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Leadership is changing fast

Based on our own client experience and extensive global research, we have understood what it will take for leaders to succeed into the future

The future of leadership.
Our point of view.

Rapid change driven by the invention of the world wide web in 1990 has disrupted global culture and the economy in a myriad of ways. This change has impacted the expectations and demands on leaders in every sphere of society. Leaders who adapt to this change and see the opportunity ahead have a blue ocean in front of them. Those that fear and resist this change, will undoubtedly find themselves increasingly irrelevant.


Our client experience, and ongoing research, has given us a global perspective on how we believe leadership is evolving. Whilst it is clear that there is no ‘one size fits all’ leadership profile, there are emerging patterns and attributes that the best performing leaders have. 

The leader of the future will be different from anything that’s gone before

Here are some of the traits and characteristics we expect leaders to be developing in the coming years.

They will embrace agility and change as if breathing

Nearly 66% of leaders in Kornferry’s ‘CEO for the Future’ research believed that agility and openness were critical qualities for the success of leaders in the future. In this time of accelerated change, leaders will need to move past accepting change to actively embracing and shaping it. The best leaders will know that change brings with it entrepreneurial opportunity that can bring rocket-fuel to their business. 


Leaders will need to not only know how to embrace change, but also to lead it. To lead change, leaders need to bring people with them. Trust in leaders is becoming more important to enable people to be prepared to be led through turbulent and unknown waters. Having high ethical standards, treating people with kindness and communicating with openness and authenticity (not the spin that often permeates much internal communication) will be needed to engage the hearts and minds of an organisation. 

How do you get set for the future? 

No-one has a monopoly on good ideas. You will need to hire people who know more than you about much of the day to day of the business and listen to them. You’ll need to be prepared to let go of ideas that have served you well in the past and try new ones. You will need to learn to keep laser focus on the ultimate outcomes you need to achieve, but allow for flexibility and creativity on how those outcomes are reached. 


You will also need to embrace agile processes that enable and support decentralised decision making so that you communicate trust and can act fast across the business. 

me. It's easy.

They will see themselves as connecting the whole organisation

The role that leaders play has always been big. It is now so multifaceted, that it’s clear no single person can do it alone. Unlike in the industrial age, where one leader could direct a whole production line of staff to follow set procedure, the requirement for constant change and need for fast paced adaptation to market demands, means that collaboration, and decentralised decision making across an organisation has become an essential to high performing organisations. 


Leaders now need to foster a highly collaborative environment and energise their teams to partner meaningfully together to deliver the very best solutions. A Harvard Business Review study surveying 1,000 CEO’s revealed 84% of them believed collaboration to be one of the most important core competencies of the modern leader. The IBM institute for Business Value surveyed 1,549 CEO’s and found that collaboration was consistently seen as the single most important leadership skill for driving organisational performance.

How do you get set for the future? 

Collaboration skills may not always come naturally to leaders who have grown up in organisations primarily shaped by late industrial mindsets that prized clarity and control. 


To bring teams together across the business, we need to be aware of the three critical domains we all work in:

  1. ‘Me’ and the reputation and ambitions you personally wish to grow

  2. ‘It’ and impact you can have within the organisation 

  3. ‘Us’ and the relationships you foster with everyone within the organisation to create a highly performing and connected business. 


Many leaders struggle the most with ‘us’. Some still choose to keep juggling enormous workloads living from the ‘superhero’ model of leadership that still pervades much of organisational life. This often leads to underperformance and burnout. It is critical that you learn to harness the power of ‘us’ by deploying the synergy that comes from the collective of teams. Highly connected, collaborative leaders who orchestrate the bringing together of groups of people to solve problems will be the ones that win out. 

me. It's easy.

They will be a coach, not a boss

Leadership has changed from being rooted in a hierarchy which encouraged people to lead from the role or title they have, rather than the influence they have established with those they lead. This has led to leadership practice that is more directive over collaborative; instructional over coaching; prescriptive over descriptive. It has led us to assume that a more senior title equates to more knowledge (which is indeed sometimes true) which drives practice that is more telling in nature. This is a turnoff to a new generation of talent that hopes to be involved, developed and coached on how to be their best and deliver their best. It’s certainly not that people in our workplaces do not want to be led - far from it. They just won’t show up for a boss. They will show up because they are engaged on a more personal level, and involved in a more co-creative way.

