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LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD




One word summarizes the 2023 workplace landscape: change. Artificial intelligence making its way into life, ever-changing return-to-office requirements, growing political tensions – the year has been marked by unpredictability.

 

The year 2024 won’t slow down the pace of change, so leaders will need to keep changing to stay on top of it all. Career Coach Val Olson says, “There is one overriding force that is shaping what leadership skills will be needed next year and beyond. That is a disruptive change that is turning the way organizations operate and leaders lead upside down.

 

Experts say that the biggest leadership trend in 2024 will be trust. No matter what other issues they face, leaders who prioritize building trust will better retain and capitalize on the talent needed to drive future success. Experts in the field also say that the top two priorities for HR leaders going into 2024 are leader and manager development, followed by organizational culture. Elements like AI, Gen Z, the hybrid workplace, and an economy that is all over the place, means leaders must step up to the demands of 2024.

 

We have a big challenge. Quiet quitting and stress levels are at all-time highs. Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace says 44% of employees are experiencing high stress daily. Six of ten employees said they would change the culture they work in if they could. Leaders are being asked to do more, to do it faster, better, with higher quality and fewer resources.

 

How can leaders lead well in this environment? Here are some strategies that will help:

 

Make sure you have positive relational energy. With stress levels at all-time highs, it can be easy for leaders to focus on what is broken. Finding five minutes at the beginning of a meeting to start with good news can shift the energy in the room and create a more productive, engaging environment. Try starting your next team huddle having everyone in the room say one highlight from their week. You must work to create the kind of energy successful leaders and teams have.

 

Get personal. Did you know that leaders can have more impact on an employee’s health than their primary care physician? Stress impacts health more than any other single factor. Many studies have shown that when employees have a personal relationship with their immediate supervisor and feel that they are cared more about than the daily tasks they complete, everything good begins to rise. One way leaders can address it is within their 1:1s. Before digging into project updates and goals, spend five minutes doing a personal and professional check-in. Give everyone two minutes to relate the highs and lows in their personal and professional life. No one offers advice – they simply listen. When leaders and employees learn about each other on a more personal level, they strengthen trust and engagement.

 

Listen and ask more than you talk. As a leader, it is easy to feel like you need to have all the answers. This is impossible. Shift the thinking in your preparation. Instead of focusing on what you want to say, focus on what questions you can ask to get the best ideas from the group.

This empowers those you lead to take more ownership of ideas. You become the leader of the band instead of trying to play all the instruments yourself. Open-ended questions and genuine curiosity are especially powerful tools with Gen Z.

 

Leverage AI to help with difficult conversations. Like it or not, it’s safe to say AI is here to stay. One of a leader's least favorite tasks is having difficult conversations and giving critical feedback. AI can be a great tool leaders can use to roleplay conversations. Tact and empathy are key factors to keeping engagement high. By practicing difficult conversations, leaders may feel more confident having these conversations.

 

Address conflicts when they arise. Competent leaders must not only promote a hospitable workplace but also address conflicts when they arise. A new survey of 600 U.S. business leaders shows that nearly 60% say their weakest skills are in conflict management – and that it’s costly to their companies. Conflict will always threaten healthy workplace relationships, and, in turn, productivity.

 

Become more technologically adept. It’s hard to move your team forward if you aren’t doing it personally. Experts say leaders need to be ready to lead their teams through technological advancements and help incorporate them so that they become routine. Leading by example is critical. Let them see you growing and trying.

 

Deepen your emotional intelligence. Virtually every expert says that leaders must continue to hone this vital skill set, especially the “soft skills.” Self-awareness and self-control, empathy, a positive outlook, and other elements of emotional intelligence are increasingly hallmarks of effective leadership. Studies show that 85% of workplace success is a product of effective emotional-intelligence skills. It’s even more important than your other technical skills.

 

Demand authenticity from yourself. Authenticity promotes trust and trustworthiness. Be certain not to confuse authenticity with spilling unfiltered feelings and thoughts. One leader says authenticity comes down to two factors: “Having the energy to stay self-aware, and having the relationships that give you feedback to shape who you want to evolve into being.”

 

Communicate more effectively. A major part of work conflict and project delays will be resolved or eliminated entirely when leaders speak and write clearly, concisely, and intentionally.

 

Of course, effective communication has been a trait of effective leaders throughout time, but it might be even more critical in an uncertain 2024. Thinking through your communication and making certain it is timely, not playing catch-up, will be a great daily skill for 2024.

 

Here’s to 2024! Let’s make our contribution intentional and excellent.

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