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Age of Adaptability: The Near Future of Leadership

In our 2024 Age of Adaptability trends report, we discussed how the pandemic forced an immediate overhaul of management as we knew it. While societal disruption, advancing technology, and sustainability reshaped work, leaders needed to steer organizational change without tangible models from which to draw. They also needed to promote upskilling and reskilling, inclusion, and satisfaction among their employees while managing a geographically dispersed and distributed workforce.

Leaders who had done things more or less the same way for two centuries were suddenly operating in the dark. It takes a special kind of person to do this effectively, and this person is what we will refer to as the 2030 Leader.

The 2030 Leader

In 2030, the majority of leaders will be members of the millennial generation, or those born between 1980-95. In the early aughts while entry-level workers, the millennials made their mark early with their insistence on a more empowered, enlightened business world. As an ethnically diverse generation raised on computers, the millennials have adapted seamlessly to the integration of smart machines into the workplace and more naturally engage with diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) issues.

In general, these circumstances make millennials the ideal candidates to shepherd our organizations into the second half of the 21st century. But of course, everyone is different and some leaders will be more competent in 2030 than others.

I believe that the future of leadership will be co-created by young trailblazers with several core traits including flexibility, humility, emotional intelligence, global perspective, and technological curiosity. Let’s describe these one by one.

Flexibility: The years 2022 and 2030 were characterized by what many termed the “RTO wars.” Entrenched baby boomer leaders wanted the workplace to return to post-pandemic norms, while many employees weren’t having it. Although a majority of organizations settled on a compromise of 2-3 days in the office per week, the RTO wars still exist.

But by 2030, millennial leaders are likely to have put an end to them. Rather, they will be more inclined to accept a reality that includes a variety of employment arrangements that are to some degree customized to each employee. These leaders will be comfortable with the constant change inherent in a rapidly evolving world and are likely to staff accordingly – creating project-based, time-bound teams from a variety of internal and external sources (retired part-timers, fractional executives, subject matter experts, etc.) as business needs require.

As time goes on, leaders will become more proficient in best practices for managing distributed and remote workforces. And millennials will be the first generation of leaders to successfully model effective work/life integration, with a holistic orientation toward work, family, and leisure.

Humility: Back in the 1970s, a management researcher named Robert Greenleaf proposed the notion of servant leadership, a style in which leaders display personal accountability and put the needs, aspirations, and interests of their followers above their own. Never has the concept of servant leadership been more relevant, as ManpowerGroup Chief Innovation Officer Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues that the challenges of this century mandate that leaders are selected on competence rather than confidence, humility rather than charisma, and integrity rather than narcissism.

In 2030, organizations will still be in the position of needing to pivot quickly if an established strategy isn’t working, which means that leaders will need to adopt an agile mindset, admit when they’re wrong, and solicit advice from a much wider range of stakeholders – including individual contributors deriving insights from AI-based tools – than they have in the past.

Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage one’s emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively, empathize with others, and defuse conflict. Like all roles in 2030, leadership ones will be redesigned so many tasks are performed by AI-based and automated components and are overseen by humans. The 2030 Leader will need skills such as judgment, intuition, persuasion, and creative problem-solving to ensure that their combined human and machine workforce achieves its highest potential. They will also need to engender a sense of psychological safety for the people in their organizations.

When it comes to EQ, women are a critical part of the equation, and we hope that 2030 will bring equal levels of men and women leaders. But as we reported in ManpowerGroup’s World of Work Outlook for Women in 2024 report, gender parity is still far from a reality. In 2023, for every 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager, just 87 women were promoted. This, along with the fact that they often desire more flexibility than their leaders are willing to give, is resulting in 60% of women considering leaving their current roles in 2024.

Global Perspective: In the 2030 economy, it will be hard to determine where one country’s jurisdiction ends and another begins, especially when it comes to issues involving AI regulation and guidelines. The 2030 Leader will be a citizen of the world, constantly seeking global points of view and localizing global strategies in a way that makes sense for individual nations and peoples.

In the newly created metaverse, 2030 leaders may have more opportunities to work in and with other cultures and engage directly with a complex web of customers, partners, competitors, and suppliers across the globe. A continued focus on sustainability and DEIB initiatives will need to be global in nature, with representation and input from all levels and functions of the organization and spanning all relevant geographies.

Technological Curiosity: Many leaders currently come to their positions without a technical background, but by 2030, applied technology skills (or understanding how to use emerging technologies in one’s specific role) will be required for everyone and especially for leaders. No longer just the purview of IT, AI-based enterprise systems will serve as the basis of every CEO’s dashboard and will be used daily in making high-level, insights-driven decisions.

The 2030 Leader will also be comfortable in experimenting with new technology themselves. For example, leaders who are tinkering with Microsoft Copilot and ChatGPT on their morning commutes today will set the stage for the 2030 Leader to embrace the more sophisticated offerings to come.

The command-and-control leadership model that was a hallmark of the 20th century is giving way to one that may be less stable and predictable but may be exponentially more exciting and rewarding. The 2030 Leader’s unique combination of advanced technical and human skills will be essential as our organizations move into an unknown future with the inevitable disruptions.

About the Author

Alexandra Levit is the founder and CEO of Inspiration at Work, a woman-owned futurist consulting business with the goal of preparing organizations and their employees to be competitive and marketable in the future business world. A nationally syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal who currently anchors The Workplace Report, Alexandra has authored several books, including the bestsellers "They Don’t Teach Corporate in College," "Humanity Works: Merging People and Technologies for the Workforce of the Future," and "Deep Talent: How to Transform Your Organization and Empower Your Employees Through AI." In addition to past assignments writing for the New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Time, U.S. News and World Report, and The Atlantic, Alexandra is also a frequent media spokesperson and is regularly featured in outlets such as National Public Radio and CNN. She was named an American Management Association Top Leader for two years in a row and has also been Money Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year. A member of the Northwestern University Council of 100, Alexandra received the prestigious Emerging Leader Award from her alma mater. The award honors a Northwestern graduate who has made a significant impact in her field and in society. She was also named to the Thinkers50's Radar. This global organization identifies the individuals developing the most compelling business and management ideas of our age. She resides in Chicago.

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