"Is my leadership ready for the Future of Work?"

Feeling stuck in the past? Our 3 big bets to future-proof your leadership.

How different was leadership in the 1920’s? Large, industrialised businesses were becoming more prominent, and with them, a style of command and control leadership that had only been seen before on the battlefield.  Fast forward a hundred years, and what’s changed? Well, for some leaders, there is still a lot of opportunity for growth. And we’re sure you know who they are. So, in a world that’s changing by the minute, what can we predict about leaders and what they need to do for the next 10 years? 

We’ve picked three leadership big bets, that we believe (and the research backs us up) will give those that focus on them a competitive advantage. 

Build diverse teams

The first is building diverse teams. Recent research found that companies with diverse executive boards outperform all-male boards – in the USA this equalled a difference of 1.91%. This translates into an opportunity cost of US$567bn. Not to be sniffed at. But we aren’t just talking about men and women. Diversity comes in a range of forms, ethnicity, age, learning style, cultural background and many more. A study from MIT found what we already know – diverse teams beat homogenous teams every time in terms of performance. So how can leaders truly build diverse teams? 

  • Look for different mindsets to you. We all have blind spots, and having people around you who see the world differently can help us make better decisions, and fewer mistakes. 
  • Include people. Be open with your communication, your meeting invites, your decisions. Share who you are, and support others to be their true selves at work. 
  • Know it will be hard. It’s easy to work with people who act, look and think like us. It’s why people recruit others who they think will be a good “fit” (hint: they’re like you..). In diverse teams you’ll be challenged, pushed, questioned and forced to rethink. This is good. 

Create a culture of safety

Our second big bet is that successful leaders will be the ones who create a safe environment for their people. And no, we aren’t talking about handrails or safety shoes. A 2015 Google study looked at what makes an effective team. The top spot went to psychological safety. The good news is, many of us already know how to do this. We are parents, siblings, friends. And we know that getting the best out of our friends and family is through encouragement and support. We praise our new puppy when they do what we want. We celebrate our friend’s successes. And we commiserate when things go wrong.  But put people in a leadership role, and all of this knowledge sometimes disappears. Here’s how you can start creating a culture of safety where people thrive: 

  • Share your failures and what you learnt. When people are too focussed on not messing up, they fail to shine. Help people see how they can learn from when things go wrong. 
  • Create test environments. Give people space to try out their ideas. Start small, test often, adapt and learn. 
  • Trust your team. Let them know you trust them. And behave like you do.

Make disruption normal

Our third big bet is getting used to disruption. Bill Gates famously said we overestimate the change that will happen in two years, and underestimate the change that will happen over ten. So how can the leaders of tomorrow help their people cope in ever changing times? 

  • Build a world where people keep learning. A recent Mckinsey article talks about the “reskilling era”. For many of us, the role we play now won’t exist in the future. So how do we help people keep learning and growing? Be flexible about jobs, teams and career paths. Encourage people to keep learning, adapting and pushing themselves. 
  • Surround yourself with talent. Leaders can’t be expected to have all the answers. No-one does. Find the most talented team you can, and surround yourself with them. 
  • Be nimble. Remember the Blockbuster story (who famously laughed Netflix out of the room when they proposed running Blockbuster’s brand online)? To survive, many businesses need to respond quickly to what’s around them. And that means leaders who make quick decisions, are prepared to change their minds, and sometimes take a risk on a tiny outfit called Netflix. 

So what does all this mean for leaders stepping into the 20’s? The bottom line is no longer enough. People are making more values driven decisions than ever before. They want to know that who they buy from and work for are aligned with their values, and are prepared to jump ship if things don’t feel right. 

If you want to be the organisation that wins the global war for talent and secure the long term loyalty of your customers. Stop…and take stock of the maturity of your organisation against our three ‘big bets’, because it’s these things that will separate the wheat from the chaff in the 2020s.