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Upskilling Next-Gen Leaders: Why, How, and What Skills Are Needed


Fri Oct 15 2021

Upskilling Next-Gen Leaders: Why, How, and What Skills Are Needed

Leaders are coming to terms with fundamental changes that include hybrid working, automation, and digital transformation. New skills are required, which is why forward-thinking companies are shifting their focus to upskilling leadership.

Unfortunately, many organizations haven’t kept pace in consistently upskilling leadership. In Australia, more than 72 percent of workers who left their jobs in 2019 cited poor leadership as their main reason.


The Evolution of Leadership

Leadership is as old as human civilization. Leaders emerged to establish order, provide direction, and prioritize survival.

Fast-forward to the emergence of what we recognize as traditional leadership. In 1905, Max Weber’s bureaucratic management theory said it was essential to have clear lines of authority, rules, and procedures. Frederick Taylor in 1909 presented his scientific management theory, which said that if tasks were optimized and simplified, productivity would increase. And in 1916, Henri Fayol formed what became known as administrative theory, which looked at how efficiently management was organized and processes were standardized. Together, these theories were building blocks for many of the management practices used today.

Today, there’s an increased demand for empathetic leadership styles that understand people perform best when all their needs are taken care of. Managers are asked to consider work-life balance, family and other commitments, and the concerns of their people. Research has shown that managerial support is critical in supporting people as they deal with stress.

New Leadership Skills

New expectations require a new set of skills. The most important behaviors that workers want from their leadership are authenticity, trustworthiness, and inspiration. Therefore, modern-day leaders need human skills.

Which ones should be on the list?

  • Emotional Intelligence. Upskilling leadership in emotional intelligence and empathy is critical. Managers are supporting the mental well-being of their people. Stress, anxiety, and depression rose by 21 percent in 2020 among workers in Australia.

  • Effective Communication. Transparent and open communication can help to alleviate people’s concerns and build trust between leaders and their workers. Many CEOs communicate with their teams multiple times a week to respond quickly to changes, communicate their thoughts, and address suggestions.

  • Agility. The ability to effectively respond to change is another key skill. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, only 12 percent of organizations reported having continuity plans that prepared them for it. Many leaders scrambled to adjust their business strategies. As a result, leaders are watching more closely for new opportunities and unexpected challenges.

  • Resilience. In the wake of COVID-19, resilience skills rose in importance by 34 percent (up from 13 percent before the pandemic) among surveyed workers. This makes sense when you consider that leaders are expected to be a calming force.

How to Build Leadership Skills

Knowing what skills are needed is one thing, but building them is a different challenge.

Tailor development to each individual. Successful organizations empower their current and future leaders to own their upskilling. By taking control of their own upskilling, people can dictate what, how, and when they embark on their personal development journeys.

Offer formal and informal learning. Providing a range of learning opportunities can tailor leadership training to different interests, learning styles, and needs. A book, a podcast, a TED Talk, and everything in between can help leaders build much-needed skills.

Turn to peers. Peer-led learning, coaching, and mentoring are important ingredients for upskilling leadership. People (55 percent) often turn to their peers to learn new skills. Access to a coach or mentor can help aspiring leaders learn what it takes to be in charge and build valuable communication skills.

Final Tips

Tracking what people learn throughout an upskilling leadership journey is important. Setting clear goals and skill requirements for their next career steps provides incentives to complete leadership training. It also provides direction.


People need the opportunity to practice their new skills at work through experiential learning. This helps them remember their learning and hone those skills further.

Make no mistake: strong leadership will be the competitive differentiator for tomorrow’s top organizations. Enabling your people now, by putting learning in their hands and providing training that’s personalized, will pay off with higher engagement, completions, and capabilities.

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