New Leadership Skills for a New Business World

Being a leader in today’s fast paced, “always on” world is a challenge.  The change, uncertainty and complexity leaders experience today is unprecedented.  This environment requires a new style of leadership and different capabilities to the ones seen in the last decade.  Experience, technical expertise and qualifications won’t necessarily provide the entry pass to success in a leadership role.  In the future, companies will be looking for something different.  These are the top leadership skills that you will see taking priority in business in the next ten years.  

1. Comfort with Discomfort

Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable every single day and you’ll soon see this is a skill that gets stronger with practice! But why may it just be the most important exercise for a leader to do?  One thing for certain is that leaders will be navigating much uncertainty over the next decade.  And from the brain’s perspective that’s not as easy as it might sound.  Uncertainty triggers an automatic threat response in the brain resulting in discomfort.  It is only the leaders who can sit comfortably in this discomfort, and move ahead regardless to charter new territory , that will survive.  Those who see discomfort as a signal to avoid or take the “easy way” will have little impact and will not have the resilience that will be required in an environment where there is no longer a rule book prescribing all the answers. 

2. Thinking Differently

90% of the average person’s thoughts are exactly the same as yesterday’s so when it comes to innovation, the odds are stacked against us.  With a preference to follow the road well travelled, it is critical that brains are trained to think differently. Leaders can go first in this regard by seeing challenges with fresh eyes and breaking free of the habits of mind that have become ruts. Once you see things from new perspectives your solutions become more innovative and your work becomes more fulfilling.

3. Attention Management and Present Moment Awareness

The average person spends nearly half their time 'mind wandering', doing one thing but thinking about something else. This skyrockets to 60% when they are at work!  Attention spans have shrunk, distraction is growing, and the simple act of paying attention is being lost.  Being in the present moment is a trainable and practical skill that is an important pre-cursor to resilience, adaptability and innovation.  A leader with focus can significantly boost performance, productivity, engagement and relationships in their workplace.  In a world of complexity they will more easily identify the important things on which to focus the team’s attention.  But remember, attention management starts with being an expert at managing your own.

4. Hold space for open conversations

80-90% of business problems would be solved if leaders created the space for people to feel safe in speaking the truth.  The conversations that take place in a business are more important than you might realize.  They dictate the culture, the degree of fresh thinking and the ability to work through challenges. As a leader you have a key role in convening the right conversations and this often involves asking the right questions.  And most importantly knowing when to get out of the way and let conversations unfold.

5. Courage and vulnerability

Arguably a virtue more than a skill, but certainly something that gets better with practice.  The basic definition of a leader is someone who “goes first” and it takes courage to stand out from the crowd and move into the unknown.  But not courage as it’s previously been known.  “Armouring up” and “perfecting and protecting” leads to disconnection from those around you.  Instead, opening yourself and walking straight into the things that scare you (without trying to mask your imperfections) is what will see respect generated by your teams.  It is leaders who can admit they are wrong or don’t have the answers that gain more credibility. And at the end of the day, they are more effective.

6.  Deep listening

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. ”  No truer words spoken than those from the late Stephen Covey.  And with a history of leaders needing to have all the answers, it is no wonder most leaders talk more than they should or need to be.  Deep listening can be transformative for the receiver.  Problems are solved, ideas are generated, simply through this act of service.  People learn best when they come up with the ideas themselves, so speaking less and listening more is an effective strategy for empowerment and staff development. 

Leadership can no longer be looked upon as a badge of honour.  It’s an ongoing role of service.  It is the leaders who are prepared to unlearn the old skills that are no longer relevant who will thrive in the future.   And those who are prepared to have an open mind in learning different skills that are not necessarily already in their tool kits.