Transition Management Consulting, Inc.

Future Leaders

by Jackie Eder-Van Hook, PhD

The issues confronting organizations today are increasingly complex.  Advanced information technologies have created ubiquitous, instantaneous communication (emails, instant messaging, texting, voicemail, tweets.)  Globalization is a reality.  Environmental factors and increasing population are changing the nature of work resulting in more virtual employees working from a setting other than the office. Workers are valued for their knowledge and rewarded for innovation, flexibility, speed, and critical thinking skills. 

These factors require successful leaders to possess a skill set and characteristics different from those of the industrial past. Countless lists predict what skills and characteristics leaders of the future will need to succeed. While no list is perfect, some skills and characteristics rise to the top. Here are some skills and mindsets to consider developing or hiring for in the future.

Enhanced Thinking Skills

  • Systems thinking: seeing the larger picture, identifying paradigms driving change
  • Strategic thinking rooted in what’s best for the broadest group of stakeholders within the context of the changing environment
  • Critical thinking skills: deep understanding of logic, fallacies, bias, and assumptions
  • Expect uncertainty and ambiguity an acceptable state of mind
  • Acknowledging complexity and avoiding the rush to achieve a quick fix or a perfect fix

Learning, Information Processing and Management Skills

  • Ability to parallel process and multi-task instead of doing things in strict sequences
  • Learn by doing
  • Double-loop learning: Learning by inquiring into recently completed processes and then using the feedback to improve

Negotiation and Mediation Skills

  • Facilitating knowledge sharing, fostering collaboration and innovation
  • Negotiation skills, seeking win-win solutions

Communication Skills

  • Building a vision for the future rooted in service and ethical behavior
  • Ability to communicate courageously
  • Present complex information to diverse audiences
  • Good public speaking abilities
  • Protecting and enhancing the organization’s brand and value proposition the brand represents

Creativity and Innovation

  • See the possibilities at the intersections and boundaries

Technologically Adept

Relationship Building and Management

  • Building and maintaining trusting relationships
  • Learning as a fundamentally social activity
  • Value the expanding and deepening of purposeful relationships (internally and externally with constituencies, volunteers, members, and customers)

Group Process

  • Pattern of communication
  • Participation levels by individuals or subgroups
  • Decisionmaking
  • Organizational roles
  • Inclusion


  • Manage multiple processes and projects simultaneously
  • Financial management, reporting, budgeting, business planning, trend analysis
  • Asset management (fiscal, human, relationships, goodwill, reputation)
  • Liability management and mitigation (expenses, debt, business model, risk, human)
  • Address impact of globalization
  • Promote diversity at all levels (race, age, gender, opinions, experience)
  • Advance knowledge management systems


  • Tempered decisiveness in ever-changing environments with blurred boundaries
  • Courage to make the right decisions
  • Use of data-based decisionmaking that includes both quantitative, qualitative and intuitive approaches
  • Use research and evaluation methods and statistical approaches

Reflect, Reframe, and Retain

  • Reflect on “Knowing what we know”
  • Reframe the “us,” reinforce efforts to think broadly across departments, outside of silos
  • Retain previous insights and experiences as new knowledge is cultivated

Personal Characteristics

  • Self-motivation, independent worker
  • Personal responsibility
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Curious, life-long learner, especially in non-formal settings
  • Ethical, integrity
  • High tolerance for ambiguity
  • Openness to personal change and growth, setting the tone allowing learning to happen
  • Giving, receiving, and fostering a culture of feedback
  • Vulnerability

No leader has strengths in every aspect of leadership.  What distinguishes great leaders is their self-awareness, ability to recognize the gaps between their strengths, weaknesses, recognition of what is needed in the organization and industry, and an understanding and willingness to close the gap.  Successful leaders build upon their strengths and find ways to address their weaknesses.


  • Engage senior management in conversations about the type of skills and characteristics that are important for leaders to possess in the future.
  • Build the agreed upon skills and characteristics identified by staff into the culture, include in position descriptions, performance management, training, expectation setting, and projects.
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