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12 leadership trends to watch in 2018

22. February 2018 -

What you know today is not the same as what you need to know tomorrow. Here is what needs your attention.

We live in a world where changes happen at an ever-increasing speed: politically, demographically, economically and socially. With change comes the constant demand for leaders and organisations to perform in new contexts and adapt to parallel changes – but also the need to cut through the noise, look for sustainable long-term solutions and seek out balance. The truth is, a lot of the transformation-in-leadership hype is out of touch with the reality of most organisations. Move too quickly, and you cannot absorb the shockwaves and risk disrupting yourself to death. Move too slowly, and you will find yourself ill-equipped for the task at hand or lose touch with your key values as a leader.

If you want to make sure that your mind is in the right place, that you are asking yourself the right questions and that your organisation is prepared for the changes to come, these are the 12 leadership trends that need your attention in 2018:

1. From organisations to ecosystems

First, it was called open innovation. Then it became co-everything: co-design, co-creation, co-innovation, in-sourcing, out-sourcing. It is difficult to keep up with the terms. The point is this: the lines between your organisation and its surroundings are becoming blurry. There are full-time employees, part-time employees, associates, partners, suppliers, customers, customers we co-create with, etc. Today’s leaders must understand the potential of ecosystems, understand how to optimally leverage the strengths both inside and outside the organisation, and lead such ecosystems for high performance. It is without a doubt a cumbersome task, but managed effectively a source of competitive advantage.

2. Embracing Multispeed

Leaders today are faced with organisations that are operating and developing at multiple movement speeds. This new reality, where activities in the traditional lean and six sigma inspired part of the organisation have to be led differently than the digital or even exponential part of the organisation puts new and unprecedented pressures on leaders. Leaders have to adopt a multispeed mindset and master the associated capabilities to excel in multispeed reality.

3. Changing change

No matter how tired we are of hearing about change, change is here to stay, and its complexity is larger than at any time in recorded history. Change processes used to be considered as something with a start and end date, with a set of specific actions that needed to be implemented in-between. Nowadays, change has become a normal, continuous state, an integral part of your company’s DNA. As a leader, you must embrace change as a capability rather than a process, helping your employees to accept change as a normal part of daily life and show them how to deal with it accordingly.

4. Balancing the Big Why

The hype surrounding the vital importance of Corporate Purpose has gained many followers. The claim is that every leader should focus on finding true, worthy purpose for one’s organisation, and everything else will magically fall into place. However, as leaders know, this is not quite true. Every organisation must balance various aspects of its existence and operation. Purpose is one of them, while strategic direction and financial viability are just as important. Without a common direction, employees will define their own purpose and run in their own direction. Leaders must walk this thin line cautiously, balancing purpose, strategies and financial viability, recognising all as equally important in the search for long-term business sustainability.

5. Resetting Leadership

With business contexts constantly changing and the level of complexity growing, leaders need to be able to make decisions and act faster to meet market and business needs. While leaders might acknowledge intellectually that the world is getting more uncertain and complex, this does not mean that they have the inner capabilities to translate this into effective action. This, however, requires an ability to stay calm and focused, to challenge one’s own habitual thinking, to befriend uncertainty and dare to show trust when co-creating with others – in other words, we need to look at and cultivate the underlying inner qualities of leadership. Research shows that 47% of the time, our thoughts are on something other than the task we are working on. A leader’s ability to reset to a calm state of mind and stay focused, aware and have a balanced mind determines the quality of their decisions and actions.

6. Welcoming the digital generation

The true digital natives are starting to join the job market – but are you ready for them? This generation hasn’t experienced life without the Internet, and they expect instant access to information, networking and a wealth of exciting opportunities to choose from. Work must be personally and professionally rewarding. Chances are that they have completely different views on good leadership and what makes an attractive workplace. They work differently, they learn differently. As a leader, you need to know how to make the best of an entire generation wired differently from the current leaders in most organisations: understand them, or lose them.

