Leadership in today’s world of work may be more challenging than ever before, from navigating hybrid work schedules to living through a pandemic. It’s simply not enough to be an effective communicator with an open-door policy.
Those qualities are still important, but no longer provide the complete package. Since millennials made up 50% of the global workforce in 2020 and those numbers continue to grow, your leadership development program should include the modern skills required for today’s leaders to be successful while taking advantage of the unique qualities of millennial professionals.
Essential skills for today's new leaders
To build and compete for the next generation of talented leaders, here are seven skills every new leadership development program should build in their emerging leaders:
Anticipate change. Long-term, bird's-eye-level thinking is often considered a skill that must be learned the hard way. After stumbling through enough bumps in the road, we start to see a pattern. Change has always been inevitable, but in today’s environment, the pace of change is accelerating. New leaders should learn early on that change is not only a reality but should be embraced as a catalyst for recalibration, growth, and team building. A leader who demonstrates confidence and flexibility in the face of disruption—both planned and unforeseen—will not only help their team weather change more successfully but will help foster these qualities in their employees, setting them up for success for the next change that’s around the corner.
Clarify what matters. The noise around us today—literal and figurative—can be overwhelming. Email, messaging channels, and newsfeeds constantly request our attention. The day-to-day activities of responding to clients or churning out deliverables can cause us to forget the overarching “why” of our work. A successful leader will remain steadfast in their message of what matters to the team. Who are the people who benefit from our work? Which goal are we working toward right now? What is the work that will move the needle? Clarifying what matters helps employees maintain a focus on business over busy work. But more importantly, it helps employees understand how their work contributes to others and plays a direct role in the success of the organization.
Innovate with courage. American psychologist E. Paul Torrance said, “It takes courage to be creative. Just as soon as you have a new idea, you are a minority of one.” New leaders can be reluctant to flex their creative and innovative juices. And understandably so; simply keeping the ship afloat and on course seems like a success, and anything else feels too risky early in their leadership careers. But today’s new leaders bring with them a fresh perspective and the belief that healthy and innovative ideas can lead to breakthroughs in processes, productivity, and outcomes. Embracing boldness and risk-taking in your new leaders will help them do the same with their team members. And that’s when true innovation can happen.
Inspire and empower. Good leaders know that their success and productivity hinge upon their team’s success and productivity. New leaders are often barely older than some of their direct reports, and can in fact be much younger than others, causing them to be reluctant to express the mentoring qualities of inspiration and empowerment with their teams. Your leadership development program should teach these qualities, through scenario-based learning and direct observation of seasoned leaders, to give them the tools to step into these roles.
Champion diversity, inclusion, and belonging. The very beginning of a leader’s training is the exact right time to being to teach them how to lead with diversity, inclusion, and belonging as guideposts. DEI is no longer simply an “HR issue”. Diversity, inclusion and their many related counterparts including belonging and equity are belief systems that are directly related to the health of your organization and its people.
Your new leaders will need to demonstrate the standards of how to act with respect and inclusion. They will need to foster a sense of belonging for all, regardless of race, gender, age, religious affiliation, orientation, and more. They will need to learn about bias in recruitment and succession planning. They will need to be prepared to act if issues of disparity arise on their team. This is a heavy lift for a new leader, and it is imperative that leadership development programs provide relevant and ongoing education to support this crucial element of successful leadership.
Simplify work. We all know busy doesn’t equal better. New leaders offer a chance to bring a fresh lens to processes and reflect on opportunities to update and streamline. Teach them to examine and question long-held processes, looking for outdated or unnecessary work. Companies that empower their new leaders to do this are exposed to new technologies and trends that can boost productivity. Rewarding new leaders with these early wins is a great way to boost their confidence and build momentum.
Act with purpose. Brent Gleeson, founder, and CEO of TalkingPoint Leadership wrote that leading with purpose gives you a sense of passion and fulfillment that spreads to others. Purpose-driven leaders are also seen within the company as someone people want to work for– because they are committed to upskilling themselves and their team. In addition to being culture drivers within their organization, Gleeson suggests that purpose-driven leaders have these traits:
- Maintaining a passion for the organization's growth
- Managing their work with prioritization
- Fostering a productive culture with their team
- Retaining an internal sense of pride in their work
- Keeps key objectives at the forefront of their decision-making
- Having a clear vision for how they want to impact the organization and their people
- Effectively overcoming short-term challenges to support long-term goals
Following these guidelines will help you build a learning development program that graduates bold, engaging, and innovative thinkers, ready to take your teams to the next level.
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