Career

Three Leadership Traits Critical to the Future of Work

25 April, 2019
  • Sophia Powe

    Editor-in-Chief of Voice on Growth, International Region at Mercer

article-img
“Emotional intelligence and soft skills should become priorities for business leaders who wish to thrive in the future of work.”

The ongoing evolution of the global economy is a reflection of powerful changes occurring within the human population. Economies once historically sidelined by political headwinds, poor infrastructure and underutilized workforces are using digital technologies and access to interconnected resources to build unprecedented wealth and influence.

But growth economies are doing more than catching up with traditional markets. They're now leading profound changes in the future of work and throughout the global economy. India has surpassed the U.S. and Japan as the leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies;1 Latin America's once stalled economy expects stable growth throughout 2019;2 and the purchasing power of China's middle class has forever changed e-commerce and how consumers find, purchase and acquire products and services.3

Business leaders, understandably, can feel overwhelmed by the pace and scope of modern change and what it means for their organizations and workforce dynamics. These three leadership qualities can guide them to success in an uncertain future.

1. Demonstrate Emotional Intelligence & Soft Skills

 

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." — Maya Angelou

Leaders must be truthful to their own feelings while acknowledging the feelings of others. The era of lifetime employment and guaranteed pension plans is ending in many regions, which means employees around the world harbor fears about job security and long-term financial well-being. Moreover, Mercer's 2018 Global Talent Trends report shows that employees are increasingly searching for roles that allow them to work with purpose, putting additional pressure on leaders to connect with their workforce on a deeper level. Business leaders who internalize this reality and take meaningful steps to curtail their employees' anxieties command the respect of workers.

Candidness is the cornerstone of true communication. Leaders must actively develop their emotional intelligence (EQ) and soft skill quotients, so they can inspire individual employees and entire workforces by speaking to their emotions while always delivering the truth. Reality always prevails. People respect leaders who treat them with respect and prepare them with information that will impact their lives.

Emotional intelligence and soft skills should become priorities for business leaders who wish to thrive in the future of work. Being able to relate to the aspirations, sensibilities and challenges of other human beings requires a concerted effort to listen, understand and take action. As workforces, especially in growth nations, gravitate from rural areas to emerging megacities, leaders must proactively address their concerns about finding affordable childcare and transportation, accessing financial investment opportunities and pursuing professional development programs.

Soft skills allow leaders to communicate information instead of dictating information. This connection builds strong relationships and productivity among workers who then feel critical to the business' objectives and success. Because, in truth, they are. Genuine appreciation is a powerful motivator.

2. Have a Passion for Technology

 

Leaders who feel they have "made it" are doomed to irrelevance. The image of a business leader in a corner office with teams of employees to carry out their orders and promulgate their communications is becoming obsolete. Technology is always evolving, and business leaders cannot rely on others to fill the gap when it comes to proficiency with modern digital devices, platforms and strategies.

Learning new technologies takes time, and for many leaders, time is a precious commodity. Digital transformation, however, demands that business leaders passionately engage with developing technological innovations and trends that impact business operations, consumer engagement and sales strategies.

The future of work requires leaders to have the technical ability to communicate across the latest digital ecosystems and media channels. This acumen demonstrates their understanding of how technology is evolving and how it drives business in a hyper-interconnected world. Business leaders should regularly ask employees and outside vendors (and even competitors) to "show me" or "teach me," because these questions demonstrate a passion for learning and an emotional intelligence that appreciates the need to stay informed and relevant.

Being technologically savvy also allows leaders to connect the dots in terms of operational resources, workforce skillsets and the need to pivot priorities and growth investments. When in doubt, there is no shame in asking how to use the latest application or device. The future waits for no one.

3. Know All Growth is Global

 

Think about your smartphone. It probably contains lithium from Chile, indium from China and coltan from Rwanda.4 Even the most local business relies on the global economy, and leaders who can contextualize business opportunities with an international mindset are poised for success in the future of work.

