What makes a leader of the future?

Business, as we know it, is changing. We will not be working the same way in 5, 10 or even 20 years from now.

So, how will future leaders operate? 

Business Dictionary defines “leadership” as having the ability to establish a clear vision, “sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly”, “providing the information, knowledge and methods to realise that vision”, and “coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders”. Furthermore, a leader will step up in a crisis and “think and act creatively in difficult situations”.

Many executives today, unfortunately, do not have the resources needed to succeed in the changing world. And many jobs and industries are likely to be taken over by increasingly capable artificial intelligence (A.I). We could be facing a future without accountants, lawyers, surgeons, cashiers, and more.

However, there are two vital skills, creative and managerial, that will always be necessary in the running of any business. In essence this translates to inspiration, mentorship, and a global political and economic view to gain the necessary perspective to move with the changing times.

Red & Yellow’s CEO Nikki Cockcroft and its chairman Rob Stokes share their insights into just what skills are needed by future business leaders. 

What skills does a CEO of the next decade require?

RS: If running a business is your goal, you will need to be a charismatic leader, be strategic in your decision making, build rapport in negotiation and, most importantly, strive to be self-aware and highly adaptable in your personal development.

NC: You need curiosity and courage and should seek out the experience and guidance of mentors, while leaning on your team and stakeholders for support. 

How do you think that will change by 2030?

RS: I don’t think it will. In fact, I think these skills will only grow in importance as management becomes automated and the uniquely human skill of leadership is made more valuable as a result.

NC: Exactly. The “what’’ won’t change, but the “how” will as technological advancements, including that of AI, will result in different skill requirements and therefore different leadership styles. 

What are some of the biggest challenges that face business leaders?

RS: I would say motivating and managing people, geopolitical uncertainty, and high-speed adaptability.

NC: All of that – and finding creative solutions under time and financial pressure. Not to mention conflict resolution, and finding skilled resources (and, most importantly, keeping them!). 

Do you believe some people are born with leadership skills? 

RS: You can certainly learn the key attributes and get very far, but it’s fair to say that some people are just naturals. And, when that raw ability is combined with ongoing learning, that is where real leadership shines. With that in mind, I think it’s 50/50 nature vs nurture.

NC: I think leadership is in our DNA to an extent, but that certainly doesn’t mean that anyone should ever stop striving to learn and improve in any business or line or work. 

Who inspired you to be a leader? 

RS: I was never inspired to specifically “be a leader” by anyone in particular. I just had a vision and an ambition that I needed to fulfil and the only possible hope I had of success was to enlist the help of people far smarter and more capable than myself.

Every day I try and grow as a leader as I recognise that I have a raft of weaknesses and those are just the ones I can see. I seek role models in many leaders for many purposes. For examples, when it comes to absolute dedication and focus I look to Jobs and Musk and yet when I am looking for wisdom in getting the best out of people, I look to Ben Horowitz and Jeff Weiner. I also have a small man crush on Winston Churchill as he had a gift with emotive words that, combined with his unwavering self-belief, made him a force of nature.

I have always felt inspired to achieve something for the world and leadership is a necessary step to ensure I have the people I need to fulfil that mission.

NC: My parents are both leaders and, despite their very different approaches, I believe I my leadership style is a combination of their individual styles. Other than that, I believe I was born with ambition and I have my mentors along the way to thank for helping me grow.

Do you think there are enough women in leadership positions? 

RS: I agree. We need to see many more women in senior positions. Future generations need to see more female role models – a key component of long-term gender equality.

NC: No, there definitely aren’t enough. Yes, we absolutely need more! 

Should CEOs and others in leadership be doing more to train their teams?

RS: Without question. A key role of the CEO is to define the vision, communicate it and then make sure the people and processes are in place to deliver on that vision. Making sure your people have the right skills in place to achieve this is non-negotiable.

NC: Definitely. We can always do more. A changing customer-base means an ever-evolving solution. Teams need to be able to keep up with any changes. 

What are your top tips for aspiring start-ups? 

RS: On a day-to-day level in your business, I would advise that those in management talk to and empathise with at least one customer and one employee every day. And log into your bank account every day because cash is your oxygen!

NC: Do your homework. Make sure you have a good business plan, with solid competitor analysis, financial planning, and timelines outlining what you want to achieve and when you predict you will complete those tasks. Once you have that, just go for it! But be realistic in your goals. It’s crucial to do market research to be sure you’re on to a great idea. Lastly, don’t give up! Be prepared for a few setbacks along the way. Don’t be put off it things don’t happen exactly as you hope they will.

RS: There are certain skills that simply cannot be replaced by AI – uniquely human abilities such as leadership, negotiation and social intelligence will become even more important in business. It’s the creative problems solvers who are likely to thrive in the future.

Nikki Cockcroft is the CEO and Rob Stokes is the Chairman at Red & Yellow Creative School of Business.

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