This week’s article was originally published by Maureen Metcalf for Forbes Coaches Council on September 14, 2021.  It is a companion to the year-end trends discussion with Christopher Washington on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leadership Trends for Future-Ready Leaders in 2022 and Beyond that aired on Tuesday, December 28th, 2021.

Uncertainty is the norm across all realms of our work and home lives. However, this uncertainty is different depending on professional roles and personal living conditions. This year’s trends report points out key trends we anticipate continuing and some recommendations to address these trends.

We keep reading that we face unprecedented change and live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. We have been talking about this for a few years now, and people are looking for the new norm. The summary: VUCA is the new norm. We need to rethink how we lead and structure our businesses and lives for our people, organizations and communities to thrive. Most of us have mental models reflecting slower change and less complexity. It is time to update those models. Old models generate increasingly suboptimal decision-making and action.

We as leaders need to rethink who we are and how we lead, becoming future-ready. We need to reevaluate every facet of how we lead and conduct business. We need to celebrate what works and continually adjust what doesn’t work. Analysis and adjustment need to be part of our leadership habits. Many of us get personal annual health checks, but we may not have a similar schedule to update our thinking and behavior as leaders.

Trend 1: Business models need to focus not only on delivering results but also on building the capacity of the people and the organization and meeting the needs of a broad stakeholder group. This business model shift will include increased technology for some organizations, including robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning. For others, it will mean changes in buying policies, from procurement to increasing stock levels to managing supply chain uncertainty. Many companies, especially funders, focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards; more companies will adopt an ESG focus moving forward. In addition to ESG, we see an increased emphasis on engineering sustainability in all aspects of the enterprise and moving toward becoming a circular company with a zero-waste emphasis.

Trend 2: We are changing the nature of work with workplaces becoming more experimental and data-driven. To build the capacity to adapt, organizations will continue to take a mindset of experimentation in all facets of product development, process change, technology updates, culture change and people leadership and management to meet stakeholder needs better. Therefore, we need to continue to refine our mindsets and how we work so we can shift what we do and how we do it.

Trend 3: The uncertainty causes challenges across the business landscape. One of the most significant impacts is the mental health of our people. Depression and anxiety are high across all demographics and ages. According to the CDC in April 2021: “During August 2020–February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, and the percentage of those reporting unmet mental health care needs increased from 9.2% to 11.7%. Increases were largest among adults aged 18–29 years and those with less than a high school education.”

The mental and neurological health impacts of Covid-19 are far from over. Many people will navigate effectively during Covid-19 then struggle upon their return to their prior routines. They may have risen to the occasion to deal with the pandemic, but they may still feel the long-term implications for several years. Leaders and organizations need to create environments that support the mental and physical health of their people. They need to begin considering the neurological impacts and look at how to build neurological resilience.

Trend 4: Organizations will continue to experience a shortage of qualified employees. Organizations need to reskill and upskill their workforces and prepare for a more adaptive and team-based environment. As the nature of work changes, we need to help employees build additional hard and soft skills required to thrive.

The pandemic disproportionately impacted women’s participation in the workforce. We will see a structural impact for years to come unless leaders adopt policies and workforce practices that ease the social burden and help re-integrate women into the workforce. Additionally, young people face disruption to their education and, in many cases, a difficult entry into early career opportunities impacting their education, employability and retention. Additionally, many employees are unwilling to return to jobs that expose them to the public or do not align with their goals.

Companies and communities need to revisit their talent development and retention policies and amenities to match employee expectations. Creating paths for people who were not previously considered part of the workforce will be crucial to meet workforce needs and provide meaning and economic opportunities for people who need them, ranging from people with disabilities to people within the traditional retirement age. In addition, organizations must find avenues to retrain and upskill employees and create flexible working opportunities for more part-time and remote work for the broad employee base.

Trend 5: Climate change will cause geographic migration. The climate volatility will force businesses to reconsider their physical location over the next decade. This trend connects to ESG and circular business models. As leaders, we will also need to consider where we build new facilities and where we expand operations.

Trend 6: New technology and mindsets continue to mitigate our current challenges and create opportunities never before imagined. We see opportunities we never imagined. Science is curing diseases; technology addresses challenges from food insecurity to labor shortages; and leaders across the globe are collaborating to address social and climate issues. We need to ensure we can optimize the benefit of solutions as quickly as possible.

We are living in a time where we will make a significant impact on future generations. Our ability to lead through these challenges will change the course of history. What are you doing to mitigate the obstacles with emerging tools across a broad range of sectors to co-create a thriving world that is more equitable and just?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO, the Innovative Leadership Institute, is dedicated to elevating the quality of leaders globally.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash


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