What are the key attributes that the next generation of leaders will need to succeed?

When software company Atlassian listed on the Nasdaq, they chose the ticker “team”. This one decision says a lot about the company and the people who work there. And not just because they build software to enable teams: their sole purpose is to solve problems with teams of people. It’s embedded in their values and it shines through the founders and co-CEOs, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes.

Farquhar has spoken about how their purpose and values guide them in all aspects of the business, from bringing on new hires to navigating crises. Indeed, after a security breach required the company to work around the clock, Farquhar found he had employees coming up to him in the aftermath saying the way they’d handled the crisis – with honesty and transparency – made them like working there more than ever before. Instead of shaking their loyalty, working through the crisis with purpose made the team stronger.

As leading people becomes more complex than ever, Atlassian’s example shows how leading with purpose and living the company’s values is essential to motivating your workforce. Despite continued advances in technology, talent will continue to be the key to value creation and leaders need to develop new capabilities to shepherd their teams and capitalise on market opportunities.

In our final seminar exploring the Future of Work, we explored the role of purpose in leading the workforce of the future and its importance in navigating three keys trends shaping the role of leaders: digital leadership, sharper paradoxes, and the need for cultural agility.

Developing digital leaders

As the fourth industrial revolution disrupts the way business is done, it’s demanding new and different skills from leaders. With recent research reporting only 5% of companies believe they have strong digital leaders in place, organizations need to act fast to understand their leaders’ capabilities and develop them for the future.

In our research, we’ve identified two key capabilities critical for successful digital leadership: Digital Savvy and Transformational Capabilities. One without the other is not enough. Leaders need both the capacity to work through uncertainty and see how new technologies can take the business forward (Digital Savvy) and then channel this to create a positive impact through designing and propelling quick and radical changes (Transformational Capabilities).

Working in a VUCA environment

The age of disruption has brought the fundamental paradoxes faced by organizations into sharp focus, including questions of local versus global, performance versus people and accountability versus collaboration.

Working through these paradoxes requires a new approach that combines the tools to deal with uncertainty, with the leadership mastery to bring your team with you. This means leaders need to deploy their skills to engage in scenario thinking, facilitate complex dialogues and manage conflict, while leading with purpose, bringing balance and encouraging an innovative mindset.

Truly valuing diversity

As businesses become increasingly global, drawing on a mobile talent pool, cultural agility has become a true leadership differentiator. Combining aspects of cultural, emotional and business intelligence, the culturally agile leader displays a deep understanding of culture and how you build a team that collaborates and communicates. Through this, they enable the business to thrive not in spite of differences, but because of the diversity of culture.

Finding purpose

In this environment, leaders with a strongly felt sense of purpose are better equipped to lead and motivate their teams. Central to this is understanding the value they bring as a leader.

It’s this understanding that allows them to empower their teams to have a positive impact on the organization. It’s the guiding force when facing uncertainty or crisis. It reaches the millennial workforce in a way directive leadership never will and it helps leaders to be agile in dealing with cultural difference, while providing the thread that draws diverse groups together.

Getting started

There’s no doubt that leaders will need to make big shifts to engage and empower the workforce of the future, but by starting with the basics, leaders can begin building to be the digital leaders of tomorrow:

  1. Start with listening: So many of the capabilities of successful digital leaders are built on self awareness and interpersonal understanding. Listening is central to this, indeed it’s seen as perhaps the number one skill by leading CEOs in Australia and New Zealand.
  2. Help leaders develop their sense of purpose: This means not only who they are and what they stand for, but a deep understanding of the value they’re there to create.
  3. Position leaders to empower and inspire: Leaders who empower their teams to innovate and transform the business fundamentally understand their role is to achieve through others, not through their own capability. Ensure your systems and metrics champion this approach to support leaders in developing this mindset from the outside in.

For more insights on how to get your leaders ready to unlock the true value of people in your organisation, check the recording of our recent webinar: Leading the workforce of the future 


About Contributor

Jacqueline is a senior partner at Korn Ferry with over ten years of consulting experience. She focuses on the impact of leadership on engagement and business performance, top team effectiveness, leadership capability development, and talent management strategies. Jacqueline is also a member of the adjunct faculty on the Executive MBA Program at the Australian Graduate School of Management, University of Sydney.

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