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It's no secret that the ability to spot and nurture leadership is key to business success, but as technology continues to revolutionise the way we live, work and lead, are companies fully equipped for what lies ahead?

In this report we delve into the key challenges impacting senior leadership today, examine the trends shaping the future of leadership (revealing how to prepare for them) and then get to grips with the tricky transition from people manager to business leader.

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Is the talent pipeline a pipe dream?

Future-proofing your business is critical to success – a new Irish leadership initiative, Leading Ireland’s Future Together (LIFT), carried out a national survey and found that 52% of respondents chose 'honesty and integrity as among the top three attributes of good leadership.'

For many organisations, a lack of leadership skills is affecting their ability to achieve their goals. Despite this, the majority of organisations struggle to identify future leaders within their business – when speaking with some of our clients on this, the majority told us this in fact. This struggle is defined by a lack of planning and understanding, particularly when it comes to:

Developing an active succession planning programme (many businesses do not currently have an established programme in place).
Understanding the challenges facing future business leaders.
Offering employees leadership training ahead of appointments. According to the Institute of Directors (Ireland),74% of organisations cite the availability of talent with key skills as an obstacle to them achieving their projected business growth.
Defining the expected behaviours of leaders versus managers.
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To add to these internal challenges, there are external powers at play.
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It's a brave new world

As the world we live in becomes progressively global, leaders' ability to adapt to, motivate and mobilise multi-culturalism, is crucial. Workforces are increasingly diverse and on the move: last year, TheJournal.ie reported that up to April 2017, 25,000 graduates left Ireland to work abroad. That’s a significant 15% increase on the 12 months prior.

A brave new world
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Working patterns

Working patterns are shifting

As flexible working impacts traditional working patterns and structures, and leaders contend with competing priorities and growing complexity of processes and systems, even basic management tasks can become difficult to perform.

Working patterns
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And then there's digitalisation 2.0

Digital is no longer an emerging concept, it's an embedded business practice – businesses need to identify leaders with the abilities to navigate in a digital world, and this is not without its challenges.

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So those are the current challenges facing business leaders, but what does the future look like?

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Leading tomorrow's world
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Rapid technological developments, evolving customer needs, and changing attitudes towards work-life balance are giving way to a radical transformation of leadership as we know it today.

To help us understand the key forces influencing leadership expectations, we gaze into the future with trend predictors Foresight Factory and get to grips with how leaders can future-proof their skills.

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Future force 1:


Where are we now?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – in which we find ourselves – will continue to bring change at an unprecedented speed and scale. The impact of previous waves of mass-mechanisation was more concentrated to specific industries and specific social groups; the level of automation facing us today promises to have a much wider impact across sectors, on both white and blue-collar jobs.

Looking to the future: 2020 and beyond

We will see robotics reduce the number of jobs available to the human workforce. The projected pace of potential change will place pressure on the labour market to create new jobs where possible, and on society as a whole, as we adjust to new ways of working.
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Employees will have to be proactive in continuously updating their skill sets to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive and volatile job market. In the future, skills will be flexibly learnt, upgraded and discarded as new skills become necessary. Flexible upskilling will become a key part of career progression.

What does this mean for future leadership?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution holds tremendous potential, but the crucial question is how can business leaders avoid widespread redundancies, low productivity and inequality? The answer is by taking incremental action to support staff in regularly updating their skill sets through continuous training opportunities and providing flexible career options within their organisation.
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A key challenge will be adapting leadership styles to successfully combine a human/robot workforce. The ideal scenario? Utilising technological innovations to increase productivity while simultaneously complementing important traits of human nature – creativity, empathy, innovation, and imagination. Leaders in the future will be expected to not only juggle but effectively exploit the benefits of this human/machine intelligence combination.

The rise of the robots
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Future force 2:

Mind matters

The rise of the robots

Where are we now?

Constant connectivity is resulting in a night-time colonised by work tasks and disruption of the conventional nine to five working day. According to the Deloitte’s Global Mobile Consumer Survey 2017, 90% of Irish adults have a smartphone, up from 86% in 2016, and 71% now have access to a tablet, up from 64%. Quite simply, increased access and excessive usage have opened the floodgates for workers to be connected almost 24/7.

