Leading in 2030, what will it take?

The velocity of geopolitical, social and economic change shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Transformative shifts are underway throughout major economies and will have profound ramifications for current and future leaders.

It appears that the leadership skills and traits of the past are failing, and a very different set of skills will need to be fostered within government and private businesses that want to succeed in an increasingly complex and interdependent world. This begs a simple question.

What will it take to lead in 2030?

In order to answer this question, it’s worth considering what type of society we will be living in and the economic circumstances that are likely to be playing out  in 2030.

Developed economies such as the U.S, Japan and Europe are likely to be less dominant both economically and culturally while emerging economies will rise to prominence. Japan, which was a robust economy until its asset bubble burst in the early 1990s continues to slog through decades of economic stagnation. As a consequence their economy continues to face both cultural and demographic challenges that look set to continue until at least 2030. This outlook is likely to see growth in developed economies pushed further down the economic rankings according to USDA estimates. Conversely, China’s GDP is forecasted to grow to more than twice its size today by 2030, and the combined economies of Asia are likely to rival the U.S. The sub-continent is anticipated to have the largest and youngest workforce.

According to the World Economic Forum  three alternate global security scenarios are likely by 2030. One in which government leaders fail to meet the challenges of providing basic services to their citizens, resulting in people turning to private sector providers, or going without. The second sees a world in which a shift in global wealth leads to shifts in regional power, with hegemons emerging that consolidate spheres of influence, and eventually supplanting sovereign countries as the principal unit of global order. And the third scenario being a world in which global trade falls and major economies stagnate. The old key states of the world order turn inward and abandon collective action such as peacekeeping, rule-making and policing of the global issues, such as the environment. Leadership positions in these new international bodies are taken not by specialist civil servants, but by business and civil society leaders taking on part-time secondary jobs. The urgency of restoring the world’s economic health makes trade and investment relations a priority, and the social or “values” agenda, such as universal human rights, takes a back seat. A considerable amount of inequality emerges but is broadly accepted as the price of peace.

In looking at the question of leadership in 2030 and giving consideration to the economic and security outlooks, we need to start by considering the anticipated and most likely decline in loyalty between people and organisations or government institutions. It will be very difficult for leaders to formally bind people to their organisations, so they should not try. Loyalty needs to be voluntarily given, and cuts in both directions. It can easily be revoked, with decades of downsizing having already consigned loyalty via “fixed employment contracts” to the dustbin of history.

Personal networks and fluid “business” alliances of convenience will be likely to determine who people work with on a regular basis in the future. Tenure and other long-term employment contracts are unlikely to survive by 2030 in advanced economies. Leaders will need to develop personal relationships with crucial individuals, independent from whether these people work within their organisation, on a fixed contract or not.

This also means that leaders need to encourage individuals to become more flexible in their concepts, their lives, and their place in society. Career paths are likely to become more dynamic, and climbing a traditional pyramid organisational structure will be pointless.

Leadership Prediction #1

By 2030, workers will increasingly see themselves as proponents of a particular skill set, similar to a very flexible professional “trade” network or “guild”, rather than as an employee of a particular enterprise or institution. Leaders of workforces in this situation will invariably need to reward based on expertise and results, rather than position and length of service, ensuring an increasing personal stake in the success of work. Learning and training will become flexible, personalised and collaborative, and more likely than not funded and organised by the individual.

Leadership Prediction #2

A highly flexible, mobile workforce, with few or limited “structural” paths for employee advancement, will result in a “swarm” of entrepreneurial small scale suppliers (sub-contractors) and independent practioners or traders. Many large organisations will start to disappear, to be replaced by smaller institutions and businesses that are more networked and interconnected in how they deliver services. This will foster loose, decentralised managerial structures based on short-term projects or opportunities. There will be much more opportunity for collaborations between organisations or teams, and far less need to build costly rigid organisational structures.

Leadership Prediction #3

Leaders in 2030 will need to be able to quickly assemble (and disassemble) teams of “experts” – people who are ambitious and highly skilled, but who don’t really want (or need) to have responsibility for managing other people. For larger organisations in particular, team design and project coordination will itself become specialist “leadership” expertise, rather than a managerial rung reached in a traditional career ladder. A key focus will be developing positive, inclusive, and stable corporate cultures.

 Leadership Prediction #4

Interconnectedness between organisations will increase by 2030. This will be further complicated by the devolution and more dynamic engagement of workforce participants with organisations, instead of the traditional full-time employment model. Managing this complexity and ambiguity will have an enormous impact on the way we lead.

Leadership Prediction #5

Workplace flexibility will cut both ways, with people having much more choice over who they work with, and short-term engagements will be the norm. Organisations that have poor reputations will struggle to attract productive workforce participants at a competitive rate, and talented people will be far less likely to attach their personal brand to a poorly performing organisation.

Leadership Prediction #6

Working and leading in a single profession for an extended period will gradually disappear, and experienced leaders will also become more mobile, “tag-team” leadership duties more frequently, and be regularly rotated through various types of assignments.

Leadership Prediction #7

To remain competitive in the constant effort to attract and retain a transient skilled workforce, organisations are likely to need a Chief of Work or Place, someone who focuses on the culture in the organisation, including the workplace environment and technologies used. Their sole focus will need to be workforce/contractor/partner expectations, and finding ways to balance them with strategic KPIs.

Leadership Prediction #8

Every leader within an organisation will need to take an active role in proactively leading or shaping the workplace experience for their team. The culture, values and higher purpose of an organisation operating in 2030 will clearly need to be closely aligned.

Leadership Prediction #9

In 2030, the era of the “heroic” or alpha leader CEO, seated at the apex of a command and control structure will be over. Organisations that cling to the traditional pyramid management model will be at a distinct time to market and cost structure disadvantage. Leaders in 2030 will need to focus much more on relationships, and understand that leadership is not about themselves and the number of people “underneath” them in a hierarchy. Instead of putting themselves at the centre of events and decisions, they will need to listen, mentor, and enable others. Leadership traits that value intellectual curiosity, empathy, and emotional intelligence – broadly known as an “affiliated” leadership style – will become commonplace.

Developing leaders of the future

The work environment of 2030 is likely to be significantly different than it is today in 2016. The way we develop and equip leaders to lead in this very uncertain world will need to change. In 2030, everyone will be a leader to some degree. Work will thrive in team decision environments, and from a cultural perspective, employees will resist hierarchy. Anyone might feel they can be a leader for some aspect of their work and have influence and control through their expertise, or the value they bring to a situation.

Conversely, organisations that are slow to change will see positional power or hierarchical power diminish as power shifts to stakeholders, further reducing the authority of the people who are supposed to lead the organisation. This will accelerate the decline of laggard organisations that fail to adapt.

Leaders should expect to face a continually changing work environment throughout their entire lives, one which calls for new approaches to leadership, and greater flexibility. The personal values of leaders and the decisions they make will continue to contribute significantly to the overall culture of an organisation.

A more dynamic, individually tailored set of education and learning interventions will be needed to lift leadership capability. A stronger and more targeted approach to leadership development will allow organisations to move smoothly away from the rigid traditional leadership development model, where participants are developed across a common curriculum of learning.

This will need to be combined with a diversity of leadership experiences that help break down institutional silos, and develop greater levels of breadth and understanding.

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today” (Malcolm X).