Today’s leaders face a number of challenges. The commercial challenges are often clear to see and the responses they demand, such as innovation, efficiency and adaptability, are generally well understood. However, one of the biggest challenges for today’s leaders is managing their people strategies. Unsurprisingly, C-level executives will continue to prioritise the development of next-generation leaders in the year ahead, but attracting and retaining top talent is no mean feat.
Here are five emerging leadership trends successful executives need to be aware of to succeed in 2019:
- Replacing ineffective unconscious bias training with a focus on conscious inclusion
Efforts are undoubtedly being made to hire a more diverse workforce in order to build teams of people with differing backgrounds, skills and opinions, however unconscious bias still operates in companies on a daily basis. The problem is that unconscious bias can reduce diversity, stifle talent and, ultimately, negatively affect the bottom line. Perspectives are dismissed because they are expressed quietly, individuals are overlooked for promotion while noisier and perhaps less competent peers advance, and opportunities to reach a new market are bypassed because their consumers are not perceived to be ideal.
Whilst positive action to avoid this is needed, awareness of conscious bias on its own is not enough. In 2019, we will increasingly see leaders take it several steps further by instilling conscious inclusion throughout their corporate culture, making diversity and inclusion part of their leadership strategy. Business outcomes that have long proven the business case for a diverse workforce include achieving higher levels of innovation, stronger client relationships through a better understanding of customer needs, and attracting and retaining top talent.
- Treating leadership preparedness like disaster preparedness
No one can predict a celebrity comment on social media suddenly causing a 10-fold increase in demand, a natural disaster impacting operations, or the departure of top talent to a competitor. But if it can happen, organisations are expected to be prepared for it. That’s a high bar, and contingency planning for operational disruption is no longer enough—it’s table stakes.
What takes leadership to the next level is fostering resilient teams. In 2019, leaders will increasingly achieve this by continuously empowering employees to develop support systems, adopt resilient habits and behaviours, and shift mindsets before the unexpected occurs so they are prepared to respond to adversity and move forward. Most importantly, when teams are resilient, there will be less of an impact on customers and recovery is faster and smoother.
- Throwing the boomerang: investing in departing high-potentials
The average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times and typical employee tenure at most organisations is about four years. Indeed, in a recent study, 61 per cent of UK businesses have reported seeing an increase in involuntary employee turnover in the last three years, with over half expecting turnover to increase again in the next three years. The fact is, turnover can be tough on businesses, especially when organisations have invested time and money to train individuals and build effective teams. A shift in mindset about exiting employees, however, can generate positive returns.
Next year, businesses will continue to invest in departing high-potentials. Former employees are brand champions and couple potentially become future clients or boomerang employees. Indeed, returning employees who were valued during their tenure at an organisation and leave on good terms make great re-hires, particularly as they are already familiar with the culture and systems, and they return with more skills and experiences. It’s therefore important that exit interviews are as positive as they can be.
- Moving from being an authentic leader to cultivating authenticity in others
The tough order-giving leaders are becoming a relic of the past, as are their rigid hierarchical organisational structures. Leaders who will thrive next year will create space for thoughtful, genuine conversations about issues impacting their employees to happen safely and sensitively within the workplace. Those that can listen with empathy will build lasting trust among their teams and foster a more interdependent and collaborative working environment.
- Planning for succession all the time, year-round – especially for the CEO
There is often a sigh of relief at the thought of finding the perfect CEO or assembling the ideal leadership team, but that never lasts long. The context within which an organisation operates is constantly in flux—the competitive landscape shifts, the operational needs change, senior executives leave—and certainty does not exist.
Organisations will need to make succession planning part of business as usual and continue to view the C-suite as a dynamic entity. Actively involving the entire C-suite and senior leaders throughout the organisation in identifying and developing prospective leaders will also ensure important decisions about succession and the future of the company are not made during an abrupt departure.
Over the next year, we will increasingly see these trends improve business processes and management. The role of today’s business leader today is undeniably complex and challenging, however, when done right, can be extremely productive and rewarding.
Robert Sharrock, CEO