By Jared Lindzon
Photo: Kelvin Murray/Getty Images
In the traditional corporate model, strong leaders pursued a singular vision through the strong command of an organization. Today, we live in a time of rapid change, when products and services often become obsolete overnight, and competition includes startups and companies in adjacent industries–the traditional leadership archetypes need not apply.
Instead an entirely new value system is beginning to emerge for the leaders of the future, one that will continue to grow with the rise of new tools like artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation.
“There’s been a transition from thinking about corporations solely as revenues and profits, and thinking about the organization in a more inclusive way,” says Ernst & Young’s (EY) global chief innovation officer, Jeff Wong. “Clearly revenue and profits are still important, but the leading companies are starting to think beyond that.”
Wong adds that while organizations used to select leaders based on relevant management experience, there is now a premium on leaders who demonstrate drastically different skill sets; the ones that experts believe will help organizations navigate a rapidly changing business environment.
1. THE ABILITY TO THINK OF NEW SOLUTIONS
While leaders of the past were often tasked with executing predetermined strategies, increasing efficiency, and improving preexisting processes, one of the most valuable assets of future leaders is their willingness and ability to create something entirely new.
“We know the world is changing rapidly, we know that change is accelerating, we know that when you look at companies and industries that are evolving rapidly that there will be a series of new opportunities to go after, which will also be a chance to help define the evolution of their industry,” explains Wong.
Wong explains that as industries, processes, and business models are reinvented by disruptive technologies, the most valuable leaders of tomorrow are those that can shape the impact of those changes, rather than react to them.
“They’re leaders who can seek out new opportunities, who can deliver those new opportunities, but can also help redefine their own business into what it needs to be for the future,” he says.
2. BEING COMFORTABLE WITH CHAOS
In an increasingly chaotic business landscape, the leaders who thrive are those who work well in unknown conditions.
“There are systems and processes that have been built up from the past that were fantastic for that era, but they aren’t fast or nimble enough to match this pace of change,”says Wong.
Leaders who can demonstrate a level of comfort with the chaos that results from reinventing long-standing processes are better prepared for the challenges that await them in the future, he says.
3. AN UNDERSTANDING OF TECHNOLOGY
While the leaders of the future won’t necessarily need to be the ones writing code, experts suggest that they will at least be required to demonstrate a robust understanding of the capabilities, applications, and future potential of emerging technologies.
“Information technology is moving from more of a supporting role that creates efficiency to a differentiating role that will increase effectiveness,” says Guo Xiao, the president and CEO of ThoughtWorks, a global technology consultancy. “Corporations are taking tech more and more seriously, regardless of what industry they’re working in.”
Xiao explains that industries as diverse as retail, agriculture, and manufacturing are increasingly naming technology experts to their advisory boards, while adding more C-level positions in the information and technology space. These efforts, he explains, are in recognition of the fact that technology needs to drive core business functions in order for companies to remain competitive.
“IT staff are now sitting in the center of innovation teams, because the company understands that with ever-changing technologies their business models are facing opportunities to be disrupted or evolved,” he says.
4. HIGH EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
In a future that incorporates more artificial intelligence in the workplace, leaders who are emotionally intelligent will ultimately thrive.
“If you think about the assembly line in a very hierarchal organization, it was about measurement and control,” explains Accenture’s chief technology and innovation officer, Paul Daugherty. “Then we moved to the second generation of management, which was still about control over sequential processes.”
As part of management’s ongoing evolution that military-like control over subordinates has gone from a key leadership value to a competitive disadvantage, suggests Daugherty.
As technology becomes more ubiquitous in business processes, organizations have become flatter and less hierarchal, he explains. “As you have work processes evolving more organically, it’s going to be driven by leaders that understand and invest in people.”
Daugherty points to five traits of successful future business leaders, each emphasizing traits that cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence anytime soon. They include accountability, transparency, fairness, honesty, and an ability to design systems and processes for humans.
5. THE ABILITY TO WORK WITH PEOPLE AND TECHNOLOGY TOGETHER
With the increasing influence of technology on businesses both within and beyond the tech industry, the most effective leaders of tomorrow will understand how to delegate between humans and machines in a way that maximizes the capabilities of both.
“The obligation of leaders is to step back and look at not just how you apply AI to the business, but how you change a process,” says Daugherty. “Look at the roles that people play in that process and apply technology that optimizes the value of the people in those roles.”
While some look at emerging technologies with fear and anxiety, the most future-ready leaders are excited to integrate them into their workforce, explains Wong.
“The best leaders love the benefits of the two working together,” he says. “They love AI, they love bots, they love anything that makes them better, helps them make better decisions, and helps them see things more clearly.”
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