means that the future leader will need to rethink the employee experience in order to attract, recruit and retain talent. The employee experience will become a core differentiator and the value proposition needed to attract and retain employees. This also means that the future leader will need to put employees first, create training programs to help employees grow professionally and emotionally as well as supporting them in adapting to changes, including when employees’ positions are replaced by a machine. The future leader will be responsible for building tomorrow’s talent and keeping up with the pace of change.
Now, I can’t predict the future and only time will tell if my reflections were correct. I look forward to re-reading this article 10 years from now and see how right or wrong I was. I would also love to hear other people’s views and thoughts on the future of work. What will drive change? What skills will future leaders need?