Looking to the future: 2020 and beyond

We expect to see a degree of polarisation. Work-life balance will become outmoded, as full work-life integration becomes the dominant model. We anticipate work always being accessible, with leisure pursuits chosen due to the opportunity that they present to teach new skills or develop commercial identities. For others, the need to switch off, to compartmentalise and to 'digitally detox' will remain. This tension will persist even as technology itself becomes less intrusive, and leaders of the future must learn to adjust accordingly.
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As the demands of a fast-paced and constantly connected labour market become even greater, workforce health (both mental and physical) will come under greater scrutiny. Holistic approaches to health management will become more expected, accepted and ingrained in the leadership mindset as businesses attempt to combat modern pressures. More and more, health and productivity will come to be associated with the mental state of employees, in addition to their physical wellbeing.

What does this mean for future leadership?

Leaders will need to be aware of, and adjust to, the potential psychological pressures associated with constant work-based connectivity, both as individuals and as an example for their employees. Leaders will also be expected to be more emotionally sensitive and prioritise mental health while exhibiting extensive emotional control and mental optimisation. This skill will be highly valued. As these pressures continue to mount, we expect this balancing act to be an intensifying priority for future leaders.

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Future force 3:

Leadership Live

It is increasingly expected that leaders lead both within an organisation and outside of it, through the medium of their online leadership brand – collecting an engaged community of followers whom they lead but don't employ. To these people, they play the role of thought leader, influencer and inspirer.

Looking to the future: 2020 and beyond

Social media sites have provided a leadership platform to increase visibility both inside and outside of organisations. They are already evolving to be more authentic and real-time through functionalities such as Instagram Stories and Facebook Live, and with immersive technologies like augmented, virtual reality developing rapidly, our demand for authentic interaction with those we admire will intensify accordingly.
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In the future, we will witness these communities host smaller interest-focused groups of people within broader platforms. This will give way to a world of micro-influence, where people are able to find and follow leaders who are experts in a highly-specific niche, and become a member of an often small but highly engaged group..

What does this mean for future leadership?

Leaders will have to adapt to a more authentic approach to online image management to meet follower demand. There will be a growing need for a more casual style of leadership, where interactions have to be (or at least, appear) unscripted and genuine. Leadership in this context will diversify as this micro-influence grows in prominence. Leaders should isolate the highly-specific niche within which they can lead, and build a community around this specific interest.

The rise of the robots
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Future force 4:

Entrepreneurial endeavour

The rise of the robots

Creativity, innovative problem-solving, and entrepreneurial spirit are all assigned high levels of social capital in today's corporate world. Start-up culture, with its emphasis on experimentation and pivots, is beginning to permeate the corporate mainstream in aspiration as well as action. However, a widespread re-definition of risk, brought about by a culture of relative financial uncertainty seen over the past decade, is driving a culture of risk aversion amongst both employers and employees. We might aspire to be entrepreneurial, but continue to seek the security of a monthly pay check.

Looking to the future: 2020 and beyond

Amongst bigger corporations, we expect to see a growing culture of intra-preneurialism flourish. Corporations will support their employees in entrepreneurial activities, providing them with the time, space and independence required to develop creative endeavours. We will begin to see an increasing number of ‘Entrepreneur in Residence' job titles or initiatives, where time is set aside for people to pursue their own projects.

What does this mean for future leadership?

Leadership styles must evolve to manage a more creative and independent workforce. This will have structural and operational implications, as leaders grapple with a growth in the number of employees who will seek leadership in the non-traditional sense.
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We anticipate the gradual decline of formal hierarchies within organisations; enabling the desire for independence and collaboration, as leaders are increasingly seen as part of, not apart from, the group. Supporting a culture of entrepreneurial spirit and creativity will require flexibility and aspirational guidance over structural leadership.

