Modern Leadership Skills: What Skills do Modern Leaders Need Now, and How Will That Change in the Future?

At Purple Owl, we work with a lot of modern leaders through our training and development programmes. And, because we spend a lot of our time designing learning interventions for modern leaders, we’re constantly engaged in thinking about what a modern leader looks like and what they need to know.

So, that’s why we’ve written this article. In this piece, we’ll be examining what a modern leader needs to know to do their job well. This means looking into the skills and qualities that modern leaders need right now, as well as how to introduce them into your own leadership strategies.

We’re also taking a bit more of a forward-thinking approach, looking ahead at what the next 5-10 years look like for modern leadership trends. We’ll be making some predictions about the next in-demand skillsets as well as looking at how we can get there.

What skills do modern leaders need right now?

So, let’s start by looking at the skills and qualities that are most in-demand for modern leaders at the moment. Obviously, the last year or so has had a huge impact on the way that modern leaders need to work. But we think the pandemic has, for the most part, accelerated trends that were already present in terms of communication and digital adoption.

This means that the best leaders were already well placed to deal with the unique challenges that the last year has presented us with. And those that weren’t well placed quickly upskilled to meet the demand.

Focus on the right areas

When it comes to leadership, there are four main areas of priority where most activities or actions will fall. These are:

  • Improving results and outcomes
  • Working on compliance and standards
  • Developing the business
  • Developing your people.

Many businesses and leaders focus on the first two. However, it is actually the second two focus areas which drive progress in the first areas – you will improve outcomes by developing your people. Simply focusing on results without developing the business or your people may lead to some short-term progress but over time you’ll find the results start to slide back.

So, a key leadership skill is understanding where to focus your attention and efforts. While many businesses are drawn to the tangible, measurable focus areas of results and compliance, you’ll likely actually find yourself better off in the long run by focusing on developing the business and your people.

image is a diagram showing the four areas of priority for leadership activities

Blended leadership styles as a response to uncertain times

The modern leader needs the ability to use blended leadership styles as a response to uncertain times and the pace of change in the workplace. This means agility, emotional intelligence and related people skills are absolutely vital for the modern leader.

The ability to ascertain which leadership style the people in your team will respond to, understand why, and then communicate and lead effectively has never been more important.

Building a culture of trust

The modern leader absolutely needs to be able to build a culture of trust amongst their team. This means trust that works both ways – it’s not just about trusting your team to do the right thing, but also about building trust that your team have confidence in you to lead and make the right calls.

Of course, the last year has accelerated the importance of this trust, with teams being quickly moved in to remote working. But the truth is that it shouldn’t matter where your teams are working – it’s vital to build a culture of trust.

Commitment to lifelong learning

Making a commitment to lifelong learning is another essential quality for the modern leader. Again, this means committing to your own learning as well as making a commitment to encourage your team as much as possible to develop their own skills and abilities.

With the huge changes required in many industries due to the pandemic, we saw that teams with leaders who had already made a commitment to learning were far better able to quickly upskill and redeploy their efforts. Encouraging learning as much as possible leads to more agile and effective teams.

Open mode of communication

Another vital skill for the modern leader is communication. Specifically, this is about communicating openly and honestly to your team, giving them the right information at the right times and not holding back.

Modern leadership is all about communication. This doesn’t mean simply telling your team everything. It’s about being purposeful and precise with your comms, ensuring information is flowing freely and properly but also insulating your team from unnecessary negatives.

Think digital

Another example of a skill that’s been accelerated by the pandemic and the shift towards remote working. Thinking digital has been a trend amongst the best modern leaders for years, but over the last year everybody has had to contend with a shift towards online-only working and business practices.

Modern leaders embrace technology for the benefits it can bring to the workplace and the flexibility that it offers.

What does modern leadership look like in the next 5-10 years?

When it comes to the future, we again expect modern leadership to continue along some of the trends we’ve identified. Things like lifelong learning and digital first approaches will only become more important.

We’re also thinking about a general shift in management styles that we’ve identified over the last few years that we expect to see continue and accelerate. This shift is from a hierarchical approach to management towards more of a Branson/Jobs-type approach, where you “hire smart people, and let them tell you what to do”.

This shift is about inverting the pyramid. We don’t mean football tactics – we mean turning the hierarchy upside down. This means managers taking a step back from being autocratic leaders towards taking on a role of enabling others, managing communication and ensuring things are flowing.

This is a unique skillset in itself, and it’s a very different one to those previously demanded by managers and leaders. That’s why the methodology for our courses is always based around this modern leadership role, as we believe this set of skills and qualities is only going to get more and more important.

This change is partially due to the generational shift in attitudes towards careers and the workplaces. Where previously many would have had a single career, the current generation of managers and leaders likely had 2-3. And those entering the workplace today – the leaders of the future – may have as many as 8 different careers, proving the idea that while people used to seek out careers, today they are looking for experiences.

This makes it all the more important to upskill towards the modern leader to attract key young talent. This generation aren’t happy to stay around and be led by hierarchical management – they want to have impact, to design their own roles, and feel supported and enabled by their leadership teams.

How do we shift our leaders towards this new style?

So, now we’ve discussed where we are, and where we’re going – the final question is: how do we get there?

Well, the first thing to mention here is that at Purple Owl we believe that this change is already naturally happening. Tim Osborn, MD at Purple Owl, says “attrition rates will naturally mean that the new leaders will have been coached and developed”. The train has already left the station – it’s just perhaps going a little slowly.

In terms of development and learning, the journey here is about young leaders upskilling towards this new enablement role. It’s also about the current generation of leaders ensuring that they invest in a lifetime of learning and work on their own skills to meet the demand of the modern workforce.

It’s also about demystifying the idea of management and leadership. Being an effective leader is a role that can be learned, and where in the past some programmes perhaps tried to obfuscate the role with complex models, there has been a recent move towards going back to the basics of effective leadership: clear communication, trust, and emphasis on learning and enabling your team.

If you’re looking to develop modern leaders in your business, our Leadership Development Programme is the perfect solution. Featuring 12 modules covering what modern leaders need now as well as how to develop into the modern leaders of the future, it’s the ideal choice to demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning.

For more information, you can get in touch with us here.

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