The Future of Leadership

Photo by Sergey Turkin on Unsplash

Dr. Sarah originally wrote this article in the Spring of 2019.

The Landscape for Learning + Leadership

As professionals seek to thrive in the ever-changing environment, engaging the future landscape is crucial to staying competitive. Professionals know the expectation to solve problems, collaborate, facilitate, lead, and teach. However, to remain competitive, they must leverage insights that are shaping the future of learning + leadership over the next five years.

Technology continues to evolve. Currently, technology like augmented reality, cyber programs, and artificial intelligence are buzzwords with organizations. Consider the technology used during ancient times.

“Are the dry-erase markers on glass walls really so different from chalk on cave walls?” (Middlebrooks, 2018, p. 49).

There will always be new variations of technology available to professionals. Moreover, with the adoption of those new tools, there are new opportunities that impact the competitiveness and potential for organizations (Middlebrooks, 2018). Think back over the course of contemporary history. Modern society has experienced three revolutions and is currently in the midst of the fourth (Bawany, 2017).

These include, “the transport and mechanical production revolution of the late 18th century, the mass production revolution of the late 19th century, and the computer revolution of the 1960s… [and] the fourth industrial revolution… represents the combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Systems” (Bawany, 2017, p. 18).

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0) calls professionals to move past the current linear thinking to expanded cognitive capabilities required by the new and complex environment created by IR 4.0 (Bawany, 2017). Further, this digitally and technologically grounded revolution “has prompted changes in society of a scale not seen since the invention of the printing press” (Bolden & O’Regan, 2016, p. 440). The printing press changed beliefs and values, stimulated invention, spread knowledge, and called for a leadership paradigm (Bolden & O’Regan, 2016). Societal shifts that emerged from the printing press, new technology at the time, empowered individuals. The new technology also played a role in impacting democracy, quality, liberty, thought, news, and education, for example (Bolden & O’Regan, 2016).

the future of learning & the organization

Learning within an organizational context may consist of training opportunities, developmental programs, and even influencing a culture toward learning. As professionals influence the learning within their contexts over the next five years, here are a few insights to keep in mind:

Emotional Regulation

  • Emotional Regulation (Meager & McLachlan, 2014). Emotional intelligence (and related topics) will prove to be of even greater importance in the future of human work as technology and machines will optimize organizations. With that in mind, developmental programs of the future will take a more complex, detailed, and customized approach to individual learners. In contrast to the prevalent mainstream learning models in the current business environment, future developmental programs will focus on emotional regulation as opposed to merely skills.


  • Methodology (Russ‐Eft et al., 2014). Many training programs are based on building competencies. In the future, this will still be important, but research will be devoted to creating methodologies to ensure program rigor and quality. Additionally, as time progresses more insights will stem from “the use and effects of competencies and competency models over time, through longitudinal, cross-sectional, and time-lag designs” (Russ‐Eft et al., 2014, p. 7). By the very nature of the future, time affords researchers to collect more data to draw insights.

Team Performance

  • Team Performance. Team performance will prove to be even more indispensable as “organizations are increasingly shifting away from models of individual advancement and achievement toward paradigms that emphasize team-based performance” (Charlier et al., 2016, p. 745). As teams and technology grow in importance, virtual teams become more prominent. Teams in the future will be composed of varied configurational dimensions, referring to “the extent to which team members in total are dispersed across two or more locations” (Charlier et al., 2016, p. 747). The co-locational model will represent a dyad or partnership of two. Regardless, the expectation of a physical configuration of teams reduces. With an increase in virtual relationships, how professionals interact, with each other and their teams, is transformed.

cross-cultural development

  • Cross-Cultural Development (Russ‐Eft et al., 2014). As globalization advances and the amount of multi-national corporations increase, there is a greater need for cross-cultural training and development. There will be a need for additional cross-country studies, models, and research to extend the regional and national analysis of current. This area of study will influence how professionals facilitate and participant in training and development.


