Do you envision yourself as a future leader? Whether you desire to make your mark as an entrepreneur or in management, you hold the power to make a difference. First, however, you’ll need to develop a variety of skills that, while already valuable, will prove vital in the workplace of tomorrow. These go beyond the competencies once thought imperative to success.
Change has long been a critical component of many industries, but its pace continues to increase. Professions that once seemed stable are currently undergoing unprecedented transformation, spurred in part by technological developments and in part by societal changes regarding how we view and conduct work.
The role of change is reflected in an increased emphasis on agility, as evidenced by a notable study conducted by the American Management Association. This research cited the difficulties propelled by environmental turbulence but also revealed that businesses exhibiting higher levels of agility held greater resilience and, thus, the ability to thrive in difficult circumstances.
No matter how established they are within a given industry or niche, leaders must be humble enough to acknowledge that they can always learn more. Simple recognition of this reality is not enough, however. The most successful future leader will make a concerted effort to develop new skills and knowledge—and not merely from those traditionally recognized as experts.
A lifelong learning mindset is critical; without it, leaders risk falling behind at breakneck speed.
2. Cultural Intelligence
The business world is more diverse than ever. Today’s leaders regularly interact with people from a variety of backgrounds—and they must collaborate with fellow professionals, clients, or vendors who hold radically different views on various topics. This can prove challenging even in the best of circumstances. In some cases, cultural concerns can spell the undoing of clearly skilled leaders who are otherwise at the top of their game.
Even those who think of themselves as respectful may quickly find themselves crossing boundaries if not thoroughly aware of cultural differences. Seemingly minor phrases or gestures can cause offense and undermine workplace morale.
It is not enough for leaders to simply accept and educate themselves on diversity in the workplace. They must go beyond mere acknowledgment of cultural differences to actively appreciate and embrace all the opportunities that a diverse workspace can bring about. New perspectives offer the potential for groundbreaking ideas. Additionally, diverse organizations may be better equipped to connect with a broadening consumer base.
Beyond recognizing differences, cultural intelligence calls for a deep understanding of the many ties that bind us. This appreciation for similarities is particularly essential when dealing with the fallout of interpersonal concerns. Leaders who are capable of identifying and building upon commonalities hold a greater chance of inspiring others and closing the cultural gaps that prevent effective teamwork.
Unfortunately, cultural intelligence remains a critical area of weakness in many organizations. In a study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 90 percent of surveyed executives highlighted cross-cultural management as a top challenge faced by the organizations they serve—especially when working across borders. As such, professionals who successfully build this key competency could hold a huge competitive advantage.
Innovation is already a critical component of company culture at many organizations, but its reach promises to become even more widespread in the near future.
While many of today’s innovations were sparked in garages or otherwise humble settings, this concept is now taking on a top-down approach, in which leaders play a key role in connecting the dots to develop new and exciting concepts. They are aided on all sides by innovative thinkers, of course, but their ability to recognize viable possibilities sets them apart from the leaders of yesteryear.
The strong need for innovation is reflected in a 2017 study published by the PA Consulting Group. Results from this survey reveal a gap between the desire for innovation and the ability to actually deliver on that demand. While two-thirds of respondents highlight innovation as critical to survival, fewer than one-third believe that their organizations actually manage to innovate enough to increase revenue and drive long-term growth.
4. Self-Awareness and Authenticity
Every leader brings different strengths and weaknesses to the table. While they can work hard to shore up their weaknesses and fill problematic skill gaps, proactive leaders will ultimately recognize where they excel—and how they can leverage these abilities to make a difference for the organizations they serve.
The most successful professionals have made authenticity a priority; rather than molding themselves into a narrow model, they now highlight what is different and valuable about them. They determine how, exactly, those differences can help them thrive.
Those who lack vision will struggle to motivate employees and consumers—especially in a market increasingly driven by ideals. Leaders should consistently be able to create enthusiasm, even when the going gets tough. Their vision can help them move past plateaus and pursue the innovations needed to achieve lasting success.
Merely holding a core vision is not good enough. The most successful leaders will determine how best to communicate their vision so that others find it equally inspiring. A shared and deeply-held vision can spark teamwork even in the most diverse settings, but differing ideals will quickly prompt disagreement or, worse, disillusionment. From the outset of any given undertaking, each individual and department should hold a clear understanding of how they can contribute to a greater mission—and why their efforts matter.
As a future leader, you hold huge potential to make a lasting impact. The sooner you develop your long-term vision and the skills needed to support it, the greater a difference you can make in your industry of choice. Keep putting in the work; your efforts to build vital leadership skills will one day be rewarded.
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