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2024 Leadership Trends: Adapting to the Changing Landscape of Leadership






The COO reached out to me with a frantic email.  A critical mass of managers were reporting that they felt “insecure” “uncomfortable” and “afraid” to lead. 


In another organization, a newly promoted Director is responsible for the outcomes of her division as well as a team of 25, and she told me that she is struggling.  She has always been great at strategic planning and program evaluation, but she has never had to lead or coach adults or manage the interpersonal dynamics on her team. 


She wasn’t prepared for the unmanaged racial and gender dynamics that have presented themselves and now fall under her leadership purview. Like m many leaders, these aren’t the skills that she’d built over a 20-year career.


What happened inside these organizations and with these leaders has been happening across organizations in the country for decades:  an unfiltered promotional pipeline that rewards high performers by elevating them into roles with human supervision responsibilities. 


Sometimes without assessing their ability to engage in culture change and people management—key roles that leaders have had to take on since 2020  in the face of national calls for equity, inclusion, and psychological safety.


Before we get into the core competencies that leaders are going to need in 2024, it’s useful to provide context for the standard definition of what a leader is.


LEADERSHIP IS SOMETHING ALTOGETHER DIFFERENT


Management and Leadership are two terms that are often used interchangeably but shouldn’t be. John Kotter, a world-renowned organizational change expert, describes that management is the skill and function of coping with complexity. In this function, we might see the creation of policies, systems, and structures to simplify the complex


However, leadership is something altogether different.  


Leadership requires emotional activation in other people, sparking their sense of belonging, nurturing their self-esteem, and helping provide value and meaning in work.  It’s why Kotter describes leadership as coping with change.

leader: a person responsible for coaching, guiding, organizing, managing, and inspiring others to work toward a shared goal or mission.
Wilson and Associates' definition of a leader

As we talk about leadership in this article, we are going to talk less about the structural, managerial roles that are required in organizations.  Instead, we’ll talk about Leadership and the skills needed based on our definition of leadership:



A leader is a person who influences a group of people toward the achievement of a goal.








REALITY: PEOPLE AREN’T PREPARED TO LEAD WELL


In organizations across the country, including many that have become clients of my firm, talented workers are promoted into leadership roles without training or professional development to ensure they can become what Gallup calls “Great Managers”.  


Note: Gallup uses the word manager in their article, but they are talking about leaders as we’ve defined above.

When Gallup explored the characteristics of a great leader, they identified these leaders:

  • Can motivate employees around a compelling mission or vision

  • They have overcome adversity and resistance

  • They created a culture of accountability

  • They build relationships rooted in trust, open dialogue, and transparency

  • They make unbiased decisions


Yet, these are high-level executive functioning skills that most of us aren’t born with. Gallup found in their research that companies rarely hire candidates with the critical skills required to lead and manage complexities and human dynamics.


"LEADERS NEED TRAINING, COACHING, AND PRACTICE TO BUILD THESE COMPETENENCES..."

This is why, after 15 years leading change management and DEI strategy consulting, I launched The DEI Dinner Party so that organizational leaders have one place to build these interdisciplinary sets of skills.



THE LANDSCAPE OF LEADERSHIP HAS CHANGED: GOOD LEADERS ARE REQUIRED FOR THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES


Over the last 4 years, we have been catapulted into a new reality as a result of a triple cultural shift. Covid 19 reached our shores, changing where and how we work.  Countless public killings of Black Americans shone a light on structural and “everyday” racism that Black people, and People of Color, experience outside and inside the workplace. 


The following year The Great Resignation saw 41 million people quit their jobs, mostly a result of a lack of diversity and inclusion and the experience of toxic workplace culture elements including abusive behavior.


Even the U.S. Surgeon General got involved, calling for organizational leaders to do something (like his framework) to create workplaces that promote physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.


Covid-19, the call for racial justice, and the demand for people-centered workplaces have changed the landscape of leadership.  Leaders are being asked to do more than ever, from managing departmental outcomes to supporting organizational culture and cultivating belonging and psychological safety among their teams.


