Each year I have the privilege of attending a conference for future leaders that brings together young, “up and coming” employees from a variety of organizations. While they come to the meetings to increase their knowledge of different ideas and to build their professional networks, I find that I learn as much, if not more than they do. The interaction, conversation, and discussion not only demonstrate the brilliance of the next generation, but also illustrate their determination to have an impact in their organizations and the world.
A common topic at the most recent session pertained to the current wave of changing expectations. Quickly, the discussion ventured from expectations others place on us as employees to expectations we place on our leaders, society, institutions, co-workers, spouses, and children. As you might imagine, opinions on specific leaders varied, but a strong consensus developed around the idea that leaders possess a distribution similar to any other profession with the bulk falling in the proverbial, average category. What was a little more surprising was that most participants agreed that none of their examples of exceptional or “top” leaders possess the skills and abilities necessary to be as successful in the future.
So, what were the characteristics that the participants identified that they felt were critical for future leaders, but in short supply even among the best today?
Collaboration – Most agreed that leaders today fail to maximize collaboration within and across teams.
Continuous Learning – All agreed that the demand for increasing higher levels of productivity has resulted in cultures of working harder and not smarter by continual learning.
Technology Proficiency – Most noted that there is still a conceptual as well as practical technology proficiency gap at the highest levels of most organizations.
Talent Building – All expressed concerns that while the development of talent receives a lot of “lip service,” few leaders commit they time necessary to help others reach their full potential.
Cultural Understanding – Similar to talent building, most felt that diversity and cultural understanding appears in regular organizational communication and is espoused as a value, but it has not become integrated with behavior.
Social Conscious – A common concern related to the degree to which a social conscious impacted decision-making vis-à-vis a profit motive overriding all other considerations.
Change Acceptance – Most agreed that leaders today still fail to recognize that change is the new “normal” and we have to not only accept, but also learn to use it our advantage y building flexibility structures, rewarding adaptability, and embracing innovation.
Total Communicator – All participants cited communication skills with multiple levels as an issue.
As the discussion neared completion, most agreed that the final ingredient pertained to a real commitment to preparedness for the future.
As we consider their comments, we might all agree that being a leader may be the toughest job around.