Leadership 2020: the new skills needed

With 2020 ushering in the new decade, leaders, emerging or established, are looking at challenges never imagined before, says research by Accenture:

  • Climate change. 65% of CEOs agree that they need to look at the effects of their businesses/ growth, on the environment and natural resources.
  • Economic fragility. 87% of CEOs believe that global economic systems need to shift focus towards equality. Why? Because 10% of the world’s population enjoys over 50% of the world’s wealth.
  • Automation potential. As AI takes over, one device and program at a time, where is the edge in our human skills? To what extent and with what urgency do we need to upskill?
  • The risk of leaving people behind. Investment in technologies doubled between 2017-2019, but only 18% of organizations plan to increase spending to reskill their people in the next three years.

It might sound grim. But it is also real. What do leaders need to do to counter these challenges? Here are some concrete ideas:

  1. Practice empathy. This speaks to being human. Of tapping into our imagination and our ability to experience emotions. It is about people over profits. And Satya Nadella has demonstrated it well. In 2014, shortly after becoming CEO, he was asked to advise women who didn’t feel comfortable asking for a raise. He gave an answer, but soon regretted it. Hours later, he wrote to his team that he had “answered that question completely wrong.” Here, he made an effort to combat unconscious bias and demonstrated the courage to admit a mistake, thus paving the way for an organizational culture where people could express themselves without fear.
  1. Stakeholder inclusion. Complicated as it sounds, this refers to the ability to think of the needs of a range of stakeholders and make business decisions to safeguard their interests. Hearing different perspectives, hiring for diversity, contextualizing products, etc, are all ways to cater to such inclusion. It’s about building trust and being accountable. Ask yourself, what real problem is your business solving out there? How is it helping? If the answer to this isn’t clear, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. As Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer at Accenture, says, “Organizations have the obligation now to drive growth in tandem with positive social and environmental outcomes.”
  1. Intellect and insight. Continuous learning has become more important now than ever before, as the challenges we deal with keep shifting and we need to find newer paths to success. Our current work environment calls for balancing two skills – using data to make decisions and using the human ability to think critically and challenge conventional approaches. Singapore-based bank UOB is equipping employees to do this and deal with the requirements of a digital future, through a program called ‘Better U’, where they train all their employees, irrespective of age or designation, on the latest technology so they remain employable.

Accenture, through its research, is rallying for such leadership skills amongst a few others, and calling it the model for responsible leadership in the 21st century. What do you think of it?

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