Employees and even members of leadership are demanding that the workplace center workers' voice, is free from psychological & identity - based harm, and is a place where they feel cared for.
New Demands for 2024


“I just want to know that people here care about me and that I matter.” - Former Wilson and Associates Client


A few years ago, a national organization reached out to me because they had developed an aspirational vision for who they wanted to be as an organization and now needed to build the skills for everyone to lead toward that vision.  


Like nearly every organization I support, this one had been dealing with flare-ups of conflict and identity-based dynamics that were so sensitive that leaders were afraid to lead.  During one of the all-staff gatherings, I asked what they needed from leadership (or their colleagues) to feel supported in the execution of their tasks. 


One of the shares I will never forget came from a man who was generally quiet during these gatherings.  He shared how he spends most of his week at work, away from his friends and family.  He said, “I just want to know that people here care about me and that I matter.”


It was exactly a year after this call for care that the US Surgeon General noted in the Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Wellbeing that as leaders “we can build workplaces that are engines of well-being, showing workers that they matter…”


In October 2020 I spoke on the A Better Workplace podcast where I said that at the heart of much of what I see in DEI engagements was a desire from people to experience dignity and respect.


Three months later, in January 2021, MIT Sloan issued their findings on the drivers of The Great Resignation, with the desire for Dignity and Respect being one of the top 5 of workers’  needs not regularly being met at work.


In 2024, leaders are going to have to build an interdisciplinary set of skills that span coaching, human development, emotional intelligence (specifically empathy, self-awareness, and motivation), and organizational culture change. 


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) knowledge and capabilities must become values-in-action as well as outcomes that leaders must strive for, becoming embedded in everything. 


In Season 1 Episode 4 of our podcast, Recipe for Transformation, I describe that workers are renegotiating what they’re willing to tolerate, what they’re willing to accept (and not), and they’re looking to be in spaces where they are valued, respected, and where the wholeness of who they are has the opportunity to thrive. They want to feel respect and dignity at work.


THE SECRET INGREDIENT TO SUCCESSFUL TEAM CULTURES

Back in 2016, Google was curious about what led some of their teams to be successful.  So, in true Google fashion, they engaged in a search dubbed Project Aristotle. Right around this time, I was facilitating a team retreat for a Court System in Northern California that was experiencing such negative team dynamics that performance and morale were down, as was their desire to collaborate. 


What I found in my client case study was affirmed by Google’s Project Aristotle.  Leaders must demonstrate emotional control and build what I see as 5 ingredients into their team’s culture if they want them to be successful.


  1. The team has established team culture norms (that includes acceptable behavior)

  2. Establish clear roles and connect them to the organization’s vision so workers find meaning in work.

  3. The team is experiencing psychological safety.

  4. The team is experiencing equitable and open communication.

  5. Team members are using their empathy and social sensitivity skills.



The team has established team culture norms (that includes acceptable behavior)  Establish clear roles and connect them to the organization’s vision so workers find meaning in work.  The team is experiencing psychological safety.  The team is experiencing equitable and open communication.  Team members are using their empathy and social sensitivity skills.
Leaders are responsible to setting the tone that team members follow.


These ingredients of a successful team don’t just happen by accident: a leader has to set the tone, create the conditions, and inspire everyone to be accountable for this way of being in a team relationship. 












HOW TO LEAD WELL IN 2024: 15 ESSENTIAL SKILLS


In 2023, I projected leadership trends, specifically, the leadership capacities that were going to make leaders successful and help the team thrive.  Specifically, I shared with my clients:


  • The ability to manage hybrid and remote teams, using equitable and inclusive meeting practices

  • The ability to develop Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plans that are visionary and outcomes-focused.

  • Emotional Intelligence:  specifically, how to manage and support people as pandemic fatigue and burnout were on the rise.



I could say that 2024 will be a year fueled by uncertainty and fatigue.  Global wars and humanitarian crises are everyday concerns for many employees, especially when they have a personal connection to the areas where the conflicts occur. 


