Why leadership is such a big challenge

Over the last four weeks I have been speaking at a number of IMNZ events on the topic of leadership and the challenge that we face. And the consensus is that no matter what industry you are in, no matter what your role is – this challenge is an all-encompassing one from all aspects regardless whether it is from an organisational, business or individual perspective.

As our worlds become faster paced, more technologically advanced, and disruption becomes the norm – the challenge of being an impactful leader increases.
Recent global research from Deloitte on “Human Capital Trends” shows that the number two concern faced by organisations around the world is leadership. With the number one and number three issues respectively being culture and engagement and learning and development the data suggests that these softer areas have become urgent priorities globally.

For New Zealand the trend is enhanced – leadership rated in this particular global survey was the most critical concern and for New Zealand organisations the capability gap for leaders was identified as being significantly larger than their global counterparts.

As economies continue to grow and skills become more specialised and the competition for talent and capability increases; this will continue to drive these areas to remain at the top of the human capital agenda.

If you consider that globally companies rate their biggest asset – 65 percent rate their people, the skills and relationships they hold – then this is issue has major consequences.

There are four major global trends predicted to impact leadership and management capability and development over the next 10 years and it is highly likely that these trends will also influence the New Zealand landscape.

Younger generations will drive new ways of working
Generation Y and millennials will make up over half the workforce and are anticipated to represent close to 70 percent of the workforce by 2025. Their expectations about the employment relationship and the way they want to connect and engage at work will demand new approaches.

The ability to provide flexibility in how people work, the projects they are involved in, the greater purpose that they deliver to, supported by engaging learning and development opportunities will be a common requirement.

Countering that with statistics which show that people will be working longer will give employers the complex challenge of creating dynamic workplaces that will encourage two to three very distinct age groups with differing requirements and values.

Technology will demand better people skills
Whilst new cognitive technologies are displacing workers and re-engineering work responsibilities and functions – the need for better people skills increases. Technical skills will evolve but, in my mind, the need for interaction between people becomes greater. The need for effective communication, people engagement, network building and collaborative skills will be imperative to cross the technology and people divide.

Management and leadership capability will be a critical skill to optimise performance, drive better engagement and alignment in our ever increasing technology-dependent workforces.

Long term sustainability is fundamental
The Global Financial Crisis, without a doubt, impacted on organisation’s bottom lines and significantly influenced how, and what, organisation’s spent money on. The need to take a short term approach to spending and investment was a necessity. The danger of continuing to do so is that not developing or investing in organisational frameworks, their people capability and the culture and vision to support it will, in the long term, deliver poorer results.

There is significant data available both here in New Zealand and globally on the strong impact and results achieved by investing in your organisation’s learning and leadership capabilities and frameworks. Creating purpose-led and engaged cultures will overtime deliver greater results than any stringent cost management approach.

Globalisation will further drive diversity and cross-cultural working
Diversity in the workplace is a significant and relevant issue for many New Zealand organisations and this will continue as our working world becomes more diverse at a local level.

We all understand that the way that we lead and manage needs to reflect and support the diverse workplace we now work in. But this diversity will be further amplified with technology enabling certain aspects of services for organisations to be fulfilled from different locations in different countries and time zones.

Organisations are struggling now with leading effectively and driving high performing cultures face-to-face. Factor in the increased complexity of remote and cross-cultural working and the challenge of leading effectively increases tenfold.

The challenge of leadership is set to remain a perennial issue for organisations and individuals both here in New Zealand and globally.
There is no silver bullet or immediate answers but it is imperative that we drive and explore conversations, developmental frameworks and learning pathways that will collaboratively find solutions to what, for all of us, is critical. 

Fiona Hewitt is the chief executive of IMNZ. The Institute of Management New Zealand – helping New Zealanders step up and lead since 1946.  

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