7. Ubiquitous diversity

In a globalised world, diversity is a given. Diversity in the workplace is considered important – but is that always the case? The answer is yes – but we need to go beyond just focusing on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age. We need to bring cognitive diversity into the mix. Leaders need to work actively with diversity on a cognitive level, bringing various backgrounds and ideas together to create meaningful progress. The challenge is to release the innate innovative potential and turn what could be seen as inconvenient differences into transformative power and business results. It’s a big job for a leader, but well worth it.

8. Seeing it all, knowing it all

With more and increasingly detailed data becoming available, nearly every aspect of a firm’s operations is becoming transparent and can be used for leadership and management purposes. We need the data in order to be more informed on our organisations’ operations and our customers’ needs. However, as leaders, how do we manage or even respond to this enormous amount of data? How do we keep from drowning in an ocean of knowledge – and how do we manage this knowledge responsibly and ethically correct, so we do not succumb to micro-management or a ‘big brother’ type of control? Leaders need to seek and find, and ultimately master the balance between leveraging data for responsible leadership and high performance management.

9. Assessment everyWEAR

The growing availability of wearables – both medical grade devices as well as consumer devices that offer real-time measurements of an individual’s physical and psychological condition – is constituting a significant opportunity for organisations and leaders. Responsible monitoring of physical and psychological data enables leaders to work proactively with their own and their teams’ capacity to learn, capacity to change and capacity to perform. Leaders will increasingly be expected to integrate wearables into everyday work-life to coach their teams as well as individuals on how to achieve higher levels of performance by implementing behaviours that enable them to accomplish what matters most.

10. The Death of traditional e-learning

With organisations and jobs changing faster than ever, leaders have to ensure that all their learning and development investments impact employee performance. This forces leaders and organisations to rethink the traditional approaches to learning and development. The massive reliance on “old school” e-learning solutions that offer low or no impact must be drastically reduced, and replaced with modern digital learning solutions that through a wide array of learning instruments – snackable content, gamification, social learning, analytics, etc. – deliver tangible impact. It’s time to deliver on the promise of digital learning.

11. Humanising computing

As machine learning and artificial intelligence becomes more advanced and broadly available, the possibilities for bots to help us in our everyday tasks become nearly endless. The technology already exists today for digital assistants to have access to our calendars, help us prepare and schedule meetings, to use our time more efficiently, talk to us and help out, just like a real-life assistant would. A near future with intelligent digital coaches that mirror our personalities is foreseeable, not only for executives, but for everyone. Leaders need to prepare for a not-so-distant future, where digital assistants and coaches act as valued employees and team players that not only complete simple repetitive tasks but also take on advanced coaching tasks to help improve employee well-being and performance.

12. Hello, I am your RoboBoss

In a continuously evolving world of artificially intelligent bots, we are likely to see these “smart” bots take on people manager tasks. As organisational investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning skyrockets, and the technology grows even more sophisticated, “RoboBosses” will increasingly make decisions that previously could only have been made by human managers. However, the “RoboBosses” will not in a foreseeable future have enough nuances to manage complex human relationships. As a result, leaders will continue to be part of the overall leadership equation but must increasingly rely on soft skills as they deal with issues such as strategic planning, create leadership, employee relations, etc.

Exhausted? Don’t be. The future is upon us, but it moves in different stages of maturity, and all of these 12 trends won’t hit us at the same time or with the same level of impact. As a leader, your job is merely to take them into consideration, prepare and take the necessary precautions, determining which trends are or will be relevant for your organisation, for yourself as a leader or for your employees – in the short term, in the long run, or not at all. Take a step back and ask yourself: What is possible, feasible, desirable and doable?

Your proactivity on these vital issues and challenges will certainly save you and your organisation from being caught off guard and enable you to facilitate the changes and adaptations necessary to ensure your desired position in the market for many years to come.

Good luck in 2018!

Over the coming months we will take a deep-dive into the 12 leadership trends to watch in 2018. Subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to stay updated on this series.