What it will take to lead 20 years from now

gelb-orange Hintergrund mit Silhouetten von Businessmenschen
Franz Pfluegl

If you want to be a leader 20 years from now, you will need to speak more than one language, be willing to work outside your native country, learn to spot talent, and be attuned to climate change.

And that's just for starters! You will also need to master multiple roles -- executive, mentor and fence-mender.

That's the conclusion I drew from reading a report based on the Hay Group's Leadership 2030 report. Some of the conclusions drawn by Hay Group, a talent management firm, are predictable, such as the importance of globalism and talent scouting, but the focus on individualism is not.

As far-reaching as global businesses have become, the need for non-conformity remains strong. We see this today in the millennial generation that is now taking its place in business. Their worldview is different from that of their parents. They are more mobile, diverse and more flexible, and if this research is to believed, that attitude will persist when they take their places in the ranks of senior and middle management.

"The post-heroic leader will need to balance the role of boss, mediator and coach, allowing teams more freedom and autonomy while at the same time keeping them focused on objectives," the Hay report says. In other words, it ain't about you the leader -- it's all about the team. Note the use of the word "post-heroic." Workers in our future will not be looking for the man on the top floor; they will be looking for someone (a woman perhaps) just like them, who can point them in the right direction.

One statement in the report resonates strongly: "Leaders will have to work harder at generating personal loyalty, through accommodating employees' requirements, enabling self-directed ways of working and individualized leadership." Loyalty, too, as the report states, will extend into the post-work environment. "Departure [from an employer] no longer equates to 'disloyalty.'"

The recognition that loyalty is important is meaningful. In command-and-control environments, you did what you were told and followed whatever your boss told you to do. Of course, that model has eroded (thankfully), but its vestiges persist, in particular when employers assume that everyone who works for them is loyal (if for no other reason than he or she receives a paycheck).

Rather, loyalty is earned through personal example. Authority through titles is assigned, but respect (and loyalty) are gained by demonstrating that you have "the real stuff" to lead -- integrity, accountability and personal example. Michael Winerip wrote recently in his New York Times column about a New York City public school principal who personifies such criteria.

"A good principal protects her teachers from nonsense," Winerip writes. The principal in this case, Jacqui Getz, says, "I want my people to feel I have their backs." But not at the expense of excellence. Getz relies more on how her teachers connect with students and parents, rather than arbitrary evaluation forms. "You don't want teachers feeling belittled," she says. "You want them to keep their dignity so they can be at their best."

Loyalty, of course, is timeless, and while it may conjure up the medieval knight and squire relationship, need for it persists, especially now as organizations seek to maximize their human and capital resources. Loyalty then becomes that extra edge of trust that enables boss and employee, leader and follower, to have one another's backs.

And when that occurs, it will free the boss to play the multiple roles -- executive, mediator and coach -- with the assurance that employees know what she is doing, and why she is doing it. They may not always agree with her, but they will respect what she is doing because she has earned their loyalty.