Tomorrow's leaders will face a very different set of business challenges than those faced by the leaders of today. Case in point: As my team and I discovered while researching Lead With Your Heart, the next 10 years will bring more change than the prior 10,000, thanks to exponential advances in science and technology. Likewise, with more than 56 million millennials suddenly part of the labor pool, they're now the single largest generation in the workforce, with 9 million members of Generation Z (their successors) following close behind, according to Pew Research Center. Both generations are coming of age in times of unprecedented upheaval, and these sea changes point to an increasing need for organizations to fundamentally rethink the way they do business—and reconsider the way they train and prepare future leaders to tackle tomorrow's marketplace. (Not to mention a reminder that the skills needed to succeed tomorrow will be vastly different than those required today.) Happily, for enterprises of every size, preparing tomorrow's leaders to greet the challenges the future holds doesn't have to be particularly costly or difficult when you apply a few simple shifts in thinking.
In a business environment that moves as quickly and unpredictably as today's commercial world, the way things “have always been done" is no longer the best way to do them. Successfully equipping tomorrow's leaders with the tools and talents they need to thrive amidst constant disruption instead begins with realizing that in an age of growing uncertainty, traditional training methods are becoming increasingly outdated. Rather than teach familiar approaches to solving familiar challenges, we should instead be teaching future leaders how to improvise, innovate and apply novel problem-solving strategies to adapt to a world of unfamiliar challenges and unexpected events. As the World Economic Forum points out, cultivating non-traditional talents such as soft skills, critical thinking and empathy will become increasingly important to creating the leaders of tomorrow going forward as a result. But as market research firm Gartner also reminds us, just 20% of employees currently boast the abilities needed to succeed in their current and future job roles. It's a problem that employers can solve by taking a predictive, market-driven approach to identifying in-demand skills; connecting employees to skill-building opportunities outside their job role; and showing them how doing so can benefit their career.
That said, if you want to connect with the leaders of tomorrow, let alone influence them to make positive changes, it's important to note that they are driven by different goals and motivations than current generations. Things to keep in mind when looking for better ways to connect with and inspire tomorrow's leaders include the fact that they will:
- Want to work for forward-thinking businesses that encourage people to speak up and be more creative and collaborative on the job, as well as proactive about applying clever solutions.
- Desire greater direction, feedback and mentorship in their careers, including more frequent opportunities to advance and progress into different and more challenging roles within the organization.
- Demand clearer, more well-defined goals and lots of interesting assignments to tackle, especially those that convey new talents and experience, and provide springboards to additional opportunities.
- Require visible opportunities to make a difference in their organization, industry, and community, and work hand-in-hand with colleagues to tackle challenges more effectively through teamwork.
Keeping these caveats in mind, also note that future generations of leaders prefer to learn by doing, rendering interaction and simulation among your most effective tools for training them—not instructional classes, guides or videos. For some organizations, this means having to prepare future leaders for tomorrow's challenges by proactively rotating workers through a revolving door of job roles and responsibilities. For others, it requires leveraging tools such as computer simulation, virtual reality, and 360-degree video solutions to better engage these audiences. But most of all, the process of inspiring the leadership of tomorrow requires teaching working professionals to comport themselves more like intrapreneurs—entrepreneurial thinkers working internally to invent new and novel ways to benefit the organization.
Preparing tomorrow's leaders to greet the challenges the future holds doesn't have to be particularly costly or difficult when you apply a few simple shifts in thinking.
Luckily, there are many ways to teach innovation and creativity in practice. For instance, one of the world's most successful consumer technology companies regularly holds creative competitions where employees are invited to create products in a handful of days to help them acquire critical thinking skills, which also helps the organization to identify prospective leadership candidates. Likewise, a leading scientific association provides its members with social platforms where emerging leaders can quickly connect and collaborate with fellows (and peers in other fields) to identify and explore new areas for innovation. Still more enterprises work to inspire tomorrow's leaders, and instill an innovative mindset in them, by holding internal conferences and learning events and constantly challenging employees to consider new ways of thinking and doing business.
As you can see, training tomorrow's business leaders isn't always a straightforward exercise in technical application or management theory. More often than not, it's an iterative process that demands collaboration and creativity, and invites individuals to apply more spontaneous ways of thinking. Take the time to apply similar shifts in strategy to your training programs, and you can be better equipped to attract and retain the leaders of tomorrow. You'll also help give them all the tools and insights that they'll need to consistently succeed in the face of growing competition, and great change as well.
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