The future of leadership: trends to embrace in 2024

What should leaders be prioritising right now to help their teams thrive in modern businesses?

Click here to explore four leadership trends we can expect to see in 2024

We’re already over a month into the new year. Where does the time go?

Life moves fast and so does the world of work. It’s no secret that we’re facing fast-moving, ever-changing and often challenging times – from economic downturns, inflation, changing customer expectations, to the boom in digital technologies – business leaders need to adapt quickly and embrace change.

What should leaders be prioritising right now to help their teams thrive in modern businesses? Which trends should leaders be making a critical part of the business strategy in 2024?

If you don’t make time for wellbeing, you’ll be forced to make time for illness

It’s an old adage, but one that has never been more important. Investment in the wellbeing and psychological safety of staff should be a priority for all leadership teams. Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace report revealed that while employee engagement is rising worldwide, worker stress has remained at record high levels since the pandemic.

Truly effective workplace wellbeing initiatives involve addressing people’s human needs, rather than plastering over them. So while office yoga mornings, mindfulness sessions, and wellbeing days might be well-meaning and enjoyable, they often don’t address the root causes of workplace stressors or actually reduce them. As noted by The Guardian, “Companies around the world spent $61.2bn on wellness interventions in 2021. That amount is projected to grow to $94.6bn in 2026. The problem is that most workplace wellbeing interventions cost money and take up time but have little or no impact on employee well-being. In some cases, they may actually undermine workplace wellbeing. It turns out the most effective way to improve employee mental health is by reducing stress, rather than adding new ways to cope with it.”

So how can leaders actually reduce workplace stress and therefore improve the health and wellbeing of their employees? It starts with building a working culture where the psychological safety of staff is paramount. This means advocating for policy changes and frameworks that actually reduce daily stressors – such as flexible working, reduced time in meetings, regular check-ins – and other tangible tactics to avoid stress and burnout. A healthy working culture also encourages team members to speak up when they need to and seek support free of judgement. Once this healthy workplace culture is embedded and backed by workplace policies, wellbeing programmes can still be a great added bonus.

Make technology your ally, not your enemy

With futuristic new tools like AI gripping the zeitgeist, it’s easy to feel intimidated by the boom in digital technology. But we know that adopting a digital mindset is completely transformative, and the potential of generative AI for business cannot be overstated.

AI stands to completely transform business models, with the potential to overhaul marketing, sales, customer services, and functions. As Forbes notes, “the real promise of generative AI for business isn’t what it can do so much as the value it can create.” Whether that value is solving complex problems in minutes, supporting customers in real-time, or saving days or even weeks crunching and automating data.

As we teach in our Leading in a Digital World solution, leaders need to be inspiring tech-savvy advocates promoting a digital change culture that embraces the potential of technologies like AI. Leaders should be willing to try new tech, testing and learning as they go. They should be unafraid to take risks, learn from mistakes, be bold, curious and look to the future.

Double down on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB)

In 2020, many organisations made bold claims about their commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), but have they followed through? Unfortunately, there’s evidence to suggest many have not. Businesses are diverting money away from ESG, with Forbes claiming “assets under management in ESG funds declined from $339 billion in the second quarter to $315 billion by the end of September.”

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are absolutely not just ‘nice to have’ in the workplace. It’s imperative. Having a workforce that is diverse means bringing together people with completely different identities and lived experiences. This undoubtedly boosts creativity and innovation at organisations and helps understand customers by reflecting the diversity of people and ideas in society. As Forbes notes “by having an inclusive and diverse environment, this allows more wider perspectives to be integrated when brainstorming, problem-solving, and developing new ideas in business.”

Prioritising hiring a diverse workforce is one part of the puzzle. The other is ensuring that everyone in that workforce feels included, equal, and has a sense of belonging. Get this right, and teams are happier, more motivated, and much more productive. In this way it’s great for your people and naturally good for your bottom line.

Invest in your people

Training and development opportunities should be offered to staff regularly, and not just at points of crisis or compliance. Investing in upskilling team members regularly has a direct impact on employee performance and engagement, because people feel valued and invested in. Done correctly, it can reduce staff turnover and increase morale, as shown in surveys by Talent LMS, 76% of employees agreed that they were more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training.

We know that there is also a skills gap gripping businesses, so it’s never been more important to arm your staff with new opportunities to learn. Upskilling staff not only strengthens the knowledge and skills you have in your teams, but it also improves retention rates and keeps your business competitive. As discussed by Forbes, “professionals and leaders alike should embrace a growth mindset, a commitment to upskilling by acquiring or improving technical skills, tracking industry trends, and gaining advanced certifications. The bottom line: upskilling shouldn’t just be a one-time event but a career-long journey.”

At NKD, we offer learning and development solutions to help leaders with the confidence and capability to inspire their people to ‘have a best day, every day.’ Check them out here.

If you’re a leader looking for help with your strategic priorities this year, get in touch to find out how NKD can support you.