8 Leadership Skills Essential for Success in the Future


8 Leadership Skills Required for Success in the FutureI don’t need a crystal ball to see what will be required of leaders in the future. All I need to do is look around.

Most of the companies I work with these days are multi-national. They are expanding, becoming larger and more complex as they seek to establish a presence in new markets.

These changes require some new sets of leadership skills. I believe these skills will soon be required of leaders in all types of organizations. Driven by technology, our interconnection and inter-dependence as individuals, as companies, and as countries are expanding exponentially.

I do need a crystal ball  to see if leaders will adopt these skills – because some of them require significant shifts.

1. Painting a very clear picture of where the organization is going.

Because leaders cannot be physically present to manage and control, the only way they can be sure their people are working in a concerted effort is to create a shared vision, guiding values and clearly articulated strategies. Although a lot of lip-service has been given to this subject, less than 10% of the companies we’ve surveyed and observed have a clear vision that is really understood and embraced throughout the company. As companies continue to expand, lack of a guiding framework will cause more serious problems unless leaders at all levels understand this is one of their primary responsibilities.

2. Managing the Mid-Space.

It used to be that strategy was the province of the top of the organization, and the bottom was responsible for execution. We have learned this disconnects leaders from the realities of the organization. Leaders at all levels need to think both strategically and tactically. “Managing the Mid-Space” describes seven things leaders need to do to connect the mid-space between the vision and execution.

3. Developing leadership capacity.

The development of leadership capabilities is a business issue. There is no longer a separation between soft and hard. Leaders need to understand that they are responsible not only for business results but also for developing future leaders. Therefore they must hold their people as accountable not only for delivering results but also for how they accomplish them.

4. Valuing and effectively utilizing diversity.

We must shift from traditional approaches to solving problems to utilizing the perspectives that others bring because of their gender, nationality, etc. If there is any question in your mind about this, watch this wonderful video clip of Halla Tomasdottir‘s Ted Talk on December, 2010 on how her financial services firm used 5 traditionally “feminine values” to help Iceland recover from their economic collapse in 2008. Tomasdottir emphasizes that feminine is not better than traditional male. We must adopt a “both/and” mentality and embrace the richness that is missing.

5. Influencing without direct reporting relationships.

As companies expand and become more complex, no matter what organizational structure is in place, people must work with each other across reporting lines. A leader will no longer be able to say, “Do it because I told you so.” Your ability to influence is dependent on your credibility and character.

6. Collaborating across boundaries.

One person cannot have all the answers, nor can one group. The complexities of the organizations and the challenges they face demand that work be organize around the right people, regardless of what department they reside. Silos didn’t work well before. They are impossible in this world.

7. Using technology to manage at a distance.

Technology has created many of these challenges. It also holds the answer. Nothing will ever replace the value of face-to-face time, but the reality is that most teams will be working together at great physical distances.

8. Driving profits through principles and values.

Organizations are made up of people. When we take a big picture and long-term view, we cannot afford to treat employees as commodities. For organizations to be effective and sustainable in the long-term, leaders must take into account the social and environmental impact of their actions.


This post was written for the “The Future of Leadership Series” hosted by Ted Coine and Shawn Murphy on their Switch and Shift Blog.



24 comments to 8 Leadership Skills Essential for Success in the Future

  • Mel73

    Given the complexities of environmental change and firms expansion, your thoughts are wholistic. Organistions are expanding all over the world, for a leader to grow within them they need to understand the concept of human capital maturity as well.

    As a new generation of leaders rises through the ranks of large enterprises, their experience will be markedly different from their elders’—especially with respect to how quickly they are asked to lead “globally.” Many will find themselves responsible early in their careers for the work of teams in and from places far from home.

    • I agree that the next generation of leaders will have a very different experience of what it means to lead globally. I’m hoping that many of the current generation will be able to make the shifts required to support their learning. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts here.

  • Kannan Sundaramurthy

    Jesse — This is a Great article that highlights what it takes to be successful in this Global economy. I do appreciate the insight it provides, especially on ‘Influence without direct reporting’. I believe this leadership skill is most required in building Next generation Global economy.

    Thank you for the great article !!!

    — Kannan

  • Jesse,

    Thanks for sharing this comprehensive list. There are so many great tips.

    A common theme with many of these skills seems to be that leaders need to get outside of themselves in a variety of different ways. For example, communicating the vision and getting others to buy into it, managing the mid-space, developing other leaders, embracing diversity, influencing and collaborating with others that don’t report to you, and utilizing technology to work with people in other locations all require getting outside of yourself, your area, etc.

    As you mentioned, people make up organizations. And these leadership skills require leaders to have “people skills” that are more advanced.

    And thanks for sharing the very interesting Ted Talk from Halla Tomasdottir.

  • Thabo Hermanus

    Great post and I agree with you that this is not only valid for large multi-nationals, but leadership in any organisation. People make things happen for a business, be they internal (staff) or external (clients, suppliers or the community within which you operate) and how you get through to them is the them of each of these 8 points when I think of it. The soft stuff is always the harder stuff, and so it can’t be left to chance anymore if you want success.

