A Look Ahead at Management: It’s About to Get Harder

September 8, 2017

Management trends

Over the last few decades, organizations have slowly transitioned from promoting employees based solely on technical ability to recognizing the critical importance of soft skills. For many managers, even those who are successful in the management role, this transition has been a difficult one.

Unfortunately, according to research my team and I recently conducted, the next five years are going to get even harder. We interviewed 30 executives and thought leaders from around the world representing both emerging and established organizations. They came from industry, academia, and professional services.

These executives were aligned on the emerging trends that will redefine how we structure our organizations, change what we expect of our leaders, and ultimately require a completely new approach to management and leadership.

Trends affecting the management role

Accommodating all these changes may be good for the organization, but they will certainly make managers’ jobs harder in the near term. Here are five of the trends:

Role shaping and customization. We are growing used to everything being tailored to our own personal needs. Many experts see existing management and leadership roles evolving to become more individualized and suited to a person’s specific strengths.

Although many titles may remain similar, role individualization will likely lead each leadership role (and roles in general) away from rigid job descriptions and toward work that better aligns individual strengths with organizational needs.

Growing tension between data and soft skills. It’s clear that Big Data is truly taking over the working world, and without question the executives of the future must have a strong foundation of data analytics and tech savviness to keep up. Equally important is the need for softer skills and emotional intelligence in leaders who have exceptional hard skills. The executives of tomorrow will need to be masters of multiple capability sets to be successful.

Rise of the agile specialist. In many ways, adaptability is becoming more important than deep knowledge. Of course, this isn’t to say that expertise is on the outs, but in a world that moves faster with each passing year, having an expert without the ability to move quickly is having an anchor in your organization.

Going forward, leaders must become agile specialists, who may not necessarily have the same level of expertise as their predecessors but are just as valuable for their ability to act quickly and provide effective solutions to keep up with the times.

Egalitarianism in the C-suite. One of the most impactful trends shaping organizations is the shift toward the structural flattening of hierarchy in the workplace, a direct result of a cultural move toward egalitarianism and democracy in general. And so it is beginning to go with company leadership, with even the biggest companies dispersing influence by creating less rigid hierarchies and more channels for input among their employees.

Move from bosses to caretakers. Future-forward managers are making an effort to put their people first, making employees’ wellness and happiness a priority to enable them to produce their best work. However, this well-intentioned philosophy could grow into a dysfunctional (not to mention costly) burden to bear as executives take on an increasing amount of responsibility for employees’ welfare, potentially leading to a lack of independence and resilience in the broader workforce. Smart leaders will find ways to support employees while continuing to develop their independence and resilience.

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About The Author

Dean Stamoulis provides guidance to boards about CEO selection and succession at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. He also consults with CEOs about how to build excellent leadership teams. In addition, Stamoulis leads the firm’s Center for Leadership Insight. The center’s focus is on sharing fresh observations and solutions about C-suite leadership challenges and opportunities. Stamoulis is based in Atlanta.

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