Leadership Skills Must Evolve: Or What Got You There Will Not Keep You There


Leadership is a critical catalyst in moving the world forward – be that in an organization or in the governance realm.  I am pretty sure more books are written on leadership than any other topic, yet the general messaging is often a retread of the same basic thoughts.  Sure, people will change the format, for example using fables to describe case studies, but in the end, what they say about the foundations of being a good leader are stale.

Look, I love the concept of servant leadership. I agree that leaders must lead by example and work as hard or harder than the people around them.  Yes, they need to treat people well and be fair. Holding people accountable is a good skill to have.  Being inspirational is certainly helpful, and having strong strategic skills assures they guide people in the right directions.  

All of this is now table stakes now so let’s move on!  Some people argue with me that leadership never really changes, and this is exactly the problem.  There is a future for leadership, and it looks very different than today, or maybe it is truer to say that it will evolve far past where it is today.

If you are struggling with this idea, allow me to give you some examples.  In the future, leaders will spend a good chunk of their day making decisions on where in their operations they need to apply humans or technology.  As robotics and AI’s get more sophisticated there will be many tasks that will be able to be done be either – with a mix of benefits and consequences. 

Like a multi-level chess board, there will be thousands of choices to make at a larger organization with wise and visionary decisions leading to winning in the market. Poor decisions will lead to market loss and possible irrelevancy. This is not a core skill of leaders today.

Leaders in the future will need to be able to identify, attract and retain uniquely talented machine intelligence designers and engineers.  As we become more dependent on smart systems to operate and automate organizations, the people who have the world class skills to build and maintain it will become difficult to find and hold.  Mistakes with bringing them on staff too late or hiring people with weak skills will result of devastating weaknesses versus competitors. 

Finding these difference makers and attracting them to work for a manufacturer, bank, insurance company, etc. will be more difficult that you think, and this is simply not a skill most leaders at these organizations have today.

Just for fun, here is one more.  The new generation of workers who have grown up in a very different environment than their parents and grandparents will not want to work in hierarchical top-down organizations.

Gone will be the leadership/management model that was built by militaries hundreds of years ago and is still in place today at 99% of organizations.  It is efficient and outdated.  We will need to move to Holocracies, round org charts, and distributed organizations that are made up of over 50% contract and crowdsourced labor.  Leaders of today have grown up seeing only the age old top down systems and they secretly love the model because they made it to the top. 

They are not the ones to dismantle the system and replace it with something better and more fitting for the young generations and the new working model’s technology is giving us.

These are not the only three examples of the future skills leaders will need – there are more.  Humanity needs to mature our views of what skills a strong leader brings to the table.  If we are going to write more books on leadership then let them be tomes that teach the new skills that are critical in a new age and let’s quit masticating on the same old themes from 1000 years ago.

The Digital Transformation has transformed leadership as well and too many people are missing that fact.  If you are a leader, please contemplate your responsibility to blaze the path with how you show up for the people in your charge.  Be relevant to tomorrow, not chained to your past.


Annie Brown