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Leadership Development

Leadership Trends That Shape the Future of Work


The Four Forces @ Work: Disruption, Destabilization, Decentralization, and Disillusionment

As a consulting firm, one of the ways we share our expertise with our clients is to make it easy to keep up with trends in the leadership development space.

There’s a lot of research out there, some relevant and some less relevant depending on your industry, organization size, goals, and more. Our clients frequently tell us they are so inundated with tasks and information that it can be challenging to review all the latest research, decide what’s important, and synthesize what it means for them. So over the last 10 years, we’ve been tracking what is happening in leadership development to keep our clients updated and improve how we design and deliver leadership development.

If you prefer a short summary of the trends, you can download a PDF overview here.

First, we’ll talk about the context that surrounds the four big trends we’ve identified through our review of the research.


The Future of Work

We often wonder, what will we be facing over the next few years? What larger shifts are influencing the workplace and the future of work? We believe these five trends are having a big impact on us, shaping our workplace and how we do our jobs:

  • Five Generations: While older generations are delaying retirement, Gen Z is entering the workforce, meaning we have five generations all interacting and relating to each other in the workplace.
  • Alternative Workforce: Once upon a time, many or most people had one full-time job. Now, the alternative workforce is mainstream, and we have gig workers, freelance employees, contract workers, and more alongside our full-time employees. This changes how our teams work and interact.
  • From Jobs to Super Jobs: The profile of our jobs are changing, too, thanks to technology, automation, and AI. We’re reducing the need for routine, monotonous, repetitive work that machines can perform for us. Our jobs, then, are composed of the more complex work that computers can’t do.
  • Rise of Social Enterprise: The fourth industrial revolution brings deeper focus on the impact of businesses on society, even placing this impact above customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and financial outcomes.
  • 21st Century Leaders: Our leaders need to meet unique requirements thanks to the environment and context that surrounds them. With everything leaders face in the workplace, they need new competencies to pursue transitional business goals, lead with agility, and more.

With everything going on around us, it’s no surprise that our workplaces and leaders are facing numerous challenges.


The Four Forces at Work

There are four components of what our business leaders are facing: Disruption, destabilization, decentralization, and disillusionment. Much of the research we reviewed tied back to one or more of these main themes.


Disruption @ Work

Disruption, defined by Merriam-Webster is: “A break or interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process, etc.” It describes what we all face as leaders.

73 percent of executives report significant industry changes in the next three years, according to Mercer (Global Talent Trends 2019). We’ve been talking about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment in our trends for a while now, and executives are seeing the same shifting challenges ahead of the business.

We see economic pressures accelerating, geopolitical concerns in the United States and abroad, and mixed opinions on the business climate. Economists have predicted market corrections, but without a lot of clarity on when, business leaders are left anticipating what they will need to respond to.

Technology adds to the disruption – with AI and automation replacing jobs while also creating new jobs, the profiles of our jobs will change significantly. AI and automation are predicted to replace one in five jobs, but also create 58 million net new jobs by 2022 (Mercer Global Talent Trends 2019).


Destabilization @ Work

Destabilization stood out as a major theme of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report: “Technological and societal change is linked to rapid transformations in the workplace–and what happens at work has the potential to affect emotional and psychological well-being.”

We’ve noticed that employees in general are feeling the instability, especially upon the heels of so much workplace change. In 2017, 93 percent of organizations planned a re-structure in the next two years and many of them have finished or are completing those large-scale reorganizations now (Mercer Global Talent Trends, 2017).

That has shown up in many workforce indicators, from a continued all-time high unengaged number of employees, to a decline in employee trust and an increase in stress. The C-suite is now tracking change fatigue and burnout indicators, including burnout in the top five analytics they’d like to monitor for the first time (Mercer Global Talent Trends 2019). The World Health Organization has even recently clarified the definition of burnout and indicated it’s an occupational phenomenon they plan to research further.


Decentralization @ Work

As we mentioned above, most organizations have finished the restructuring initiatives they began or were planning in 2017. These flatter organizations are moving toward growth through new products or services, partnerships, and more by relying on individuals and teams, especially cross-functional teams.

Teams are on the rise, according to a lot of our research. Deloitte found that 31 percent of respondents say they now operate mostly in teams (Human Capital Trends, 2019). We see increased effectiveness for teams in implementing strategy and responding to changes because of their ability to think innovatively through collaboration.

Functional teams are also important for implementing the organization’s business strategy, but most important is the C-suite team’s ability to collaborate and carry out interdependent work. Only 17 percent of Deloitte’s respondents said C-suite teams collaborate on interdependent work (Leading the Social Enterprise, 2019).


Disillusionment @ Work

Organizations are keeping an eye on how they can improve the positive attributes around work environments. In Deloitte’s 2019 report, Leading the Social Enterprise:

  • 84 percent of respondents said their most important challenge was improving the employee experience
  • Only 53 percent felt their organizations were effective at creating meaningful work
  • 45 percent felt their organizations were effective at delivering supportive management

Employee experience comes down to more than culture or perks, it requires a connection and sense of belonging. In our work with leaders, we notice how important it is to have meaning and a connection to purpose at work, and especially how critical leaders and managers are in that process.

But none of this is something that can be imposed on employees or defined for them – the individual identifies what meaning is to them and how they find it at work. The most important way to derive personal meaning is through a deep understanding of personal values and how those align to organizational purpose and values. Therefore, it’s on leaders to serve as meaning-makers and enable employees to discover this for themselves.


Though these trends may feel insurmountable, they reinforce the need for empathy for our leaders. Our leaders are the ones helping employees adjust to shifting workplace dynamics and finding personal meaning in their work. As practitioners, it’s up to us to support them and enable them to do so as best as we can. I believe we’re up to the challenge.


how to Respond to 2020 Leadership Development trends

Here are a few recommendations on how to start responding, plus follow-up reading you can dig into for each:

  1. Refresh your competencies now. You can check out our six-step guide to defining and using competencies or contact us to discuss your competencies and their alignment to organizational strategy and goals as well as your development offerings.
  2. Assess your current signature programs with our Program Design Assessment.
  3. Get managers of participants engaged early and often: Read this blog to understand why and get examples of how you can.
  4. Shift investment earlier in the pipeline to Gen Z, early career managers, and individual contributors.
  5. Stop investing in senior leader development–focus on their ability to be a cohesive executive team: Read our case studies about how FlashPoint has helped executive teams.
  6. Apportion more development dollars to helping teams be cohesive and high performing. Read The Core Components of a Team to learn more about leveraging your teams.
  7. Use technology to curate and scale leadership to as many people as possible. Here’s your primer on digital learning trends and technologies, as well as one on online learning.
  8. Help leaders create more meaning for their employees. Read about four skills and abilities for leaders combat our changing, complex work environment.

Want to save this information for later? Download a quick summary of these trends here.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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Krista Skidmore

Krista Skidmore , CEO and Cofounder of FlashPoint, is passionate about all things leadership. She manages FlashPoint's strategic direction with integrity and insight.