Over the past 16 months I interviewed over 140 CEOs around the world from companies like Audi, MasterCard, Unilever, Best Buy, Oracle, Kaiser, Verizon, and dozens of others. This was all done as part of research for my new book, The Future Leader, which examines what it will take to be a leader in 2030 and beyond. One of the questions I asked all of these CEOs was around the greatest trends shaping the future of leadership.
These are the six trends they identifies that will play a major role in shaping future leaders over the next decade and beyond.
AI and Technology
When I asked CEOs what they viewed as the biggest trends impacting leadership, the most common answer I received was the growth of artificial intelligence and technology. It’s no secret that technology is evolving at a breathtaking pace. Artificial intelligence has the power to completely transform how businesses operate and people work. But with the excitement of AI and new technology comes fear and uncertainty. It’s up to leaders to assuage those fears by looking for ways to implement AI that adds to employees instead of replacing their jobs. Leaders need to calm fears and remain positive about new technology. They need to be well-versed on AI and experiment with new technologies so they can help others understand the potential impact on their jobs.
As Christian Ulbrich, the CEO of JLL, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate firms with almost 100,000 employees around the world told me. “We will succeed in the digital era only if we engage with enthusiasm and welcome the ideas and opportunities that digital tools, data analysis, and new technologies will bring.”
Pace of Change
Right alongside the growth of AI and technology is the overall pace of change. How we live and work is drastically different today from what it was five years ago—let alone 20 or 30 years ago. Change surrounds us in the form of climate change, globalization, diversity, and dozens of other things. Change is constant and has always happened. What’s different about today is the rate at which change occurs. To be successful, organizations must be constantly looking forward, and leaders must lean in and embrace change instead of shying away. Future leaders need to be agile, easily adaptable, and comfortable challenging the status quo.
Purpose and Meaning
While companies used to be able to easily attract top talent with the promise of a high salary, that’s no longer the case. Employees now want to work for an organization that offers purpose and meaning, and they’re even willing to take a pay cut to get it. Purpose is the reason for an organization’s existence and often includes things like investing in employees, making a difference in the world, or driving innovation. Meaning is the personal impact of each employee’s work. Employees want to see that their efforts are impactful and contributing to the overall purpose of the company. To set the example, leaders must first understand their own job, purpose, impact, and meaning before helping their employees do the same. They need to get to know employees individually to understand what motivates them.
Before he passed away suddenly, I had the opportunity to speak with Bernard Tyson, the former Chairman and CEO of Kaiser, which is one of America’s leading healthcare providers that employees over 200,000 employees. He told me: “Companies of the future can no longer think that they can just exist … significant companies of the future cannot just exist in this little bread box, in this isolated place. We are a part of greater society and a greater society is a part of us. I think the trend of when and how we engage in the bigger societal issues will continue to be a part of the future of leadership.”
New Talent Landscape
Recent years have brought tremendous change to the overall talent landscape, and it’s only just beginning. As older employees retire and younger generations enter the workforce, many companies find themselves on the constant hunt for skilled employees. At the same time, diversity and inclusion are becoming even more important. The new talent landscape is more than just changing demographics; it’s a new approach to attracting and retaining talent while also training and upskilling employees to be prepared for the future of work. Leaders of the future should strive to develop diverse teams and create an inclusive environment. They need to invest in upskilling employees while also finding ways to involve older employees and motivating employees of all ages to take control of their own career development.
Morality, Ethics, and Transparency
Gone are the days of controlling leaders trying to be the smartest person in the room. A recent push for morality, ethics, and transparency has led to more authentic and humble leaders. Companies with ethical foundations perform better financially and have higher customer and employee satisfaction. These types of organizations are created by moral leaders. At the same time, leaders are being put under a microscope as people demand transparency. Leaders can no longer hide behind their title—they must be open and honest to their companies and the public. Leaders of the future must determine their own moral compasses and have a strong sense of their personal beliefs. Simply standing still is no longer good enough; leaders need to take a stand and be as transparent and authentic as possible.
As technology grows, the world becomes more connected and seems smaller. Each country used to be its own economy, but now we can work with and communicate instantly with people all over the world. All businesses are now global and have the potential for worldwide employees and customers. Globalization brings complex geo-political issues and great opportunities to collaborate and share cultures. Future leaders need to embrace globalization by becoming global citizens who appreciate different cultures and know how to communicate across cultural and language barriers. Foreign ideas should be viewed as opportunities, not fear-filled challenges. Leaders of the future need to pay attention to global issues and understand what is happening around the world.
Future-ready leaders need to understand trends and adapt their leadership approach for changes in the way we think, work, and live. These six trends will be crucial for leaders in coming years.