Leaders today find themselves at a vexing junction, where the demands of a dynamic and rapidly churning marketplace intersect with emerging work, career and life expectations of younger generations.  Leaders are being asked to manage the evolving needs of two constituents – the organization in which they work and the people whom they lead.

New Marketplace Trends

There are a number of marketplace trends that will impact the workplace and workforce in varying degrees over the next twenty years. These trends are often discussed and include artificial intelligence, augmented reality, E-currency, online everywhere, customized everything, predictive analytics, continuous work, remote work, etc.

These trends place organizations in a constant state of flux–long gone are days of a static, five-year strategic plan.  A few years ago, when we spoke to our clients about their strategic challenges, one senior executive put it succinctly, “Our business model is constantly under attack.”

New Employee Needs

At the same time, younger generations of employees are entering the workforce with evolving mindsets about how work is done and what a career looks like. Long-term loyalty has been replaced by a short-term, ‘free agent’ mentality. ‘One company, one career’ is an antiquated notion for younger generations whose norm is more often multiple companies and multiple careers. The idea of waiting your turn for a promotion is unlikely when you can find a new job from your phone. Job hopping, which used to be a resume red flag, is now a proactive career planning strategy.

In 2018, the National Society of High School Scholars asked 1600 high-achieving college and high school students what they expect from work. These respondents, who potentially represent the thinking of the more than 60 million Gen Z (individuals born between 1996-2004) who will soon be flooding the workforce, prioritize a healthy work-life balance and high expectation of job fulfillment. A recent Ernst and Young study of Gen Z and younger Millennial employees found that it was important for them to feel that their ideas were valued, and they wanted to be recognized for their contributions.

The Result: A Focus on People Leadership Skills

The combination of hyped-up market forces and the emerging expectations of younger generations is causing organizations to enhance their focus on ‘soft’ people leadership skills as a critical element to their future marketplace success.

Take, for instance, Ernst & Young, who recently identified five key leader capabilities required for digital era success. Each of these capabilities involved important people leadership elements, such as ‘providing clarity and purpose,’ connecting people and possibilities, relating to others on a very human level, and leading with true empathy and inclusivity.

Critical leadership ‘competencies of the future’ are echoed by many others. The Forbes Coaches Council identified sixteen essential leadership skills of the future including fearless agility, earning respect, selflessness, listening, humility, authenticity, and understanding the individual, among others. Fast Company weighed in with their thoughts in an article entitled ‘Seven Skills Managers Will Need in 2025’. Included on their list was ‘outcentric’ leadership, collaboration, transparency, soft skill assessment and emotional intelligence.

How to Bring a People Focus to your Leadership

This trend towards the softer skills of leadership, with a clear focus on people, suggests that everyone who manages others (or aspires to) should take a look at their style and approach, and determine what might need adjustment.

Here are some actions an individual can take to build his or her brand to create a future leadership advantage for themselves and their organization:

Understand your current leadership offer

Get feedback on your current leadership offer, either formally through a 360 process, or informally from trusted relationships. Seek to understand how you bring value as a leader and what unique offer you bring to the table.

Continually develop your leadership brand

Take time to figure out what you want your leadership brand to be and then continually work to close the gaps between the type of leader you are today and the type of leader you want and need to be.

Lead with your values

Take an inventory to understand what’s most important to you. Strive to incorporate your values into every action you take.

Connect to the whole person

All people, not just young talent, want to be thought of as individuals with something unique to offer the team and organization.  Invest the time in getting to really know the people you work with. Place the needs of these individuals ahead of your own needs whenever reasonable.

Be transparent

Foster trust by being open and authentic. This will also help build a purpose-driven culture that engages and retains employees.

Prioritize the development of others

To meet the needs of the future marketplace, a leader must unlock the capabilities of their employees. To do so, a great leader helps others understand the potential they possess. Then they make it their mission to actualize it by building real developmental plans, supportively pushing direct reports out of their comfort zones, and providing them with opportunities to grow their skills.

Create a feedback expectation

Make real-time feedback a routine part of the supervisor-report relationship.


Leaders are confronted with an array of accelerating marketplace dynamics that were barely visible when the new millennium began.  Leaders of today and tomorrow will be asked to manage the evolving needs of two constituents – the organization in which they work and the people whom they lead. As a result, leaders will be expected to manage less and lead more in an effort to retain and engage the top talent that will be required for organizational success.

Whether you are a current leader or an individual with leadership aspirations, building the people leadership competencies discussed in this post will be critical in creating success for you, your organization and, perhaps most importantly, the people who work for you.

Take a look at our Best Boss Experience resource for more information on this topic.

What leadership competencies do you believe will rise in importance in the near future?

How are you preparing yourself and your organization?