In the span of a few months, even days, we’ve seen how quickly our ways of working can evolve. And with the rapid development of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, comes even more potential and uncertainty for the future of work. However, while we do not know exactly what tomorrow’s jobs will look like, we can start preparing today.
As a business school, it is our challenge to prepare tomorrow’s leaders by helping our students develop their leadership capacities and their understanding of the meaning of work, of social contribution, of the values which drive them and which underpin their societal obligations, preparing them to make a positive impact and create a society which is fairer, more sustainable and more innovative.
While we may not be able to predict exactly what the future of work will look like, we know that it will be heavily influenced by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), robotics, virtual and augmented reality. So rather than attempting to identify what jobs lie ahead, consulting experts Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz propose an alternative approach designed to identify the essential skills of future leadership, which they call future-back thinking.
By applying this approach, we’ve determined several of the essential skills that will help current and future leaders prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, and structured them around three imperatives. Not only will these skills help us be better leaders, but they may also transform our future, creating a virtuous cycle.
To prepare for tomorrow, leaders must:
01. Adapt & multiply skills
This first imperative concerns managerial and technical disciplines, the skills that an entire organisation needs to develop in order to create value for customers and now stakeholders. They have traditionally been based on the managerial functions of organisations – strategy, marketing, sales, production, innovation, human resources, communication, accounting, management control, finance, logistics and information system technologies.
But today we are seeing an evolution of firms: organisations are less U-shaped (hierarchical) or M-shaped (matrix), more P-shaped (platform). While the ‘technical’ fundamentals probably remain the same, it will be necessary to have increased multi-specialisations and multi-skills, which take into account future impacts and issues such as the ecological transition and cyber-physical systems. For example, in order to apply for a financial position, a candidate will need to be proficient in green finance, embedded systems, ethics and compliance, while also being comfortable in a multicultural environment and teleworking situation.
For each business role, competencies will no longer be assessed only vertically, but also transversally. They will have to be continuously adapted and turned into agile skills for the creative solution of complex problems. In the face of uncertainty, creativity, technical innovation and managerial innovation are top priorities. And we must not forget the future impact of cyber-physical systems (CPS) which will enable autonomous, agile and adaptable production to be piloted according to external conditions. Technical and technological intelligence will then need to be mobilised across business functions, particularly in relation to the learning of ABCDE skills (AI, Big Data, CPS, Design, Ecology).
02. Develop interpersonal, cultural, emotional & social intelligence
Increasing fundamental interpersonal skills is a second imperative in preparing for the new leadership. This is a matter of developing multiple aptitudes. Examples might include the capacity to show resilience in the face of adversity, or to handle different cultural and interpersonal situations arising at work, negotiation, communication with stakeholders, networking, and of course the ability to motivate and galvanise a multicultural team.
In order to master these aptitudes, managers must have a good grasp of associated concepts such as power, respect and trust in different cultural contexts. The current crisis has made it more important than ever to learn how to form interpersonal bonds remotely. Social bonding is all the more necessary since the role of future leaders will be to create, federate and steer communities of leaders within their organisations.
Above and beyond human relationships, the future will see us increasingly cooperating and interacting with robots, a new form of relational aptitude. When facial recognition technology is capable of using artificial intelligence in order to identify the emotions expressed by individuals, computers’ capacity to understand and learn about human interaction in a multicultural environment will also be improved.
03. Strengthen decision-making skills
Making decisions is one of the fundamental requirements of leadership. How do we make decisions of strategic importance – such as whether or not to buy a tech firm – without making mistakes?
In practice, it appears that a decision is often based on a systemic, analytical and intuitive approach. The former Dean of London Business School, Sir Andrew Likierman, reminds us that “judgement is the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form an opinion and make decisions.” In his view, good judgement is founded upon six fundamental components: learning, confidence, experience, detachment, options and deliverables.
Going beyond skills, we must rewire our mindset to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead
These elements demonstrate the importance of a well-rounded attitude, critical judgement and a sense of perspective. It therefore seems essential and necessary to work on boosting discernment, i.e. the capacity to distinguish and evaluate in a lucid, informed manner. In a world where big data and crises collide, with fake news running rampant, the ability to determine the truthfulness of data and information is of primary importance. For example, the 17 April 2020 edition of the New York Times reported conspiracy theories suggesting that Bill Gates had advance notice of the upcoming pandemic and used that information to invest in and promote vaccination solutions involving microchips. This rumour was mentioned more than 1.2 million times on social media and television broadcasts between February and April.
In the meantime, our rapidly changing world requires us to make faster and better decisions. It is thus in developing the right reflexes and foundations that we may allow ourselves to quickly move beyond the perception of things to a more nuanced judgement of the situation. The path to tomorrow’s jobs is paved with many choices. In this environment, the real obstacle we face is not a lack of technological knowledge but our own fear of change. Changing that attitude is the first step towards acquiring new skills that will prepare us for the future.