In 2025, the world's population will reach 8.1 billion people — which represents a historic level of business opportunity, untapped markets and revenue sources waiting to be discovered.5 Growth is the result of forward-thinking initiatives that plan for where business is heading. As western economies continue to struggle with political turmoil — from the implementation of Brexit to uncertain U.S. international trade dynamics — growth economies can wield increased influence across all industries.

Growth-focused leaders, however, face the challenge of building consensus and securing buy-in from various stakeholders. From C-suite executives and employees to investors and shareholders, leaders must be able to communicate a vision and strategy that captures the potential of the future of work. Leaders must always think in terms of a globalized economy, because that is where the opportunity resides — in the hearts, minds and needs of an expanding population. This will continue to propel businesses in the future, so long as leaders provide a vision moving forward.

Growth economies offer business leaders more than lucrative sales markets. They provide valuable supply chains and investment opportunities in assets ranging from infrastructure and manufacturing to human capital and digital technologies. In a globalized world, the future of work belongs to leaders who understand that opportunities will come from economies on the rise and leaders who understand the influence EQ, technology and a global mindset will have on their ability to succeed.

1Some, Kamalika. "India Leads US and Japan in Driving RPA and AI Based Technologies." Analytics Insight, 2 Oct. 2018, https://www.analyticsinsight.net/india-leads-us-japan-driving-rpa-ai-based-technologies/.
2
"Latin America Outlook 3Q18." BBVA Research, https://www.bbvaresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Latin_America_Outlook_3Q18.pdf.
3
Riming, Nie. "How China's Middle Class Will Dictate the Future of E-Commerce." Sixth Tone, 16 Jan. 2018, https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1001560/how-chinas-middle-class-will-dictate-the-future-of-e-commerce.
4
Olingo, Allan. "Minerals in Your Mobile Phone." The East African, https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/business/Minerals-in-your-mobile-phone-/-/2560/2739730/-/xveeqw/-/index.html
5
Olson, Alexandra. "U.N.: World Population to Reach 8.1B in 2025." USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 13 June 2013, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/13/un-world-population-81-billion-2025/2420989/.

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Mustafa Faizani | 30 May 2019

There is no doubt that family businesses are prominent across the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in various industries. From small to renowned multinational corporations, family owned and managed companies are the foundation of the modern country. Many of these businesses have been in existence for five decades and still exist today. As the first-generation of individuals begin to step down, we're seeing a shift to second and third generation ownership. It is estimated that, in the Middle East, approximately $1 trillion in assets will be transferred to the next generation of family owned companies over the next decade.1 The transition from the first to the second generation, and increasingly, the second to third generation, will have tremendous implications on the sustainability and growth of these companies. As a result, legacy and succession planning are becoming an increasing concern for the region, as many businesses stand in a position to pass the baton over to the next generation. While existing leaders prefer to keep the business within the family, there are many challenges that can arise if there is no preparation done well in advance of the transition. This lack of preparation is common, as it's easy for leaders to be so involved in the day-to-day running of the business that they lose sight of longer-term, more strategic priorities. The penalty for failing to tackle leadership or ownership changes can be significant. Lack of a clear, strategic succession plan can cause disruption, conflict and uncertainty within the business, making it vulnerable to an acquisition or takeover. The long-term survival of a business and the preservation of the wealth that has been built, will likely depend on getting ahead of those changes through legacy and succession planning. Have a Strong Internal Talent Strategy   Planning can have many benefits. The priority is to ensure leadership continuity, which is an important factor in keeping employees engaged and ensuring retention. It also allows time to hire internal candidates for key positions, therefore avoiding the cost of external searches. Internal candidates know the organization better and tend to have a better chance of success than external hires. Additionally, promoting internally helps retain good people, because they see opportunities for growth and will stay on to pursue them. A strong talent strategy can also fill leadership positions quickly, not only avoiding the potential cost of unfilled positions and errors from a lack of leadership, but helping to circumvent legal consequences from potential missteps. Evaluate Your Operating Structure and Execute in Phases   Leaders often first look at the current reporting structure and organizational chart to evaluate who the next leader(s) may be. However, it is also important to think of an organization's operating structure and how it may change over time. Leaders must consider how functional activities will evolve as the business grows, while also looking at the experience of the shareholders during this significant change. These factors need to be reviewed before selecting the people who will take over the function. As part of this process, it's critical that succession planning is done in phases. Firstly, it is important to identify the roles critical to the business and the pool of successors that best fit the organization's requirements. Ensuring the right assessments to determine readiness levels can solidify the next generation of company leadership. Multiple assessments methods are suitable, including looking at historical measures of performance, 360 leadership behaviors tests and predictive measures of potential. Involve Executive Leadership   Lastly, executive leadership involvement is essential in the succession planning process. The organization's top leaders should be fully on board with the plan to bring in the next generation and meet frequently to discuss strategic talent management issues. The ultimate results of a business succession plan depend on the adherence and commitment to it from the organization. It requires a high level of engagement and continuous efforts to keep the succession moving forward over time, despite inevitable interruptions of operational needs and unexpected changes. To learn more about succession planning for family businesses, visit us here. 1Augustine, Babu, "Middle East's Family Businesses Get Serious on Sustainability" Gulf News, November 7, 2015,https://gulfnews.com/how-to/your-money/middle-easts-family-businesses-get-serious-on-sustainability-1.1614502.

