3 Themes that Will Shape Tomorrow's Leader

December 20, 2022 Jay Campbell

Leadership development never goes out of style—and it's never been more important. That’s one important finding from our 2023 L&D Trend Survey. In fact, L&D professionals plan to increase their spending by an average of 16% in 2023, despite the concerns of an economic downturn.

Our research reveals three reasons for the increase:

  1. Good leaders are critical to moving a company forward. And all companies wish to move forward.
  2. More leadership bench strength is needed, driven by both organizational growth and the retirement of older professionals.
  3. The core skills of a leader are changing and tomorrow's leaders need to do some things different from the current generation.

More than 500 respondents described the key qualities of future leaders. Their answers are shown in the graphic above. Three categories emerged, which I’ll consider in greater detail.

Theme #1—Lifting People Up

Lifting people up is the most important theme respondents identified. This includes skills like engaging and developing employees, creating a culture of inclusion and belonging, cultivating resilience, and showing empathy and compassion. A leader who does this will help their people be more successful, happy, and resilient.

Respondents want leaders who are compassionate, supportive, and caring. This has taken on even greater importance during the three-year course of the pandemic.

There is a great need for leaders who can lift their people up and spark engagement. The pandemic has drained people's reserves. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 found that 44% of workers experienced “a lot of daily stress”—an all-time high.

The pandemic is also responsible for other difficulties, chiefly the Great Resignation and pandemic epiphanies (a wholesale reassessment of one’s values and occupation). These observations come from Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at the University College London School of Management, who predicted both phenomena and coined the terms. Quiet quitting, the latest ill to sweep through the workplace, seems like the Great Resignation’s troubled child. “I want to leave this job, but I can’t. So I’ll coast until something better comes along.”

So what do people want? In Blanchard terminology, people want servant leaders. I’ll quote Bob Freytag, a colleague who embodies servant leadership:

Servant leadership is identifying what needs you create in other people and doing what you can to help them meet those needs so they can succeed. A servant leader is always looking out for the welfare of their people. A servant leader’s focus is much more on others than on self.

This kind of leadership lifts people up. It is a supportive style that builds trust and engagement. It creates a sense of belonging and enthusiasm. It also increases retention, as it is hard to walk away from such positive relationships.

Theme #2—Transformative Enablement

Transformative enablement is the second theme. Respondents want leaders who can drive transformation, support change initiatives, spur innovation, and be agile and adaptable. Leading hybrid and remote teams is another priority. Considering the amount of change the pandemic has caused, this is no surprise.

Transformation is often a term associated with the executive level. People tend to think of transformation as something that happens from the top and cascades downward. But our research shows that companies need transformative leaders at all levels. This allows an organization to pivot quickly.

About two years ago, I coauthored an article with one of my colleagues entitled Leadership and the Great Acceleration. We wrote at length about how the pace of change is increasing.

Here are two statistics I found eye opening:

  • Changes today are happening 10 times faster than, and at 300 times the scale of, the Industrial Revolution.
  • 50% of the companies on the S&P 500 will be replaced over the next 10 years.

Countless companies have had to remake themselves because of the pandemic. Ours was certainly one of them. Agile leaders helped us succeed. And agile leaders are now a business requirement.

Theme #3—Providing Direction and Support

Respondents want leaders who are proficient in basic people management skills. They need leaders who can set goals, juggle priorities, communicate well, coach others, and hire and upskill new team members. Having basic leadership skills is table stakes for people managers.

These objectives are not new, but it is new to see them prioritized as such in the 2023 Trends Report. Asking HR and L&D people about the skills of future leaders opened the door for a reprioritization of those skills.

I, for one, love these results. If we can define a new type of leader who is uplifting, transformative, and effective at the daily tasks of management, we will all be in better stead for any challenge. This is the type of leader who will also address HR’s biggest concern for next year—engaging and retaining employees. Accomplishing two goals at once. Sounds good to me.

About the Author

Jay Campbell

Jay Campbell is Chief Product Officer for The Ken Blanchard Companies®, responsible for the research, development, and management of the company’s portfolio of product offerings. Prior to joining Blanchard, Jay served in product leadership roles in the high tech, finance, automotive, and management consulting industries. Jay has engineering and economics degrees from Vanderbilt University, an MBA from Boston College, and is pursuing a doctorate in Leadership and Organizational Change from the University of Southern California.

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