Developing your leadership for tomorrow, today

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I had the pleasure and privilege of delivering a keynote session at the SDF Festival of Learning and Development 2022 last November.  During that session I explored the evolving shape of leadership and performance management in the new and emerging world of work.  So, as we come to the end of the first month of 2023 – what do I think this means for the year ahead?

We are experiencing the greatest global shift in the world of work for a century with rapid change imposing unprecedented challenges on organisations and their leaders: increased complexity, continuous disruption, and permanent instability.  VUCA factors (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) have intensified and against this difficult backdrop, organisations are required to show increased geopolitical, social, and environmental awareness because customer, consumer, employee, stakeholder, and student demands are changing and will continue to change.

Complexity with positive disruption requires a shift in mindset and approach: extensive research by Harvard Business School and global recruiters Korn Ferry and Russell Reynolds have all highlighted that leaders will need to develop new skills. Their studies yielded a variety of insights but chief among them was that whilst the traditional capabilities of technical expertise, superior administrative skills, and a track record of successfully managing resources remain highly relevant they now prioritise one qualification above all others: strong social skills.

They define social skills as having a high level of self-awareness, the ability to empathetically listen and communicate well, a facility for working with different, diverse types of people and groups, and the capacity to infer how others are thinking and feeling.

Future leaders will need to be deeply attuned to shifting societal and environmental demands. They will need to build digital, data and innovation muscles in response to the pervasive impact of technology.  Insights from Korn Ferry’s interviews suggest that leaders will need to anticipate change, take nothing for granted and accept that they can never be fully prepared. At the same time, they will be expected to drive and shape the future rather than be shaped by it – easy right?

As a leader it can be exhausting just contemplating these changes and how to respond to them.  The greatest personal challenge is I believe how do you balance the often-conflicting demands of short-term performance and the systemic longer-term work of transformation?  How do I both deliver today and prepare for tomorrow?

I am a long-time devotee of the work of Stephen Covey and his son Stephen M. R. Covey and there’s a reason why the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People remains the best-selling business book of all time.  It is based on principles that endure.  More recently his son’s powerful book Trust and Inspire explains why and how we need to move away from a leadership style of Command and Control to one of Trust and Inspire – I highlighted last November that creating a high trust culture was the single most important thing in unlocking performance and potential.

I was also incredibly fortunate to study with Lynda Gratton at the London Business School back in 2016.  Lynda is one of the foremost global thought leaders on the future of work and so I heartily recommend her latest work Redesigning Work because it is filled with practical actions, questions, and ideas to help you navigate this challenging landscape.

What I am personally struck by is the convergence of so much of the thinking in this space.  A coalescence around a human centred, people first, engaged, and empathetic style of leadership.  To be successful today and be ready for tomorrow leaders and managers have to shift their mindsets or paradigms: the way in which they see the world in four key ways.

  1. They have to move away from the hierarchical manager-led idea that the team is here to make them successful to ‘…I am here to make my team successful…’ They can do this is a number of ways: by supporting people to be engaged, motivated and skilled, by coaching and giving feedback and by creating a truly equitable inclusive environment where everyone can succeed and feel that they belong.
  1. They need to have an abundance not a scarcity mentality (Habit 4 of the 7 Habits – Think Win-Win). So rather than hoarding resources they share resources.  They have a collaborative mindset and actively build networks inside and outside of their organisations because they know that will also deliver a better outcome.
  1. Instead of managing or micro-managing in some cases, they let their people manage themselves against defined, shared expectations. They foster adult to adult relationships
  1. As we all experience ever greater flexibility around the time and place of our working lives, effective managers and leaders have shifted their focus on performance management to be all about outcomes, goal setting and impact. Working together to prioritise what is really important and what will make a difference. In turn making work more meaningful and inspiring.

The COVID-19 pandemic was brutal in its impact on individuals, on society and on organisations. Pervasive, overwhelming, and almost entirely unforeseen, it has forced organisations and their leaders to question almost every aspect of their approach to consumers, customers, stakeholders, their mission and purpose and their strategy.

But we rose to this challenge.  We have learned valuable lessons that if we apply them in the right way, I genuinely believe it will positively change the world of work forever and for the better.  So, I am looking forward to 2023 being an incredible year of learning and discovery.


About the author: David Blackburn, Chief People Officer of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), is one of the most awarded HR professionals working in the UK today and recognised as the 3rd Most Influential HR Practitioner in the HR Magazine Most Influential List 2022. He is listed as one the top 100 HR Directors in the World in the HRD Global 100 2021 and is both a Chartered Companion of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

This blog has been kindly re-purposed.