Future-ready: the leadership talent you’ll need to win when nothing’s the same anymore

05 May 2021

Future-ready: the leadership talent you’ll need to win when nothing’s the same anymore

If an organisation is to succeed in the future, what kind of leadership talent will be able to turn disruption into opportunity?

The pandemic might have been an accelerant, but the winds of change have been blowing through the boardrooms and factory floors of business for some years now.

For instance, the impact of digital technologies on the global economy, and all its players, even at this relatively early stage, cannot be underestimated.

These changes have left many companies struggling with structures built for a different age. Silo-ed, over-complex, ponderous and very much exposed to new, nimble market entrants, the scramble is on to find a future-proof, or at least future-fit, organisation.

Mckinsey recently sketched the change in four dimensions: ‘more connectivity, lower transaction costs, unprecedented automation and fundamental societal shifts’.

In every one of these dimensions, the impact on talent and the leadership of that talent is profound.

The top-down control model is gone, as have many of the regular mechanistic approaches to management. Internal bureaucracies are deadly drags on progress. New generations have entirely different career aspirations and tolerances. And the wider society has become an inescapable and influential stakeholder at every turn.

What the world now demands is ‘creativity, speed, and accountability’.

To meet that demand will take not a revision of the old model, but ‘something radically better’.

Ready to lead?

Are leaders ready for that amount of change and disruption? Frankly, our evidence is, no. Only 15% of the senior leaders, many of them CEOs, in our 2020 Global Leadership Confidence Index, were regarded as being fit to lead through disruption.

Another finding was that talent and a clear talent strategy was regarded as a key component of those companies and organisations regarded as successful at navigating change.

The bad news is that the competition for the right talent is going to be fiercer than ever, in a market that shows no sign of getting less tight.

In digital skills like AI, Germany lags far behind, and even in less ‘deep’ digital skills areas, the picture is not much better. It is already impossible to fill vacancies in certain regions and sectors with suitable skilled workers. This is particularly true in STEM and health-related occupations.

Understanding where talent adds value

For organisations looking for the talent to enable them to be fit for the future, the first question must be: talent to do what, and why?
Many organisations are taking a long hard look at existing roles to determine just where true value is added.

What are the critical roles? Chances are they are fewer than many might expect.

One result of the move to working virtually is companies have found out in some cases they didn’t know exactly what people did, let alone how valuable their contribution was.

So, first and foremost, leaders must be clear where the valuable roles are. And ensure that’s where the top talent goes.

Cultural attractions

When it comes to attracting top talent from outside, culture must be an incentive to join, not a reason to avoid. As Mckinsey reports, ‘companies with strong cultures achieve up to three-times higher total returns to shareholders than companies without them’.

Culture is, of course, related to purpose. A clear purpose translates into a direct measure of whether a company is worth joining. Bury your company’s DNA at your peril.

Purpose should shine through in action that touches all stakeholders, internal and external, and be a unique banner for all to unite around.

Levels of diversity and inclusion are a powerful motivator to attract talent too, another signal that newcomers can expect to be taken seriously whatever their background. And, as we know, ‘companies with racial/ethnic diversity and gender diversity at the executive level are 36 and 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability, respectively, than companies in the bottom quartile’.

Required: agents of change

Given the fluid, ever-changing, highly-collaborative and non-hierarchical future of organisations, leadership won’t be operating on the assumptions of the past.

To successfully lead in this new evolving environment will require true agents of change.

We defined this breed of leadership in our 2020 Global Leadership Confidence Index research. We saw it amongst the 15% of those who inspired others with their ability to manage disruption successfully.

We saw how those leaders lean towards change. It did not intimidate them. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Leaders like this are defined by their mindset, not skillset. Often they have shown the ‘inspired by change’ tendency in their track record to date.
For them, seizing opportunities, even in the current difficult circumstances, comes naturally.
They will drive a steady pace of constant evolution, even in a world that is far from steady.

Game changers, value creators, entrepreneurs, and risk takers

Whatever the circumstance, future-fit leaders tend to take decisions quickly, but thoughtfully. They identify and seize on innovative, resourceful solutions to immediate and critical issues. They display character traits such as humility, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, compassion and empathy.

That degree of EQ is a critical factor in world where building relationships, trust and working in open, collaborative networks will become the norm. It underpins a brand of leadership that is charismatic and motivational, for colleagues, collaborators and customers.

Four key guidelines for future-fit leadership

Be proactive.

Transformational leadership needs to shape, rather than defend, its position in the market. Look beyond your own markets and the obvious, current trends. Identify opportunities to innovate by exploring ideas emerging at the convergence of markets and across value-chains.

Be humble.

If you have the humility to accept that you don’t know everything, you can begin to create a culture of innovation that includes collaboration and diversity to think through business problems.

Avoid complacency.

Clinging to past achievements prevents you from focusing on driving future success. Being a good senior executive today doesn’t mean that you have the skillset, mindset or the capabilities to help confront future change and challenges.

Be bold.

In times of disruption, good leaders are unafraid to clear the decks and create space for fresh thinking.

The future is coming, faster than we can even imagine. The question for leaders and their organisations is: do you want to shape it, or be shaped by it?

If you are a leader looking for the challenge of change, or an organisation looking for the talent to drive change, please get in touch. We’ll be pleased to share our insights and help how we can.