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Navigating Uncertainty and Embracing Authenticity in Leadership

The world, and the world of work, continues to bring a maelstrom of uncertainty—from political concerns to economic anxiety. Trust in organizations is low, and employees are trying to discern what is real, what is authentic, and what they can rely on. By recognizing the forces that feed into this uncertainty leaders can begin understanding how they can lead through it.

This blog explores five factors impacting the role of leaders in the coming years.

1. Generational Influences

Each generation of leaders is influenced by the generations that came before them, who created a blueprint for leadership that they often modified, but largely followed.

Now, the paradigm is shifting with the rise of Millennials and Gen Zers in the workplace, who will constitute 74% of the workforce by 2030. Their impact is already changing the way work gets done and the definition of career success. Theirs is a generation for whom technology is part of their DNA, and they embrace that technology to help them be more efficient, stay connected, manage their investments, or take on a side gig. Because of this, we have seen a significant shift in the way employees think and feel about career success. There is an increasing focus on working to live, not living to work, and viewing a job as a means to an end, to live the life they want and be fulfilled in their role. The result? A workforce that feels increasingly empowered to define their jobs, job conditions, and career success on their own terms.

2. Distributed Workforce

The second challenge or issue that continues to persist is the tug-of-war over distributed work, leaving organizations grappling with the optimal combination of on-site, remote, or hybrid structure. Debate quietly rages on about what the “right” scenario is to support productivity and connection. And while each organization is vested in their chosen position, many employees are calling out the inconsistencies in how hybrid work success is managed and measured. Hybrid work is a complex and ongoing puzzle, and getting clear on the rationale for the organization’s chosen model is key. The fact is that regardless of location, leaders must redouble efforts to stay connected with their people and combat fatigue and burnout.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Awareness of AI’s influence looms large, but clarity over its impact is elusive for many leaders. While 75% of organizations say they will adopt AI in the next five years, 50% say it will add jobs, and 25% say it will eliminate jobs. The truth is the precise impact is murky, and that murkiness is stoking fear. When leaders do talk about AI, much of the conversation revolves around its danger and how to regulate its use. Even murkier than the regulation of AI is the impact it will have on people leadership skills.

4. DEI Metamorphosis

An ongoing area of focus for leaders and organizations and one that is going through a metamorphosis is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Despite the fact that 67% of job seekers consider a company’s DEI policies when determining where to work, organizations are slow to take a comprehensive approach to DEI. Skepticism about the appropriateness and effectiveness of prior efforts has caused some organizations to retreat from their commitment and has slowed future plans. Some organizations have backtracked on their investment in DEI-related roles, failing to provide support or deprioritizing DEI. With increasing pressure to measure their efforts, those who remain committed are re-evaluating their training, policies, and structures to take a more systemic approach to garner ongoing support.

5. The Need for Upskilling and Reskilling

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts that AI and machine learning will transform 1.1 billion jobs over the next decade. Because of this, organizations will begin to experience wide skills gaps that their employees currently can’t fill unless they implement upskilling and reskilling programs now. There will also be an increase in functions that become obsolete due to the emergence of technologies like AI. By identifying those now, leaders can help reskill the individuals that currently hold these positions and prepare them for new roles rather than just laying them off. Reskilling and upskilling efforts that demonstrate a commitment to employee growth also enhance job satisfaction, contribute to positive organizational outcomes, and help build a strong talent pipeline.

Implications for Leaders: A Multifaceted Approach

Against the backdrop of these significant pressures, leaders need to shift how they show up for their people, but they already have the tools they need at their disposal. By thinking “head, heart, hand, and soul,” leaders can implement small changes that demonstrate they are focused on what organizations, and their teams, need today and in the future to be successful. With all these trends swirling, leaders can focus on:

  • Head: Audit your thinking, understand AI’s implications, and work on highlighting cognitive skills of critical thinking in the age of automation. Shift your mindsets on the definition of career success and understand the complexities of hybrid job conditions rather than fight to “get back to normal.”
  • Heart: Connect with your people. Leaders must lead with their hearts, embracing authenticity and regrouping on core concepts like trust. Employee well-being goes beyond surface-level gestures. Address burnout’s underlying causes by evaluating priorities and workloads and by making genuine connections between work and people.
  • Hand: Offer a helping hand by coaching employees so they feel accountable and empowered regardless of where they work. Help your people grow and develop, and factor AI into the equation when you do.
  • Soul: Connect to a larger purpose, values, and social responsibility. Leaders can inspire teams by sharing about their own motivators and stories, fostering a sense of shared purpose, and by cultivating a positive vision for the future.

Charting a Course Beyond Uncertainty

As we navigate the uncharted waters of this year and beyond, no doubt we are asking a lot of our leaders. They need to be agile, empathetic, and visionary all at the same time. But despite the rapid acceleration of new technology and uncertain times, it is the authentic leader that will emerge as successful.

To learn more about these trends, watch the on-demand webinar Leading with Impact: Trends Shaping Leadership Dynamics in 2024.

About the Authors

Leah Clark
Leah Clark is a leadership development professional with over 28 years of experience in her field. She has a unique perspective on the mindsets and skillset that are critical to leadership success and brings that perspective to her coaching and consulting. Leah’s clients benefit from her collaborative approach to crafting a well-connected and thoughtful leadership development strategy. Her company, LeaderConnect, makes meaningful connections for leaders and leadership development professionals around the issues that matter most.

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