Our current workforce includes five generations of workers, and there are now more millennials in the United States workforce than there are baby boomers. Millennials have different expectations of leaders than previous generations. Baby boomers, for example, are often quite happy to have minimal contact with their supervisors. The adage of “no news, is good news” rings resoundingly familiar for this age group. Millennials, on the other hand, are connectors who want personal relationships with their colleagues and their leaders. Feedback sessions are welcomed, needed and believed to be productive. Neither the baby boomers nor the millennials are “right” or “wrong,” but they are different in important ways.
In addition to generational shifts, many studies anticipate that at least half of today’s jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) in the relatively near future. The World Economic Forum reports the cost of retraining the current workforce will be almost $25,000 per employee, and Deloitte reports that the economic impact of the skills gap in the U.S. could be $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
These changes will require us to reexamine the people and the technology in the current workplace. As journalist Jared Lindzon writes, “The most effective leaders of tomorrow will understand how to delegate between humans and machines in a way that maximizes the capabilities of both.”
The gig economy is leading to a results-oriented work environment where employees want to do their job and go on with their day. In other words, the idea of staying eight hours on the clock when there is only two hours of work is not acceptable.
There is no doubt about it: The workforce is changing and, as a result, so are the leadership skills necessary to lead it. Leaders will not just be able to delegate. They will have to empower the workforce to get the job done.
Leadership positions may soon be seen more as influencing than formally leading — and influencers must be humble and open to feedback. Previously, leaders provided feedback and without encouraging the same from their staff. The future workforce wants to see leaders (aka influencers) become visionaries and change agents.
This fast-paced world is not slowing down. The future leader must have interpersonal and team relationship skills to juggle the chaos, the people and the technology. And, as the workforce becomes more global, leaders must also be able to lead and influence a diverse workforce — diverse in such characteristics as race, language, skin color, sexual orientation and religion. We are quickly merging into one workforce, and leaders must be able to collaborate across the lines. In an article for the NeuroLeadership Institute, senior science editor Chris Weller identifies essential leadership habits, and one is effective inclusion.
So, what skills do tomorrow’s leaders need? Research consistently shows that soft skills are key, including the following:
- Critical thinking is the ability to see an issue from multiple perspectives. Unfortunately, many studies report a shortage of critical thinking skills among U.S. business leaders.
- Empathy is the ability to see a situation through someone else’s eyes. You may not agree with their viewpoint, but you can appreciate your differences and understand the other person better.
- Problem-solving is improved with critical thinking and empathy.
- Self-awareness is critical for leaders to understand and improve themselves.
- Communication includes listening. Hearing is a physical sense, but listening is a skill leaders can develop.
- Trustworthiness includes being authentic, having integrity and being fair. Recent research found that if an employee doesn’t agree with a leader’s decision but believes the leader treated everyone equitably, he or she will continue to be loyal to the organization.
Future leaders must also be able to evaluate and improve their own well-being. The future workforce needs to see its leaders take care of themselves. As leaders, we must learn to put on our own oxygen masks first so that we have the energy and adaptability to lead our organizations into the future. The future workforce does not understand baby boomers’ need for long and exhausting hours as a rite of passage into corporate America. Millennials want to know that not only do their leaders take care of their staff and their company but also that they take care of themselves.
How should leaders prepare for this future? They can:
- Understand that “different” is not wrong.
- Develop the skill of listening.
- Learn to evaluate other perspectives.
- Learn to see other perspectives.
- Be authentic.
- Empower others.
- Believe and practice personal well-being.
- Practice and demonstrate fairness.
- Don’t stop at trying to understand someone; accept people for who they are.
Artificial intelligence may replace many occupations, but it cannot replace honesty, accountability, transparency, fairness, and the ability to design systems and processes for humans. Soft skills are essential to workforce management.
Do you have what it takes to be a modern leader? Have an honest conversation with yourself and your staff. What do you need to develop in yourself to be an effective leader of the future workforce?