Future leader

The future of work will bring a number of challenges, such as a digital talent shortage and the need for a strong employer brand. Off the back of this, how we recruit, and form teams will change, so how we lead those teams will inevitably evolve, right?

I’m sure we’ve all experienced good and bad bosses – from archaic authoritarians that are still stuck in the Seventies, to those with a more personable and caring touch.

What are the different leaders of today?

Depending on where you source your information, you’ll find an array of potential leadership styles, but most people can typically relate to one of two approaches: transactional leadership or transformational leadership.

Transactional denotes an exchange of sorts and is somewhat specific – “I’ll give you pay if you complete this workload, but if the tasks aren’t to my liking, then I’ll revoke your job.” It’s generally responsive and can be met with lots of negativity – see my Seventies-esque manager example for reference – and leaders can be very autocratic or bureaucratic.

You’ll find a lot of task-oriented micro-managers falling into this category. While I may not be painting it in the best light, this style of management can be incredibly effective in situations where a sequence of set tasks needs to be completed.

On the transformational side, you’ll find a more proactive leader who cares about aligning moral values, ethics and trust with their staff. They’ll inspire creativity and personal development in order to achieve a common goal, and they offer a people-oriented, democratic approach to work. Servant leaders are a good example – they lead from the back and will strive to empower their teams while sharing the credit.

Some other management styles include the laissez-faire leader – a very hands-off approach with no control or input into their staff’s workload – and the charismatic leader – one that charms their employees into sharing their ambitions but are mainly self-serving and will take all the credit.

All management types can be effective in the present day, dependent on the situation. When we look to the future of work, will the changes to how we form teams render certain leadership styles obsolete?

The future worker

In our Future of Work Report, we identified a clear focus on productivity and a shift to more project-based employment as two likely predictions for the 2020s. Another trend we touched on is Pragmatic Personas – how, when the next generation reaches working age, personal branding becomes less about culture and personality, and skews back towards skills.

So, as we enter the new decade and the next generation of workers seek employment, what soft-skills will they need to thrive?

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the three core skills include creativity, adaptability and problem solving. And due to the pace at which technology will advance, there must also be a commitment to lifelong learning.

The needs of these digital natives will also change. Job security becomes less of a priority; it’s more about fulfilling passion and interest, as well as sharing a vision and journey with their employer. They want to add value and they want to know that they’re contributing to the business’ success.

The future leader

What does this mean for the leaders of the future workforce? Aside from possessing all the skills listed above, a leader will also need to go one step further to develop strong people management skills.

Firstly, they’ll need to be strong communicators – being able to understand and articulate the shared vision with their employees is key. On the understanding front, a high-level of human intelligence quotient is also apparent. They need to be able to tap into the reasons behind their peoples’ actions and behaviours. Portraying emotional intelligence and diplomacy at all times is likely to win over your future workers too.

Transformational or transactional?

The future predictions are all suggesting that the transformational leadership style is the direction we’re heading in. You’ll need a mix of democratic people-oriented leaders, as the human touch is essential to gain buy-in.

The problem we have is that the slow process usually associated with transformational styles could be detrimental to increased productivity.

While a transactional approach might offer short-term fixes, the autocratic or bureaucratic approach doesn’t allow for value adding, and so is likely to become outdated.

Automation of tasks

Automation could actually be the saving grace in a world with no transactional leaders. If you consider the situations in which transactional management is most effective – namely low-skilled or unskilled labour – these are the areas that are ripe for automation.

With tasks being completed by our robot friends – whom we hope won’t need an arm around the shoulder in order to get the most out of them – it eradicates the need for the authoritarian approach.

Automated leaders

While we’re on the subject of automation, there’s every chance that management itself could be robotic – you only have to look at the Uber or Deliveroo models to see how this could happen. If that is the case, would it make everyone their own leader by default?

Leaders of the future are extremely likely to be personable and proactive, with clear ethics and values. They’ll be motivational and will strive to empower their staff – if they’re not, it’s possible they won’t have any staff at all.

But leadership is possibly not restrictive to just a select few anymore. As we embrace lifelong learning within our extended careers, leadership skills should be honed as standard. With there being multiple possibilities of what the future may hold – including one where everyone is potentially their own leader – it’s a handy addition to the skills toolbox.