How do you get set for the future? 

You will need to learn how to demonstrate and understand personal motivations, individual personality and be able to adapt your approach to engage each person uniquely. Further than this, you will need to be able to demonstrate a clear commitment to coach each person to solve the business challenges they are responsible for (not just give them solutions), and be able to develop them professionally as they do so. This is no easy task, but is the kind of leadership that is deeply attractive to emergent leaders and often the best talent.

Their ears will be tuned in and listening

Leaders will need to recognise the importance of, and be highly skilled listeners. They will need to live towards others with renewed humility, always listening to understand, not just to hear. Listening to colleagues, stakeholders, the market and society at large. They will recognise that people won’t always naturally just share their views and opinions - they will intentionally need to foster a culture where others feel psychologically safe around them so they truly get to hear what people think and feel. They’ll also need to be committed to take action based on what they hear. 


High performance organisations are deeply human and are safe places for people to bring the best of who they are. Google’s 2-year performance study Aristotle found the number one ingredient for high performance was psychological safety. This kind of environment doesn’t just appear, it is carefully built over time by leaders. 

How do you get set for the future? 

Do you really have a meaningful understanding of what people are thinking and how they are feeling within your organisation? It’s important that you consider taking more time to listen to understand, before telling and directing. Empathise with others' views and opinions. 


Then you need to act. Listening to divergent views will help you both shape your own view, but also prepare you well to handle critical feedback without getting off track. You’ll only get stronger as a leader if you are intentionally prepared to hear the opposing view without self defence.

Leaders will intentionally define culture 

Leaders increasingly need to see their role as creating the environment and atmosphere within which the unique individuals and teams can flourish and grow. Leading through culture, not just through structures and systems has increasingly become the norm. Leaders define culture each and every day. It is this culture that people are either drawn to because it brings the best out in them, or pushed away by because they feel stifled and their individuality hindered. 


Are leaders creating a culture within which people can do their best work? Are they creating a psychologically safe, collaborative and empowered environment where people can thrive? Are they bringing the right kind of support and challenge to their team? These are the questions the leaders of tomorrow are giving time and focus to. 

How do you get set for the future? 

Leaders need to understand and master the skills not just about ‘what’ work needs to get done, but ‘how’ the work gets done. You will need to learn the art of aligning purpose, principles and organisational practices to actively shape the working environment. Three important domains of working ‘practice’ will need to carefully managed - 

  1. Being clear on the ‘behaviours’ you choose to celebrate and tolerate

  2. Setting a clear ‘operating system’ aligned to your culture around how the work is delivered day to day 

  3. Aligning your compensation structure to reward the ‘how’ not just the ‘what’ 

They will have high self awareness so they can stay resilient 

Employees will still be looking for their leaders to make the hard decisions - not tolerating under performance, and disrupting the way people work to pursue market success. They will be extremely high on personal accountability and this will pervade every part of their lives. They will never blame other people or make excuses for things that go wrong.


Leaders will take ownership for their own needs in order to stay healthy, focussed and living from their own unique sense of purpose. In a world that is always on, they will assume a full personal responsibility for ensuring that they prioritise self management and well being, setting the example for everyone around them. Harvard Business Review published a study which strongly correlated resilience to leadership effectiveness. Resilient leaders bounce back more quickly, can manage adversity better and were more consistently inspiring. 

How do you get set for the future? 

It’s important that you develop the personal habits that keep you grounded, connected and sustainable. This invariably starts with self awareness - knowing yourself well, enables you to lead yourself well. Mastering your mindset, physical well being and emotional health so you show up bringing the best of yourself will only increase your influence. 


You’ll need to increasingly see your leadership through the lens of being an ambitious explorer rather than just someone who is predictable at execution. This will likely cause failure at times. Embracing failure and learning from it could become one of your most important assets. Being truly human will be one of the things that builds the kind of empathy with your team that engenders trust and high performance. 

We must get ready to embrace this extraordinary time of change, or be left behind. 

We live in unprecedented times, and even the very best leaders will need to investing in themselves to keep them at the top of their game. Whatever the challenge you face, we are ready to help you embrace the future.

Start your journey today...

If you want your best leaders and teams to get even better, and your organisation to perform at its best, let’s talk. We can help you achieve that.

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