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Steve Gravenkemper
July 12, 2017 Article 5 min read

Next generation leaders need to focus on key skills to connect with coworkers and their organization. Are you utilizing the best approach to ensure sustainable success as a next generation leader?

Top five skills for next generation leaders 

As individuals progress in their careers, success becomes tied more to their ability to collaborate, engage, and mobilize others than on the individual skills and abilities that may have fueled early-career advancement. Here are five areas that next generation leaders should focus on to position their organizations for future, sustainable success.    

1. Influencing

An idea is only as good as the support it gets from others. So how do you generate that buy-in?

  • Practice active listening. Testing early thoughts with peers is a great way to gather feedback and additional perspectives that help shape your thinking and suggestions, and active listening is a critical component of this. Listening carefully enables two-way dialogue, which encourages others to engage since they feel valued and heard, rather than lectured.   
  • Let go of “being right.” For next generation leaders, being effective is much more important than being right. This goes a long way toward reducing resistance.
  • Align your ideas with your organization’s big-picture initiatives. Demonstrating that an idea enhances an ongoing strategy will further strengthen persuasiveness.   

2. Collaboration

As the pace of change and influx of information accelerates, it’s important to work with others to achieve your goals. Sharing diverse perspectives adds to the collective knowledge of the group, while building on the ideas of others fuels creativity and innovation. Working together toward a common goal fosters a culture in which asking others for assistance becomes embedded in the organization’s DNA and is perceived as a sign of strength. Co-sponsoring suggestions with others is another strategy to build camaraderie and community inside your organization.

 The ensemble approach allows organizations to bring together staff with the best, most appropriate, skill sets to solve the issues at hand.
Think of an “ensemble,” a term that’s beginning to work itself into the vocabulary of organizations to replace “team.” Borrowed from the performing arts, it describes a group of actors, musicians, or artists who perform together with a roughly equal contribution. Different members of the ensemble take the lead at different points of the performance or, in the case of organizations, during a project. Participants tend to stay active and engaged since they may need to contribute at any time. The ensemble approach allows organizations to bring together staff with the best, most appropriate, skill sets to solve the issues at hand.

3. Agility and improvisation

It’s important that today’s leaders think quickly and make sound decisions in response to a rapidly changing environment. Remaining open and receptive to new information, even if significant resources have been invested in your current course of action, helps fosters agility. And it assures an organization is able to adapt, thrive, and evolve over time.

Being agile sometimes requires leaders to make decisions with incomplete information or in situations that may be ambiguous and uncertain. Acting in spite of the unknowns can provide new and useful information, while failing to act can lead to missed opportunities, a culture of indecision, and acute risk aversion. Beta tests, pilot studies, and rapid prototyping are approaches that organizations use to quickly learn and adapt prior to committing resources for broad-based changes.

So where does improvisation come in? It’s agility in action — the ability to adjust, modify, or create on the fly as unforeseen events unfold. A core principle of Improv is “Yes, and….” For leaders and organizations, the “Yes, and…” principle has multiple implications: a) intense focus on the present situation or “now”, b) co-creating alternatives with others, c) modifying your approach as new information or the situation evolves, and d) being willing to make do with the talent, skills, and resources currently available — a challenge we can all relate to.

4. Growth mindset    

Demonstrating the ability to learn, grow, and adapt is a key success factor for next generation leaders. Those who embrace lifelong learning have a major advantage over leaders whose viewpoints remain fixed and fail to learn new skills that are imperative in a rapidly changing world. Dr. Carole Dweck describes a growth mindset as: a) a belief that people can improve their abilities provided they are willing to put in the effort to build new skills, b) a willingness to explore new areas and stretch beyond their comfort zones, and c) a view that learning is a process rather than a one-time event.

Demonstrating the ability to learn, grow, and adapt is a key success factor for next generation leaders.

Dweck emphasizes that setbacks should be viewed through a lens of learning vs. failure. A learning lens develops increased individual and organizational resilience, as the focus shifts toward capturing key learning points and modifying or creating new action plans rather than ruminating about the past or assigning blame. A key benefit of a growth mindset is that coaching and feedback are positioned as helping a person grow and learn, rather than being critical or judgmental. Consequently, a growth mindset serves as a springboard toward creating a path forward for both individuals and organizations.

5. Accountability

We all know that results matter. But as a leader, how do you achieve those desired results? Accountability, and more specifically, the ability to foster a culture of accountability, is perhaps the most complex and challenging trait for next generation leaders to master.

A vital component of this trait is creating a “we” vs. “they” mindset. This starts with shared accountabilities between different leaders and departments. A solution-focused approach to organizational and departmental goals encourages different leaders and departments to solve problems as a group, even if those problems lie outside their individual scope of responsibilities. Most organizations demonstrate the ability to come together during times of crisis, so the challenge becomes nurturing this mindset during the normal course of business.

People respond best when they know what’s expected of them. Organizations frequently spend a great deal of time and resources creating a strategic plan or overarching goals. But, far too frequently, leaders fail to translate specifically what individuals are expected to do in support of organizational goals. By communicating specific expectations, you increase individual accountability and ownership. Additionally, staff development and coaching are important for a culture of accountability. Constructive feedback, acknowledgement of successes, and providing stretch assignments help your staff grow and reinforce desired behaviors. Continuous feedback and communication are not only beneficial to your staff, but talent reviews increase the accountability for leaders to develop their staff as well.

Be optimistic

Gordon Krater, Plante Moran’s former managing partner, once said at our firm’s annual conference, “People are much more likely to follow optimistic leaders than pessimists.” He emphasized that recognizing bright spots is more likely motivate and encourage staff rather than hammering away solely at negative information.
So embrace an optimistic viewpoint. After all, without optimism, it’s difficult to persuade others, inspire collaboration, think on your feet with agility and improvisation, maintain a growth mindset, or cultivate accountability.