Six Leadership Trends Below the Waterline

Trends that many business leaders overlook and fail to act upon

Published: Feb 24, 2012

Business leaders who follow trends know about globalization, hyper-competition and time compression. We are all trying to do more with less in a world growing smaller, flatter and more dynamic. Below the waterline, however, I see another set of trends that many leaders overlook and fail to act upon. Here are six:

Leadership Expansion
Leadership is no longer the exclusive domain of the people perched atop the hierarchy and their direct reports. In the past decade, middle managers have emerged as bigger players with more accountability in global organizations. The most forward-thinking organizations go even further, empowering employees at all levels.

Domestic Diversification
Despite all the talk about globalization, the latest research shows that only 10 percent of the world’s population will ever leave its home country. This means much of the work of global leaders is to manage the diversity within domestic environments. They must build inclusive environments that consider gender, race, ethnicity, generational gaps and regional differences.

Declining Loyalty
Global leaders also must deal with the severing of the traditional psychological contract between employer and employee as professionals in the 21st century move from company to company and industry to industry. Loyalty and trust have been lost on both sides of the equation.

Hyper-specialization
Jobs that used to be done by one individual are now parceled out to many — sometimes to people all over the world. Manufacturers have dealt with this reality for years, but hyper-specialization has now moved to the information arena. Often, this means that nobody has full expertise on certain systems and functions. The challenge for global leaders is to retain people with specialized knowledge so that their organizations can have a degree of consistency.

Incivility, Dissatisfaction
The incivility research I have done over the past decade shows that about 98 percent of employees have been treated badly by their coworkers, and they remember the abuse. A recent Conference Board satisfaction survey also shows that more than half of employees report dissatisfaction with their jobs. And a 2011 Mercer Group satisfaction survey shows that nearly one-third of U.S. workers are “seriously considering” leaving their organizations. Global leaders who ignore these trends will pay with higher turnover rates and face other consequences, such as workplace sabotage, absenteeism and uninspired performance.

Merging of Art and Science
While effective leadership will remain an art in the 21st century, new discoveries in brain science will give an edge to lifelong learners willing to adapt and adopt new strategies. Much of this research is easily accessible, although managers must sometimes look outside their disciplines and even outside the domain of business. The challenge for global leaders is to grab the information available and internalize it.

[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the research journal of Thunderbird School of Global Management https://thunderbird.asu.edu/knowledge-network/]

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