These conflicts have the potential to create workplace conflicts given the polarized way they can be handled. There's a threat of a recession, strong emotions about the Presidential Election, DEI programs and budgets have been dismantled, and Covid-19 variants are spreading at rates as high as when we were in the heart of the first wave of the pandemic.  


These stressors almost certainly make their way to the workplace, in addition to the microaggressions, identity-based harms, and negative interpersonal dynamics that may have already been there.  Most leaders don’t (yet) have the skills that are needed to navigate this landscape and create conditions for everyone on their team to thrive.


2024 is going to require leaders to lead differently to support employee well-being, and build high-performing teams, and achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For you to navigate through these waters, I sense that there are 15 skills that you need.


Top 15 skills leaders need in 2024:

  1. Demonstrating Empathy

  2. Fostering trust and relationship-building

  3. Building Cultural Intelligence

  4. Integrating DEIB (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Belonging) into everything. 

  5. Managing Self and Interpersonal Conflicts 

  6. Developing Self-awareness and Self-regulation

  7. Reconfiguring work to mitigate burnout

  8. Increasing Transparency

  9. Inspiring People

  10. Holding an ecological, holistic, and systems-thinking approach to organizational culture change

  11. Facilitating equitable and Inclusive meetings

  12. Understanding change management fundamentals

  13. Cultivating courage  

  14. Caring about staff

  15. Repairing psychological safety and emotional wounds caused by work.

  


HUMANIZING LEADERSHIP: THE 2024 LEADERSHIP TREND


In a time when AI is taking over many of the functions that used to be done by humans, one of the things that Artificial Intelligence will never be able to do is lead people and lead change and do it well, equitably, and ethically.   We need talented humans leading other humans, and this transformative style of leadership must put people at the center.

Harvard Business Review identified the top challenges that will continue to persist in 2024, and, 2 functions leaders will need to execute to overcome them. They were:

  1. Build a diverse and inclusive culture, and

  2. Drive inspiration and motivation


This is why, they noted, leaders will need to inspire, motivate, and enable a greater sense of belonging.”




 

KEY TAKEAWAYS ABOUT THE 2024 LEADERSHIP TRENDS LANDSCAPE:

  1. Managers may have leadership responsibilities to coordinate and strategize to make sense of complexities,  however, leaders inspire and motivate others through change.

  2. The landscape of leadership is changing, requiring leaders to build an interdisciplinary set of skills.

  3. Promotions rarely factor in the quality of leadership skills.

  4. 2024 will be a year of uncertainty, requiring good leaders. 

  5. Psychologically safe and successful teams have 5 key ingredients, and leaders are essential in ensuring those elements are alive and well.

  6. To lead well this year, we have identified 15 skills that leaders need, spanning cultural intelligence, emotional intelligence, and systems thinking.

  7. The future of leadership will be one in which leaders build their “humaning” skills, eg. the ability to build a diverse and inclusive culture and the ability to drive



Are you ready to build your or your organization's leadership capacity? We specialize in building the leadership competencies of individuals to help them build healthy teams and equitable, inclusive, and irresistible workplaces. Reach out and learn more about how we can work together.



If you enjoyed this article, join our newsletter "Recipe for Thriving" where our CEO, Chrysta Wilson, shares rich insights and colorful stories every Friday to support you in building more equitable and inclusive spaces.





Chrysta Wilson, the CEO and Founder of Wilson And Associates Coaching and Consuling LLC, is on a mission to help leaders build the skills and strategies to create equitable and inclusive spaces and places. This work can be overwhelming and that puts leaders at risk for burnout. That's why she's on a personal mission to make sure that people like YOU get the resources and support you need to do good work WELL, with doses of joy along the way. Chrysta teaches and uses an interdisciplinary approach to organizational culture and social change that includes personal development, systems change, emotional intelligence, racial justice, DEI, organizational psychology, change management, coaching, and more. Changing the world requires a community effort: welcome to the movement!


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