    • Hi Thabo, The soft stuff is no longer very soft, indeed! Thanks for your validation that these skills are important for leaders in any organisation. It’s always good to be affirmed from those who live in countries other than my own – affirms a global perspective.

  • Jesse-
    Intriguing post. Because I know you have wide array or experience, I can only assume that your are correct in these. As I look over the 8, I can’t help but notice that learning is a big part of this future leadership. Whether it be learning technology, learning to be a better leader, or collaborating and learning with each other. That’s been a big area of focus in my recent research, looking into the disciplines of a learning organization.


    A few brief questions come to mind. Do you really feel like this will be required of leaders in the future, or are these things that are required of leaders now? Are you seeing organizations embrace these items, or are you finding them hesitant to move on a new set of leadeship skills?

  • Hi Micah,

    You’re right. Learning is a big part of this. I see it as a business issue, and as I point out in #3, one that business leaders need to own. Thanks for the link to your work on learning organizations. Your disciplines make sense. Like you, I had it in mind to write a book for many years before it happened. When the time was right, the opportunity presented itself. Meanwhile, you are continuing to reflect and refine your thinking on the subject, and hopefully field testing your ideas.

    Great questions. If we wait for the future to prepare for it, it will be too late, because the the future is happening now. So to answer your question, these skills were actually required yesterday. Are organizations embracing them? Well, they are on the HR leadership development agenda much more often than they used to be. However, I don’t see many leaders consistently using these skills, so they are not integrated into ways of doing business yet.
    Nice to see you here, Micah. As always, I appreciate your insights and thought-provoking questions.

  • Good Morning Jesse, this is a great article indeed,excellent leadership food for thought. Number 5 hit home with me “Your ability to influence is dependent on your credibility and character” This pretty much sums it up as far as being a good leader.

    Thank you for starting my morning off with lots to think about!

  • Marye Gail Harrison

    Hi Jesse,
    Very thoughtful blog. I noticed you showed the qualities you spoke about leaders needing. For example, you were clear, you integrated all kinds of view points, you used technology to connect across all levels of expertise, you were developing others’ leadership ability, how you related was as important as the messge, etc. You walk the talk.

  • Natasha

    Great post Jesse. I love the part about 3. Developing leadership capacity. In my work with training next generation leaders, one of the huge areas we work on is building bench strength and adding leverage to their leadership by creating layers of leaders.

    • Thanks for raising the point about bench strength, Natasha. To create real bench strength, we must focus much deeper than one or two levels down from the top, planning for not just the high potentials but also by creating a culture where leadership potential is recognized and supported wherever it emerges. This can only happen when leadership development is viewed as a business issue, supported by HR – rather than assigning it as an HR responsibility.

  • Hi Jesse,

    thanks very much for this convincing article. The question for me actually is why is this essential for future leaders? From my experience not a lot has changed in the last 2 decades. The requirements you are listing have been there since a while. The leadership skills essential for the future will be also essential most probably in the next 20 years. Meaning that current and future leaders are struggling with these requirements as they have in the past and it is up to the organisations to prepare them properly. But how? I believe it is a process of selection for potential and then further development through challenging projects where they can learn through the work they are doing and then apply their learning in their work. I do not believe that classroom courses will be the answer. So it is up to the organisations to conduct the right development programs. An alternative could be that those with the potential to be future leaders request from their organisations to be supported accordingly and if they don’t provide such development opportunities they might look elsewhere. Thanks

    • There are a lot of creative ways to support development of leadership skills, but I agree with you that there is no substitute for the opportunity to apply learning on the job. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Wolfgang.

  • Liane Davey

    Jesse, thank you so much for this insight-packed blog. I think the dialogue through the comments has made clear the value of the thinking. The one point I was really interested in was your point on building leadership capacity. I agree that leaders need to be accountable for developing future leaders. I think this accountability is starting to stretch beyond accountability for developing individuals and further into the accountability for developing great teams and communities of leaders. It’s no longer enough to raise the next generation of stars. Now leaders need to be responsible for creating a whole that’s greater than the parts. They have to lhelpnpeople work effectively together. I think this will make building leadership capacity an even greater challenge. Thanks again for a great post,

    • Hi Liana, The dialogue is my favorite part of blogging as it expands and more deeply illuminates the concepts. I agree it is important to develop not just individuals but to look at the larger environment and create one that helps people work together effectively. There are many reasons this is important, but in terms of developing leadership capabilities it is essential because it is the foundation from which leadership can emerge. And environments that squelch emergent leadership will not thrive in the long run. Thanks for enriching the conversation.

  • Hi Jesse,

    I’m wondering how using technology to manage a distance is a leadership practice. While it’s a good management practice, I don’t see it pertaining at all to leadership.

    • Good question. My answer depends on how you define the difference between leadership and management. I’ll respond from my own perspective. It is possible to put together a real team, even when team members are geographically dispersed – one that thinks together to solve problems and determines next steps when leaders help their team learn how to communicate effectively using technology. To me, that is leadership. I believe leadership is also about enabling, removing roadblocks and providing resources. Ensuring that the right technology is in place that encourages real conversations rather than transactional exchanges is an act of leadership. And i believe technology offers some interesting opportunities for much needed knowledge management, which is a strategic issue in many organizations.

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