This whole month we’ve been focused on the topic of leadership in our blog posts. We’ve talked about a range of different aspects of leadership, from how to create a culture of leadership on your team, to Self-Leadership, to different leadership theories and what they can teach your team members. Along the way, we’ve also shared some great activities that can help energize your team members’ leadership skills.
So to finish up our theme, we thought it would be good to look forward and think about the future of leadership. How is leadership changing and what do teams need to think about in terms of leadership as we move into a new post-pandemic and hybrid world?
Challenges for the future of leadership
We are all probably aware of the many challenges facing teams. And those same challenges are affecting leadership as well, making the future of leadership less clear. For example, we know that team unity and having a clear vision of the bigger picture is more difficult on hybrid teams, when members are more separated and focused on their own work (also known as the “silo effect”). So leaders need to figure out new ways to gather teams together and communicate team-wide visions.
The weakening of the office as a central space where teams can gather and collaborate also has created potential challenges to the future of leadership. Offices are not only spaces where team members can communicate easily and brainstorm ideas, they are also spaces that naturally bond teams together through spontaneous interaction. So leaders will also have to work to form these bonds in other ways.
But offices were central spaces for leaders too. How can leaders effectively inspire and motivate team members when they are no longer in the same physical space? How can they manage, coordinate, and delegate when they know less about what team members are doing on a daily basis?
These are very crucial questions that all leaders will need to figure out with their teams. So in the following post, we will be going through some of the major aspects of the future of leadership that teams should think about going forward. Our goal is to bring up important points to be aware of and inspire you to think creatively and openly about how your team’s leadership can change.
1. Collaboration will be key
If there’s one thing that is known about the future of leadership, it is that more collaboration within teams, especially between leaders and other team members, will be increasingly more important. Leaders need to be able to work actively with team members to figure out solutions and to develop new ideas for how teams should be structured.
The old hierarchical systems of leadership are no longer as effective in an environment in which there is more separation and decentralization. The only way to get everyone together and on the same page is through collaborative and inclusive environments that engage the entire team. This also has the important effect of building trust between team members, which can create a greater sense of team unity as well.
Ultimately, collaboration taps into the true power of teams. Teams are structures that combine individual skills and talents in order to create something greater than the sum of their parts. It is through utilizing the multiplicity of ideas and skills that teams will be able to achieve the most, and become the best that they can be, whether teams are in the office or online.
2. Leadership will need to be more spread out
Since team members are more spread out, leadership will have to be as well. This is one of the main points that we’ve been repeating all along: All team members can become leaders. And in an age when everyone is their own manager essentially, it makes sense to cultivate team members who can easily shift to becoming leaders.
What this means in practice is creating a leadership culture where everyone feels like they have a stake in the larger vision of the team, and are capable of acting and accomplishing goals. This is connected to what we’ve been saying about Self-Leadership as well (giving individuals the sense of confidence and inner motivation to become “leaders” of their own lives).
This also makes sense on a practical level. With more people in their own work bubbles, you want team members that are capable of getting their work done on their own. But add to that a level of responsibility and accountability towards the rest of the team, and a desire to find workable solutions to making team visions a reality, and you have the makings of a highly functional and adaptable team that can work in any environment and face any challenge.
3. Mentorship must be a priority
If the future of leadership is cultivating more leaders as stated above, then mentorship is vital. We’ve discussed how mentoring and training opportunities, especially for younger workers, were on the decline even before the pandemic started, and it’s only gotten worse since then. This is really a shame, and it doesn’t bode well for the viability of teams heading into the unknown wilderness of hybrid work.
Leaders need to step up their mentoring, and to start it as early as possible, and with as many team members as possible. Mentoring not only passes along vital leadership methods, team procedures and institutional memory, it also links more mature team members with newer ones, which helps to build a better sense of trust and unity.
Mentorship also makes team members feel more valued and validated, which is highly important on hybrid teams, where it is easier to get lost and feel like you are in the weeds all alone. Plus, mentorship provides more equity and inclusivity on teams (diversity too if you are making the effort to have a more diverse team), which are sure to continue to be central to the future of leadership.
4. Finding new ways of communicating vision and sharing the big picture
As we mentioned before, one of the challenges of teams in online and hybrid work environments is that team members often feel more isolated and lack a sense of shared vision. They may not be able to see what other team members or departments are up to as easily as before. So the future of leadership will require finding new ways of communicating the shared vision of the team.
There is no set way to do this yet. We’re still at the beginning of a new phase of work and life, and so teams will need to be flexible and experiment. But what also needs to happen is for leadership to meet technology where it is.
Right now many teams are trying to fit old methods and models into new forms of technologies and tools. This will eventually need to change. In order for leaders to be effective in their roles, they need to be conscious of which tools work, which models need to be changed to fit new work environments and styles, and how to employ all of these new systems to better engage and motivate team members through a clearly communicated collective vision.
5. Focus on resilience
For a lot of reasons, gone are the days of focusing on lean production and cutting waste as the be all and end all of leadership. Productivity will still matter in the future of leadership, but the emphasis will move more towards resilience.
Resilience means having teams that are capable of meeting challenges, adapting to new situations and learning from failure. It means creating strong foundations on teams that are built on trust, openness, and caring for one another, so that they can weather any storm.
Which leads us to another big aspect of resilience, which is preparedness and understanding where potential weaknesses lie. Instead of running away from them or trying to cover them up, teams will need to face these weaknesses and use them as learning tools for growth.
All this will be part of the job of leaders. Leaders have the ability to motivate, inspire and set goals. And so leaders would do best to put their energy into fostering this type of resilience.
Conclusion: Don’t forget about team building
As we all head into unknown territory and a new age of work, one thing you can rely on to boost your team’s connectivity and leadership skills is team building. Team building offers teams the chance to experiment and come up with ideas in new situations that they are not used to, which can help train them to become more adaptable and flexible in the real world. Team building also engages individuals to think outside the box and work with their team, which can help inspire their own leadership talents.
So even though the future of leadership remains cloudy, team building can give you the tools to remain prepared, and to implement the leadership styles that will help guide you.