The Two Complex Challenges Confronting Leaders Today

By:  Bonnie Hagemann, CEO, Executive Development Associates, Inc.

Everyone wants to earn the big paycheck, but few want to deal with the challenges that C-suite leaders face to earn theirs. In normal times, leaders face typical challenges, including competition, supply and demand, cash flow, lawsuits and the like. But these are not normal times, and the complex issues confronting today’s top leaders are as complex and varied as the landscape.

The list is long, but today, I want to talk about the two that are impacting almost every leader in every company:

  • The impact of technology.
  • The shift in the workforce.

While it isn’t easier, the impact of technology is the more straightforward of the two to address. The internet changed the world in ways that no one anticipated, and artificial intelligence and big data are now predicted to change the world even more. Imagine that.

Think of how our lives have changed in the last 30 years. We can now send a message to another person in lightning-fast speed and even reach millions of people with a single post if we say or do something interesting enough to go viral (Tip: include #cuteanimals). We can compare the price of a product with other competitors across the globe while standing in the store, and if the store clerk won’t match a lower price, we can buy the product from another vendor. The introduction of platforms such as Uber, Airbnb and even Amazon and Alibaba have disrupted, challenged, and in some cases, destroyed many businesses.

Now imagine what big data will do — the ability to use technology to collect massive amounts of data, then intelligently analyze that data and provide insight for decision making. It will give us the ability to make even quicker and more informed decisions. It will also put many think tanks and researchers out of business. On the positive side, it will hopefully allow us to gather enough data to solve major world problems like cancer, pollution and hunger. Artificial intelligence will disrupt the workforce, the way we drive, the way we clean our houses, the way products are made (think 3-D printing), the way we eat and so much more.

Now let’s take a look at the second big issue top leaders are facing: the shift in the workforce. Yes, there is a notable generational shift taking place in the workforce right now, but I am talking about the shift that requires that store clerk from earlier to actually decide if they want to give us a discount for that product we want to buy but found for 20% less at an online retailer on our smartphone. This shift is about empowerment, and leading that shift is difficult, even for those who wholeheartedly believe it is the right thing to do. That’s because change is hard, even when it’s needed.

Our tech departments have become more than just a support service. They are now a key driver of innovation, the area where companies can quickly and creatively design new products and services, solve customer problems and leapfrog the competition.

Leaders of technology teams have to understand that vision is what is most important. They need a clear and compelling vision for the entire organization from a macro standpoint, but they also need a crystal-clear vision for each product or service from a micro standpoint. To lead tech teams well, the leader must not only share that vision but let team members serve as advisors on how to get there.

Steve Jobs perfectly illustrated this point when he said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

That being said, all leaders (not just technology leaders) must be prepared to shift. The leader’s job today must be to ensure that employees are empowered to make decisions on the spot (without running them up the food chain) to meet customer needs and beat the competition. If they have to wait for a blessing from above, by the time they get the answer, the customer will be gone and the problem will have changed. Leaders must truly empower those closest to the work to make decisions and ensure that the employees are properly trained in preparation to do so.

Still want the big paycheck? Of course you do (and so do I), but leadership is hard, and few are willing to learn, grow and adapt enough to be able to lead through today’s atypical challenges. Still, we need it. People need leadership. Although it’s challenging, it’s worth it. Leaders who give of themselves get it all back because they experience an opportunity to touch others in a very personal and positive sense.

So, if you still want to capture one of those elusive suite seats, choose leadership as the gift you will give others. May you lead well. May you get it all back.

About the Author:

Bonnie Hagemann is the CEO of Executive Development Associates. She has over 16 years of experience successfully leading consulting firms through times of rapid growth and acquisitions as well as economic downturn and downsizing, in addition to 26+ years of experience coaching, educating and developing leaders.

Bonnie has over 30 published works including a book on the shifting workforce demographics and their impact on leadership entitled Decades of Differences. Her newest book, Leading with Vision: The Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce, hit shelves in May 2017.

She leads research initiatives and publishes results in the areas of Trends in Executive Development, Executive Coaching and High Potential Development.

*This article was originally published on Forbes.com: http://bit.ly/2BtX9cW