The future waits for no one. Ready or not, organizations must deal with the changes the future brings.
While it is impossible to divine the future, there are several lessons that can be learned from the past, ranging from the impact of new technologies and globalization to the shift in demographics and the evolution of client expectations.
Quite simply, organizations of the future will look vastly different from what these are today.
In order to better respond to these new challenges, organizations and their leaders need to make the necessary shift from a hierarchal structure toward one that utilizes a network comprised of management working closely with highly-empowered teams.
A brief history of leadership
In order to better understand what changes organizations need to undergo, it is imperative to look back into the past and see how leadership was viewed.
One of the key concepts that has shaped leadership today is the Great Man Theory which was posited in the 19th century. According to this theory, leaders who shaped history possessed personal qualities that set them apart from the others.
Soon after, this theory was modified into what is called the Trait Theory. In this theory, adherents said that factors like intelligence, ambition, drive, upbringing, and charisma, among others, shaped a person into becoming a great leader.
The problem with both theories is the notion that great leaders emerge out of luck. In this regard, Behavioral Theorists argued that even an ordinary person can become a great leader, not out of inherent qualities, but through proper training and development coaching from great leaders themselves.
Situational Theory and Contingency Theory both veer away from the focus on the individual leader toward other factors that led to the success of the organization. These factors include the capability of the members of the team and their confidence and trust in their leaders.
The state of leadership, today
Although there are still many adherents to the Transactional Theory of leadership where power is held by a select few, many leaders have veered toward Transformational Leadership.
The basic concept of Transformational Leadership is to encourage all members of the organization to move away from their individual aspirations toward a common goal.
This model utilizes a vision to inspire and motivate people while providing members of the organization opportunities for innovation and growth. This type of leadership also puts emphasis on executive leadership coaching and mentoring.
A glimpse into the future
Many thought leaders and experts have voiced out their concern about the idea of power in an organization residing in a select few. And although there are plenty who are challenging this old view, there are a few key questions that need to be answered, including defining who exactly is a leader, what needs to be done to cultivate new leaders, and how to democratize leadership.
Adherents to this philosophy called Distributed Leadership believe that leadership should not reside in one individual or a few people. Rather, leadership should be viewed as a process that should be shared. Transitioning into this philosophy is seen as a way to boost engagement while making the workload easier for all the members of the team.
Studies indicate that organizations that shift away from a hierarchical structure toward a network of empowered members led by leaders who adhere to Distributed Leadership are deemed to be more ready to face new challenges.
What makes these leaders different?
This new breed of leaders are confident in their own abilities to adapt to what the future may bring. On top of that, the new crop of leaders can define and deliver new strategies that are anchored upon real insights.
Other key features of Distributed Leadership include the primacy of open communication, flexibility in the organization, easy access to resources, team-based decision-making, and decentralization.
It is no understatement to say that the new technologies that have emerged in recent years play a crucial role in facilitating these key changes in organizations. From social networking to collaborative tools, hierarchical structures are slowly being replaced with networks.
4 ways to achieve future-ready leadership
Here are some necessary changes that organizations must implement to better respond to their long-term goals.
- Put an emphasis on transparency and open communicationIn order to ensure that tomorrow’s leaders are engaged and remain aligned with the organization’s goals, it is imperative that they see that they are making a substantial impact. And in order to do that, it is critical to build a culture of openness and transparency where individual members can contribute their ideas.
Movements and changes in the organization should be readily communicated to members through a diverse array of platforms, including online platforms and face-to-face communication.
- Invest in education and developmentThere are a few strategies that organizations can enforce in order to achieve this goal.
For one, organizations can create their own training and development programs, echoing the strategy used by large organizations like GE and McDonald’s with their corporate universities.
Alternatively, organizations can consider initiating a rotational program where members are given the experience to try different roles in order to develop other skills beyond their fields of specialization.
Organizations can also facilitate learning and development by providing team members with opportunities to learn at their own pace through methods that are suitable to their learning styles.
- Rebuild the organizationIn lieu of a horizontal organizational structure, organizations can overcome bureaucracy by rebuilding its structure to become more vertical. This can enable the group to accommodate the input of more members by minimizing barriers.
- Find the optimal communication strategyThe presence of different generations in an organization necessitates the shift from a singular, cookie-cutter approach toward communication.
Instead, organizations need to test the best communication mix which employees can respond better with.
Making an organization ready to face the challenges of the future does not come in an instant or through a stroke of luck. In order to ensure organizational agility in responding to what the future brings, it is essential for CEOs to revamp their strategies related to their personnel.
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