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Leadership redefined

Unprecedented technological advancements coupled with rapidly evolving consumer and employee needs, call for a major revision of the concept of leadership. In the future, leadership will be defined by balancing numerous identities – inspirer, coordinator and champion of those who work for, and with them. Are you and your business ready?

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Now we know what's on the horizon, let's dive into what managers today need to do to ready themselves for leadership positions now and in the future.
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Manager VS. Leader

Too often organisations neglect to differentiate between managers and leaders. The result? Potentially disastrous. Without setting clear expectations, defining the right skill sets for leadership roles and creating a model for succession planning, businesses will struggle to find suitable candidates.

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What is the difference between a manager and a leader? We put their key behaviours and skills head to head.

Leader vs. Manager

Manager: Performance development

Leverages individual and team strengths to delegate tasks effectively.

Continually builds knowledge of how to develop staff and help the team achieve business objectives.

Finds and drives solutions to improve efficiency and work outcomes.

Leader: Talent development

Proactively identifies, develops and retains quality talent within the organisation

Focuses on how to best structure the team to create the most productive and inclusive culture possible

Has a strong drive to develop others and nurture a culture of self-improvement

Future transition tip: As continuously updating skills becomes increasingly critical in an ever-competitive job market, making the move from manager to leader will require an acute knowledge of how to develop talent through continuous training opportunities. Retaining talent by providing flexible career options within the organisation will be paramount.

Manager: Proactive decision-making

Efficient prioritisation of both individual and team objectives

Takes ownership from the outset to gather information in order to make informed decisions

Always aware of commercial information relating to the business and considers all aspects when making decisions

Leader: Empowering decision-making

Always considering how initiatives and projects can benefit more than just one business area

Empowers teams to make decisions that support the growth of the business, beyond their immediate responsibilities

Investigates different viewpoints by actively seeking out open discussions with others, including senior stakeholders

Future transition tip: The ability to encourage an entrepreneurial culture, and empower others to make decisions that improve the everyday (and more importantly, beyond), will become a must-have when transitioning from manager to leader.

Manager: Organisational credibility

Takes a risk-averse approach to ensure that outcomes are delivered as expected

Has a balanced and appropriate attitude and demeanour in all situations; treating others with respect

Actively delivers and focuses on an ethical and fair outcome at all times

Leader: Commercial strategy

Anticipates how long-term trends in the markets, economy and technology will impact the business

Develops ambitious business plans which link directly to creating competitive advantage and leveraging all team members' skills

Willing to take risks and break rules with the understanding that it is natural to encounter problems and hurdles when pursuing a vision

Future transition tip: With technology bringing a rapid and unprecedented rate of disruption, honing the ability to take risks, adapt to change and foresee implications for customers and employees alike will be critical to becoming a successful leader.

Manager: Seeks stability

Drives a consistent approach and outlook irrespective of challenges or issues being faced

Actively embraces different situations as they arise in a positive way and promotes learning from mistakes

Establishes stretch targets to drive consistent high-quality output and deliverables

Leader: Drives change

Proactively assumes responsibility for owning and driving change opportunities forward in all situations

Creates an environment where others are encouraged to innovate and openly rewards creativity in others

Leads by example: encouraging others to find creative solutions to business challenges

Future transition tip: With creativity such a crucial principle of business today, to be a successful leader, you need to feel comfortable at fast failing in start-up-style and be able to encourage employees to innovate and come to the table with what's next and new.

Manager: Endorses an open culture

Gives ongoing and constructive feedback to others and provides ideas and support for continual improvement

Consistently interacts with others to build a clear understanding of their motivations and values

Approachable and regularly seeks and welcomes feedback and input; acting upon it positively and appropriately

Leader: Shapes an inspirational culture

Creates an environment where all individuals in the team feel able to proactively contribute to and shape the business strategy

Continually inspires team members and colleagues to excel and share their opinions

Under pressure is still able to develop business/personal plans and make decisions based on calculated risks

Future transition tip: Becoming a leader will require the ability to inspire creativity on a daily basis, with guidance but not necessarily structure (due to the need for flexible business operations). For more leadership tips, visit the Growing your career section of our career advice centre.