John Benfield | 16 May 2019

Times are changing. The world is moving toward an ethical, long-term sustainable way of investing. Forward-looking governments are increasingly emphasizing the role of financial markets in fostering sustainable development. Investor demand for responsible investment (RI) solutions has increased significantly, as observed by the growth of assets being allocated to RI-related investments. Combined with the shift toward low-cost equity index tracking, this has led to an increase in the number of RI indices that are now available. We expect RI indices to become an important first step in integrating environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) considerations for many investors with existing passive or factor-based investments. At Mercer, we define Responsible Investment as the integration of ESG factors into investment management processes and ownership practices in the belief that these factors can have a material impact on financial performance. 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Studies and industry evidence have shown the benefits of integrating ESG factors on the company's long-term performance. For example, Deutsche Bank reviewed more than 100 academic studies in 2012 and concluded that companies with higher ESG ratings had a lower cost of capital in terms of debt and equity. Another study in 2015 by Hsu (Professor at the National Taichung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan) and Cheng (Professor at the National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan) found that socially responsible firms perform better in terms of credit ratings and have lower credit risk.3 With companies operating against the setting of public concerns around environmental and social issues, incorporating ESG considerations is now also considered best practice. Employees increasingly want to work for and invest in companies that make a positive environmental impact. Global initiatives and bodies, such as the CFA Institute, have highlighted the financial and reputational risks of not taking ESG considerations into account. While the GCC is beginning to understand the benefits of applying ESG, the region hasn't been too far from its concept. Sharia-compliant investing has been around for the last two decades. Both frameworks apply the negative screening approach and seek investments which provide a sustainable return. With the combination of ESG factors and Sharia screening, Islamic investors can improve investment performance while meeting social and environmental goals at the same time. As the UAE is now focusing on diversifying its investments, it can highly benefit from creating a responsible investing market and culture where strategy and processes go hand-in-hand as important steps for successful integration. When seeking sustainable growth, an additional layer of insight and oversight is extremely crucial to mitigate emerging risks, like climate change. To that end, implementing ESG assessments will help set clear KPIs and identify where and how projects generate value and mitigate risks associated with them. For example, Mercer applies an Investment Framework for Sustainable Growth with its clients, which distinguishes between the financial implications (risks) associated with environmental, social and corporate governance factors and the growth opportunities in industries most directly affected by sustainability issues. Measuring impact and mitigating risks has become increasingly important and represents a strong investment governance process. The benefits of adopting ESG are numerous. While the GCC has started with the implementation of ESG principles, more work still needs to be done in making sure governments are fully engaged with stakeholders, including investors, and strategies are aligned across the region. Regulatory pressures to meet global standards of ESG integration will only increase in the coming years. Instead of hiding from it, it is time for companies, investors and governments to come together and define a way of working that moves the GCC forward in terms of responsible investing and sustainable growth. 1Carvalho, Stanley, "Abu Dhabi To Invest $15 Billion in Green Energy," Reuters, January 21, 2008, https://www.reuters.com/article/environment-emirates-energy-green-dc/abu-dhabi-to-invest-15-billion-in-green-energy-idUSL2131306920080121 2Energy and Environment Park:Setup Your Company In Enpark, UAE Freezone Setup, https://www.uaefreezonesetup.com/enpark-freezone 3Chen, Yu-Cheng and Hsu, Feng Jui, "Is a Firm's Financial Risk Associated With Corporate Social Responsibility?"Emerald City, 2015, https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/MD-02-2015-0047

