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Leadership Futures from the Next Generation: Adapting, Empowering, Thriving

Leadership Futures from the Next Generation: Adapting, Empowering, Thriving

By Dr. Elissa Farrow
March 20, 2024

Leadership futures are where change is not a challenge but an opportunity. I am seeing a new generation of leaders emerging and am getting excited by the possibilities. These leaders recognise that their words wield the power to shape narratives, and they actively seek out dynamic, empowering approaches that transcend traditional transactional models. The journey they embark upon goes beyond managing change; it’s about co-creating, empowering, and fostering continuous improvement. As we open our organisations to leadership’s next generation, it’s clear that the future belongs to those who champion collaboration, innovation, inclusion, and adaptability.

March for me has been three weeks of travelling up and back from Sydney, Australia working with a diverse range of leaders, change makers and strategists. One significant shift I’ve been contemplating is the transformation of leadership models and approaches – moving away from transactional models to embrace a more dynamic and empowering style. This shift is not merely about semantics; it’s a fundamental reorientation of leadership philosophy in response to the changing landscape of legislation, community sentiment, culture, and the expectations of current working generations.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to personally coach leaders and executives across a range of industries. I’ve witnessed in these relationships the subtle, yet profound impact language and process has on our understanding of ‘evolving’ an organisation from one form to another. Some leaders no longer refer to the process of management of the ‘evolution’ as change management, others still use the process and principles of change as their underpinning management philosophy. To some, the formal term, ‘change management’, often carries a weight that suggests a more top-down and directive process. This perception can inadvertently communicate that change is something ‘done to’ employees, implying inadequacy or a lack of agency, rather than what others promote as the change process as an opportunity to co-design, collaborate, empower, and adapt. It is all in the framing, tone, and demonstration.

The roots of Change Management as a discipline trace back to the mid-1900s, formalising in the 1990s with models like Kotter’s 8 steps and PROSCI, presenting a more structured ‘management’ approach. Many early management theorists, psychologists, and academics and leaders were men. Family, societal, global, and organisational dynamics were different in the last millennia. Distinct roles and relationships between people in the workplace existed, with specialists being honoured, and generalists not. Hierarchy and traditional leadership stereotypes often from more military inspired, command and control structures, were strictly adhered to. Issues like discrimination were prevalent and the knowledge or desire for inclusive strategies was absent or ignored.

Fast forward to today, where many organisations are immersed in processes of ‘continuous improvement’ or ‘incremental change’. Society is different, we are in a connected and more educated world, we have global conflicts and unrest, we have cloud-based technologies and interactions at the centre of many corporate transaction and operating models. The executives and leaders I collaborate with acknowledge that, in their contexts, large-scale transformation events are becoming less common. Instead, there’s an expectation for staff to embody agility and an adaptive way of working, embracing a regular cadence of incremental improvement and actively working towards enhancing processes, strategies, and skills over time. That is why agile change and project management approaches are so popular.

As a firm believer in an adaptable mindset (explored in my doctoral research), I advocate to my clients to make a conscious shift from transactional to transformational leadership. Given Artificial Intelligence over time will replace or enhance some of the more transactional dimensions of many workplaces (and indeed some dimensions of the leadership decision making process), I believe that future focussed leaders must focus on actively communicating a compelling vision, adapt to change with resilience, and invest in the growth and well-being of their teams to navigate the complexities of today’s business environment.

The future of leadership to me lies in unlearning some of the former ways of working and lifting to a more collaborative, empowering, and adaptive approach. Our next-generation leaders will be expecting and, in some cases, actively removing traditional frameworks. Those next-gen leaders I work with have a lot of ideas on how things can be different and the energy and drive to experiment and see what is possible. They are currently getting stifled by the bias of ‘we tried that, or we can’t do that’. When I coach younger/next generation leaders or those aspiring to leadership they have great ideas of how to grow and transform a sustainable business, but also know there are other ways to achieve better outcomes for our people and the planet. They just want to have the ‘ladder held for them’, while they try.

I believe some of these ideas from the next generation of leaders need to be reflective in University MBA programs of today. I asked my recent cohort of next-gen coaching clients what they felt were the top five priorities for inclusion in MBA or Leadership development programs. This is what Mitch, Lisa and Nic told me:

  1. Collaborative Leadership: Shift from rigid hierarchies, urging existing leaders to embrace collaborative and cooperative styles. Inspire joint decision-making and shared responsibilities, tapping into diverse team strengths for collective success.
  2. Diverse Change Approaches: Broaden the focus beyond formal change models. Empower leaders to navigate continuous, organic change, with agility and resilience in respond to changing circumstances – “Evolution not Revolution”.
  3. Holistic Success Metrics: Expand success metrics beyond finance and output. Equip leaders with a proactive approach, balancing financial success with ethics, social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and a future-oriented perspective for overall organisational success. “Reward experimentation and curiosity”.
  4. Master Emotional Intelligence: Proactively elevate emotional intelligence and insights from neuroscience in leadership development. Inspire leaders to take an active role in developing these skills for effective communication and a positive organisational culture.
  5. Adaptable Leadership Models: Shift from rigid leadership models. Encourage leaders to develop an adaptable toolkit that recognises the need for responsiveness to organisational needs, industry dynamics, and cultural contexts. Create a positive mindset that values flexibility in leadership practices, anchored in a forward-looking approach through futures thinking.

In wrapping up, leadership futures are an ever-evolving journey where adaptability, collaboration, and a forward-thinking mindset is key. I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to coach and work with the next generation of leaders. They understand that the power of their words shapes narratives, and those I know actively seek dynamic, empowering approaches over traditional transactional models. They see change not as a hurdle but as an opportunity for co-creation and empowerment. Embracing technological advancements and valuing inclusivity, these younger leaders proactively lead their teams guided by a vision that extends beyond the present. The leadership landscape is undergoing a profound shift, and as we steer towards collaborative, innovative, and adaptable horizons, the potential for growth becomes limitless.

So how about it, University MBA programs, leadership institutes and leadership coaches, lets together usher in a new era of leadership, where each action and word moves us toward future of shared success for humanity. My team and I are very happy to support you in that journey.

Browse IIL’s Leadership Courses here!

Senior Consultant and Facilitator, International Institute of Learning

Dr. Elissa Farrow is a futurist, author, facilitator, coach, and strategist. She has over 25 years of experience in research, organisational innovation, design, adaptation, and benefit realisation. Dr. Farrow is known for her compassionate leadership and engagement approach. She is an experienced leader and has been a partner in transformation in various industries. Dr Farrow is a published author, and her doctoral research explored the implications of Artificial Intelligence on organizational futures. Her research created innovative adaptation principles for leaders and delivery teams as well as new knowledge relating to how to best transform organisations operating models to anticipate and create positive futures. In 2023, Dr. Farrow became an Adjunct Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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