by Kylie Wright-Ford | June 29, 2017
We are in an era where changing demographics (Millennials will soon make up half the workforce) and advancing technologies are demanding that we rethink our leadership qualities and behaviors. But many leaders are in denial. And many others are looking for answers in an age where there is no rule book. 

In the new world of work, which some refer to as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there are major disruptive forces due to multigenerational nature of the labor market, globalization, and new technologies -- making some roles and routines in the workplace obsolete. The ability to adapt to such an environment and constantly update leadership behaviors with a view to the future will determine the difference between companies that survive and those that thrive.

Future-proofing your leadership style, whether you are in a small or medium-sized enterprise, or a behemoth enterprise, will require developing a stellar ability to lead across generations and styles. 

Demographic shifts are a "double-edged sword" but technology can be an enabler 

Consider for a moment the demographic shifts we are about to experience. We will soon have four different generations in the workforce -- Boomers, Gen Z, Gen Y (Millennials), and Gen Z (born after 2003) -- and an arguably more diverse cultural makeup within these cohorts than ever before.  This is certain to cause both conflict and opportunity. The conflict will come from the clashing of communication preferences and differences in motivations. The opportunity will come from being able to assemble teams across different geographies and time zones more seamlessly than ever thanks to rapidly advancing technologies that make remote work possible. Further, the ability to find people you can bring into your companies for specific tasks on-demand thanks to the large and growing freelance workforce.

So what behaviors are going to be most important in leading across generations and styles?  In researching The Leadership Mind Switch, executive coach Debra Benton and I interviewed hundreds of executives and rising leaders to talk about what they see, hear, love and hate about leaders they observe. Through this research, we identified four behaviors that matter for the future. These behaviors are related to historical behaviors but different in ways that are meaningful for building strong cultures and being able to compete for talent. The behaviors are: (1) dynamic, (2) playful, (3) unblocking, and (4) uber-communicative. 

Four behaviors to master

Dynamic leaders enable change in themselves and others. They produce motion instead of stasis. They are more than just spirited and magnetic and way more than charismatic. While an important aspect of leadership used to be about change management, the leader of the future is about enabling change in processes, culture, product development, and more. 

Playful is perhaps the most controversial of the behaviors because to some it may imply frivolity. In the context of the new world of work it means having fun and trying some new things. The days of a clear line between work and non-work disappeared with the entry of the mobile device and good leaders embrace the mash-up of work and life. Playful leaders are good-humored and build a creative and positive environment. They are approachable and do way more than simply give free food and ping-pong tables at work.

Unblocking refers to a leaders' ability to free their people by; providing them with the tools to succeed, offering support so that their efforts flourish, encouraging risk taking where appropriate, and keeping tabs on progress along the way. They help remove the barriers to progress including legacy thinking, risk aversion, and tunnel vision based on "group think." People of all ages, but especially the rising generations, want to be empowered, authorized, and enabled to fix the inefficiencies their predecessors created. 

Finally, uber-communicative is potentially the most essential trait needed for the future. Uber-communicative leaders know that good communication requires a leader to both deliver a message and then establish common understanding of that message, and they use many different channels to do so. While essential, in our view this trait still needs a lot of attention, especially by experienced leaders who are often overheard moaning about the way that rising generations don't use the queen's grammar or how they over-use emoticons. In the new world of work, which has constant distraction from our devices and more diverse constituents than ever, it is not enough to send a message and expect that everyone receives it in the same way. Leaders of the future will meet their teams' needs and preferences for communicating -- whether it is by town hall, instant message, social media, email, carrier pigeon, conference call or text. 

Kylie Wright-Ford is an operating executive, advisor and board member for growth companies in the U.S. Australian-born and raised, and globally traveled, she has unique first-hand perspectives on leading across geographies, generations and styles. Her new book, The Leadership Mind Switch (McGraw-Hill, 2017) is now available. Please see for more details.