Danielle Guzman | 16 May 2019

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A recent report by the World Economic Forum outlines the 10 skills humans will need to create value in an increasingly automated world, and it's a great reminder that peoplemust remain the focus if we're to build anything that works in the future of work.1 Tamara McCleary, Founder and CEO of Thulium, summarized this point well in a recent conversation we had: "If we are distracted by all that glitters with the promise of a frictionless future with AI, then we will surely miss the mark. While technology may be an economic accelerator in the future of work, people are still the core drivers of sustained productivity." 2. When AI Is Everywhere, People Will Still Go Somewhere   Everyone's familiar with the dystopic tomorrow-lands depicted in literature and film: techno-centric, automated megacities serviced by an army of robots where people are undervalued. This is not how I envision the future of work. The proliferation of AI may mean some jobs will be automated, but those displaced workers still represent remarkable potential to cities, employers and economies. McKinsey estimates that disruption from digital transformation, automation and AI will force approximately 14% of the global workforce — 375 million workers — to find new career directions.2 However, as the economy of the future becomes less murky and reskilling/upskilling becomes a staple of every career path, there will be a massive scramble to find talent to plug newly created roles in the workforce. This new economy is why people-skills will be so sought after in the future of work, according to April Rudin, CEO and Founder of The Rudin Group. "AI will be a tool to empowerhumans instead of replace them, enabling people to spend time on the things they do best: making relationships, exercising judgment, expressing empathy and using their problem-solving skills." Those cities that remain people-focused will be the ones with talent on-hand, and they'll be the ones to succeed. 3. A Clean Start Provides a Leg Up   Think about the investment that today's economic powerhouses have made in their broader commercial infrastructure. Think about public transportation systems, electrical and IT networking, private development and public zoning districts. Billions of pounds, dollars, yen, renminbi, rupees, euros and more spent on getting those cities ready for the economy of today. How will those investments pay off in the future of work? Today's emerging megacities are "unencumbered by the legacy systems of their larger and more established brethren," according to Mercer's People-First research. While it may require massive investment to install the building blocks of a future-focused economy, there's none of the wasted expense or necessary compromise that comes with retrofitting an outmoded city for the tech-enabled future. Those cities can focus time and resources on building attractive, people-centric cities where employees will want to live, work and raise families in the future. "It's hard to fathom the competitive advantage a modern, mass transportation system gives a city," says Walter Jennings, CEO of Asia Insights Circle. "When economic reforms started in China, Shenzhen was a fishing village of 50,000 people. Today, there are estimates of 12–16 million residents." What's Next?   Let's return to the city planner. You're overlooking your parcel of land, and you're trying to envision the ideal city of the future. We may not know the street names, but we have a better sense of the guiding principles for your soon-to-be booming metropolis. I leave you with my three takeaways, just one lens through which to explore the opportunities which lay ahead with people, technology and the emerging megacities that will power global growth. 1. Build your city (or company) around people. 2. Don't discard valuable assets. There will always be a place for good talent in good places. 3. Look for what will carry you into the future, not what's carried others in the past. 1Desjardins, Jeff, "The Skills Needed to Survive the Robot Invasion of the Workplace," Visual Capitalist, June 27, 2018, https://www.visualcapitalist.com/skills-needed-survive-robot-workplace/. 2Illanes, Pablo, Lund, Susan, Mourshed, Mona, Rutherford, Scott and Tyreman, Magnus, "Retraining and Reskilling Workers in the Age of Automation," McKinsey Global Institute, January 2018, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/retraining-and-reskilling-workers-in-the-age-of-automation  

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