  • eLearning (Li, 2016)Along these same lines, eLearning will become prominent and the default for learning delivery. Tools such as web-based trainings, simulations, gamification, and other mobile learning tools will be commonly used in practice. Professionals in the future expect to interact with online learning experiences, and there will be an expectation for professionals to be able to engage the technologies.

technological communications

  • Technological Communications (Charlier et al., 2016).Communications technology will impact the relationship between learning and teams. Professionals will see and feel the shifts in communication patterns as there is a departure from traditional teams to virtual teams. Professionals will use less text-based forms of communication (think of instant messaging and email) and move towards richer media (think of videoconferencing, video messaging). Face-to-face communication will no longer be the assumed standard. Computer-mediated contexts of learning will become more prevalent. Professionals will notice these communications shifts within the training and development context of organizations.

the future of leadership & the organization

As leadership studies evolve, topics that are currently advocated (for such as authentic leadership and transformational leadership) will be toppled by a new iteration of trends (Middlebrooks, 2018). Here are key leadership facets for HRD practitioners to account for in the future:


  • Visioning (Middlebrooks, 2018). Organizations will embrace opportunities outside of the limits and constraints of current, common-practice understandings of human capital and organizational policies. There is a substantial connection here to visioning. A lack of critical thinking and abundance of criticism, at times, are current hindrances to visioning, possibilities, and idea generation.

stakeholder value

  • Stakeholder Value (Marcus, Flynn & McNulty, 2018). As dynamics change within the global marketplace (think of interpersonal relationships, team dynamics, and business models), leaders must realize that stakeholders will define value in a new manner. Depending on the industry, the types of stakeholders vary, but the societal shifts will alter meaning and connections among partnerships. The change in value calls for a greater need for character development, emotional intelligence, ethics, and purposefulness. The shift highlights the call of future leaders to be those who balance the human aspects of organizational life alongside the advancement of technology. The balance helps the organization to retain its character within a complex environment.


  • Meaning-making (Brown, 2012). Meaning-making continues to be a critical element of leadership in future studies. Research connects meaning-making to an individual’s worldview. Constructive-developmental research is a way to categorize worldviews. “Constructive-developmental research shows that human meaning-making develops and becomes more complex over time, roughly growing from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional worldviews” (Brown, 2012, p. 561). Leaders holding a post-conventional worldview have great personal awareness, emotional understanding, and capacity for empathy. In turn, professionals with this type of worldview may evolve into effective leaders when dealing with strategy, collaboration, conflict resolutions, and complex changes.

working patterns

  • Working Patterns. Organizations embed technology into how they work. Technology influences the working patterns of the organization’s human capital. Think of the shifts modern technology will have on remote teams and non-traditional team configurations. “Sparked by the desire for greater employee independence and collaboration, we will also see a gradual decline of formal hierarchies within organizations and leaders having to be seen as part of, not apart from, the group” (Watson, 2017, p. 90). Consider how the adoption of technology will influence the working patterns and international relationships within a team.

holistic consideration

  • Holistic Consideration (Watson, 2017). The new standard of work demands leadership as opposed to oversight management. With the frequent use of robotics and automated systems in the future, leadership practice will shift. Work-life balance (which is currently ‘just a buzzword’ in many organizations) will be widespread. New expectations will be placed on leaders such as, “the ability to exhibit and balance extensive emotional sensitivity, control and optimization will be both an expectation and highly valued skill” (Watson, 2017, p. 90). Leadership in the future heavily involves holistic considerations of the whole person as opposed to merely worker productivity.


  • Trust (Bolden & O’Regan, 2016). Trust is the currency of future leadership models. With the challenges associated with technology (think of privacy, censorship, fragmentation), leaders must actively build trust, share heart, and deliver on promises. Trust is needed with internal teams but also for all stakeholder types, including the public.


Over the next five years, the business landscape will continue to evolve as it has over the course of history. So too will the future of learning + leadership evolve as new technologies and market dynamics reshape the way professionals conduct business. As one scholar asserts,

“This is not new; we started participating and facilitating collaborative change processes when employees needed to know how to learn, how to solve problems, and how to overcome barriers and think creatively” (Li, 2016, p. 191).

Over the next five years, professionals will see a transition in learning + leadership. Change is always present. However, professionals must leverage the essential insights of the changes facing the next five years to prepare for and embrace the shifts impacting the learning +leadership within their organizational context.

How will your organization handle these shifts?

Schedule a complimentary quick start session with Dr. Sarah Skidmore, Innovation Practitioner + Leadership Futurist. 

Skidmore Consulting is an Innovation + Leadership + Marketing firm that provides scalable solutions for leaders, teams, and organizations ready for more. 

© Skidmore Consulting 2020


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