You don’t need a crystal ball to see that the world of work is changing. Everyone knows about the numerous global megatrends, such as advancing technology and artificial intelligence (AI), rising inequality, and political uncertainty, that are shaping the future of work.
While these developments are often hailed as future trends, leaders can’t afford to wait and see how they will affect the workplace before they adapt. They need to act now. But with our research finding that fewer than one-third of C-suite leaders feel highly equipped with the skills they need to be exceptional leaders in the future, future readiness is proving to be a challenge.
Fortunately, all is not lost. Leaders can prepare themselves for future challenges by developing their soft skills.
We may not know exactly which technical skills organizations will need in five years’ time, but soft skills will always be in demand. Human psychology has evolved over millions of years, so skills founded in behavior and interpersonal relationships will not change drastically as the workplace continues to shift. Choosing to hone these skills now means leaders will be fit to face the demands of any future environment they may find themselves in. Below are three of the soft skills leaders can work on today to ensure they are equipped for the future.
Skill 1: Strategic Thinking
Nearly half (47%) of C-suite leaders who responded to our survey believe that strategic thinking is crucial to being an exceptional leader in the future. However, many struggle to implement this skill in practice. Here are some ways leaders can improve their strategic thinking.
Scheduling Time to Think and Explore Different Ideas
We consume an extraordinary amount of information on a daily basis, but how often do we sift through and reflect on that information? Taking the time to analyze information and think about it is key in order for leaders to notice changes in their environment and spot opportunities.
Playing Devil’s Advocate
Being close to an idea or strategy can make it hard to spot its flaws. Great leaders actively seek to interrogate and challenge their own thinking, whether by asking themselves tough questions or by surrounding themselves with colleagues who have a diverse range of opinions.
Recent research into “Centennial organizations” (companies that have outperformed their peers over the last 100 years) suggests that leaders who plan 20 to 30 years ahead are more likely to achieve lasting success. Planning long-term goals may seem counterintuitive in today’s rapidly evolving landscape, but getting used to thinking more long-term is key for leaders who want to future-proof their business.
Skill 2: Resilience
Resilience is, was and always will be crucial to high performance, but surprisingly, only 34% of C-suite survey respondents value this quality as essential to being a great leader in the future. This finding suggests that leaders are underestimating the importance of resilience, especially as multiple studies have found that the difference between leaders who merely survive versus those who thrive is often their personal resilience.
Reframing pressure is one way to enhance resilience, because challenging situations only become stressful if we interpret them that way. Understanding what is causing the stress is also key, because otherwise, different stress triggers can build up and, seemingly out of nowhere, tip us over the edge. Using performance intelligence — the ability to identify the best course of action given their knowledge, understanding of the situation, past experience and awareness of available resources — will enable leaders to continue performing under high pressure.
Skill 3: Emotional Intelligence
Friedrich Durrenmatt famously said that “emotions have no place in business, unless you do business with them.” Encouragingly, more people are recognizing that emotional intelligence, or the ability to perceive, understand and manage the emotions of yourself and others, is a fundamental element of great leadership.
Emotional intelligence represents leaders’ ability to engage their employees and interrogate their own decisions. This skill leads to a more motivated workforce and a more adaptable business — a key aspect of improving the long-term performance of the organization.
Practicing empathy and self-awareness will improve leaders’ emotional intelligence. Doing so requires leaders not just to listen to their colleagues but also to actively encourage them to share their thoughts. It also means that leaders should take responsibility for their actions while remaining optimistic and amiable. These leaders will not only motivate their employees but also help them to build stronger relationships with people around the business.
In these uncertain times, no one can predict what the future might bring, but business leaders can prepare by developing these key skills. One thing that we can be sure of is that the next few years won’t be simple sailing for businesses, and leaders will need to be at the top of their game if they hope to succeed.