The Future of Leadership in 2022 and Beyond
There are seemingly as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. Leadership training is an industry unto itself, and probably the most definitive thing to be said is that there’s more than one way to lead effectively (and far more than one way to fail).
As with nearly every other facet of business and life in general, leaders have been forced by the pandemic to adapt. They’ve learned that leading remotely is an even bigger challenge than leading in person, and many a boss has had to discover new reserves of tolerance and patience as employees have juggled work with home schooling and other personal challenges.
What seems certain is that the leader of 2022 and beyond will require a more rounded skill set than in the past.
Who’s a Leader?
In the past, leaders were often viewed similarly to the general sending troops into battle (while staying safely behind the lines himself). And while military scenarios have provided more than their share of leadership lessons good and bad, today’s leader is more likely to be alongside her troops getting her hands dirty, so to speak.
This trend is reflected in the cottage industries that have sprouted around servant leadership and even followership. The servant leader has the mindset of serving his or her subordinates rather than barking out orders from above, the ultimate goal being the betterment of the organization.
The concept of followership blurs the lines even further. While largely addressing the actions and mindset of those in subordinate roles, followership maintains that they have a role in leadership as well. While leaders may have personal power, effective followers have the positional power that comes from the fact that the organization is dependent on the work they accomplish.
Taken together, that all signals a trend away from traditional command-and-control leadership to a group effort. So if followers can lead and leaders can follow, what does the leadership of the future look like?
The Leader of the Future
Defining the leader of the future turns out to be just as tricky as defining the leader of the past, and maybe more so. As noted above, the pandemic called for new levels of empathy and flexibility, and those terms crop up often in predictions of tomorrow’s leadership qualities.
The pandemic also accelerated the trend towards an increasingly digital world. Technical competency is a must-have for leaders, with one Forbes article suggesting that the future leader should be a ‘technology teenager.’ That is to say that while a leader doesn’t necessarily need to be a subject matter expert in any given IT discipline, they should embrace technology as a whole and actively seek ways to leverage tech for the betterment of their organizations.
That same article suggests that the future leader will be a chef (balancing the ingredients of humanity and technology appropriately) and an explorer (embracing the unknown, open to new ways of doing things), among many other roles.
All that adds up to a whole lot of different hats to wear, an intimidating thought. But take heart: not everything about leadership is changing.
Enduring Leadership Qualities
Whether branded with the ‘servant leader’ tag or not, good leaders have always operated with the well-being of their subordinates in mind. Though perhaps magnified by the pandemic, that’s not likely to change.
Good leaders will still be good coaches. The means and methods may change as the remote work environment persists, but people still need the encouragement and direction offered by effective leaders.
And perhaps most enduring of all: Leaders in the past, present and future must demonstrate integrity, trustworthiness and the overall character that inspires others to follow. All the technology in the world simply will not compensate for unethical leadership.
The pandemic will not be the last challenge leaders face, but it has certainly provided a test and a stark reminder that in leadership there will always be a premium put on the ability to adapt and evolve. Those facets of leadership have never been more important.