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developing future leaders

Developing future leaders in a global skills shortage

At a time of rapid technological, economic, social and environmental change, businesses across the board are facing a major skills shortage. In such a climate, the role of leaders is mission critical. Today, organizations urgently need to consider both the future of leadership and leadership for the future.

The effects of the global skills shortage

Technology is rapidly transforming the way we work and do business. The World Economic Forum (WEF) describes the changes now and yet to come as nothing less than a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The gap between the skills workers currently have and the skills they will need for the future grows wider. The WEF calculates that nearly half (44%) of today’s core skills in the global workforce will change in the next five years.

One report estimates that by 2030 that the global skills shortage will be in the order of 85 million people at a cost of $8.5 trillion. Over 50% of hiring managers believe AI, workplace automation, and other technologies will change the skills employees need to do their work. Yet, two-thirds of organizations consider themselves unprepared for the disruption this will bring. With this kind of data, it’s no exaggeration to talk of a reskilling emergency.

The AI challenge

The technology at the forefront of media reporting today is AI. It’s been widely touted that AI will make certain jobs obsolete and workers redundant. A Forrester report estimates that 2.4 million jobs will be lost to AI by 2030. And, if not replacing a job outright, AI is likely to affect the way other work is done, automating key functions and processes and enhancing critical tasks.

The future of work clearly involves AI. The question then is how do we work with it and utilize its huge potential. Clearly this requires developing technical expertise, but it also requires other managerial, analytical and soft skills. When we consider the obvious need to reskill employees, we need to identify and include transferable skills in the mix.

The skills businesses need

When the WEF outlines the top ten skills required in its Future of Jobs report, it’s striking that the preponderance of skills are what can be classed as non-technical or non-technological. These include creativity and analytical skills. Resilience, flexibility, and agility make the list, as do motivation and self-awareness. Active listening and empathy are key soft skills. A sense of curiosity and a commitment to lifelong learning are also in the top ten.

These skills are notable in that they are not time or location specific and not confined to a particular silo, division, or industry. What’s more many are fundamental to the art and practice of Leadership.

The benefits of effective leadership

In uncertain times of uncertainty, volatility and disruption leaders bring perspective, resilience and reassurance. Leaders use a range of skills to understand the needs of employees across their organization whether it’s at team level or for the whole organization. In a modern, democratic business environment, leaders are not found solely amongst CEOs and senior management, but also among employees at all levels in an organization.

The future of leadership requires leaders to acquire and deploy new skills and capabilities to lead their organizations and teams through a time of accelerated transformation and make the most of the opportunities that come with it.

Key skills for future leaders

A successful leader needs an array of skills and a growth mindset. The current business landscape requires a mix of proactive engagement and calm reflection.

Being a successful, effective leader in today’s business landscape requires:

1. Effective communication

Technology is making communication easier and more pervasive, but its effectiveness depends on what, how and when information is communicated.

2. Building trust

Leaders need to inspire trust and confidence in themselves, their vision and their projects. But they also need to trust their teams.

3. Motivating others

The ability to motivate others is essential when many face job insecurity or seek opportunities elsewhere.

4. Decision-making

Clear-sighted decision making is at a premium in an uncertain and evolving business environment.

5. Prioritization

What to prioritize faced with a myriad of opportunities and challenges can directly impact a project or business’s chances of success.

6. Delegation

Knowing when to delegate and to whom is a test of trust.

7. Problem-solving

Solving problems is a key skill in managing a business’s transformation.

8. Creating collaborative relationships

Future leadership needs to be less hierarchical and more democratic.

9. Identifying and developing future talent

When buying in leadership talent is no longer a sustainable option, it’s critical to identify and develop leaders from within a business.

10. Showing empathy

With organizations growing ever more diverse leader’s need to see the issue from the other’s perspective.

These are meta skills. They’re the skills which provide the basis for acquiring job-specific skills and the foundation for career development and lifelong learning. For leaders, current and potential, they are essential.

Plugging the leadership gap

With the role of leadership more vital than ever, organizations need to turn their attention to developing future leaders and leaders for the future. In doing so they face the challenge of a leadership skills gap. The gap has two main implications: leaders are hard to find and hire and many future leadership skills are missing from traditional leadership training programs. Clearly organizations need to act.

Organizations should be developing future leaders by addressing the skills gap:

  • Conducting a skills gap analysis to determine the need for leadership skills at all levels of the organization
  • Identifying leadership potential in existing employees (e.g. those showing ingenuity, drive, motivation, and self-awareness)
  • Developing and upskilling leaders from within the organization
  • Investing in and committing to leadership and employee development
  • Deploying a learning platform to provide training and support development internally
  • Using learning analytics tools and assessment mechanisms to identify leadership skills gaps
  • Creating leadership succession pipelines
  • Shortening leadership development lead time by focusing on skills rather than formal certification or qualifications.
  • Providing leadership opportunities across the organization including for those employees working remotely

Bringing leadership training in house

It’s been calculated that over 80% of organizations believe in the need to develop leaders at every level of a company. Yet only 5% have implemented leadership development at all levels across the organization.

The good news is that leadership training and development can be delivered, assessed, and refreshed within an organization. This approach is not only cost-effective, but it also actually improves the quality of the training.

The advantages of digital learning for leadership training

Digitization of training content makes it practicable and affordable to bring leadership training in house. But there are other benefits to a digital learning approach to developing future leaders. Choosing digital learning, accessible from a learning platform, transforms leadership training from the traditional, one-off, episodic series of events into a career-long, continuous learning path.

Digital learning improves training for leaders of the future by:

Providing context

Learning takes place in the environment and culture in which it’s to be applied. This so-called near transfer of knowledge makes learning stick better. Future leaders develop in the context in which they will lead.

Embracing personalization

Learning is tailored to the needs of individual learners. Personalization takes account of previous experience and is used to create personal learning paths that plot and chart a learner’s progress and bridge skills gaps. Personalized learning is the antidote to the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional, external leadership training courses.

Enhancing relevance

Personalizing and contextualizing leadership training increases its relevance. Relevance in turn boosts motivation and engagement, improving the learning experience and making the learning process more effective.

Facilitating reskilling and upskilling

It’s easy to add to, amend, update and repurpose digital content. New courses can be added to extend the range of the leadership training suite. Refresher content can be created from existing digital material. Microlearning modules offer a flexible, time-sensitive approach to upskilling.

Encouraging collaboration

Learning platforms and project managing apps offer collaborative workspaces. Current and future leaders can use these to work with and learn from their peers and their teams. For the organization these spaces facilitate knowledge capture that can be fed back into formal training. For future leaders this is a way to develop their communication and empathy skills.

Using multimedia

With digital apps leadership training breaks free of the restrictive instructor-led, classroom-based model. Digital learning can come in a variety of formats including online courses (synchronous and asynchronous), video presentations, audio podcasts, AI-powered role plays and digital, self-marking quizzes. These different ways of learning promote learner engagement and are always accessible across devices.

Supporting a learning culture

The guiding principle behind digital learning programs is to promote and sustain continuous learning. Emerging leaders are schooled in a culture of learning that they in turn can utilize as the take up the reins of leadership.

Developing future leaders

In today’s uncertain and volatile business landscape, where rapid change is a given, organizations need a new style of adaptable, resilient, agile leader. These new leaders need meta skills and capabilities that allow them to navigate businesses through future challenges and take advantage of opportunities. Organizations must actively fill their leadership gaps at every level by identifying and developing future leaders early on.


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