The 2020s are placing extraordinary demands on organizations and the people who run them. Effective leaders must have courage and a strong sense of purpose, and be able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Many of the biggest challenges call less for vision and the ability to inspire — the historically vaunted hallmarks of leadership — and more for being able to consider new perspectives and test new approaches to getting work done.
Companies that have diverse perspectives and a broader range of experiences on their leadership teams and boards may be better able to navigate the volatile business conditions of the 2020s. Yet, despite pressure from shareholders and investment firms, companies struggle to bring in new directors with markedly different points of view and instead too often merely replace outgoing board members with people of similar backgrounds, identities, and experiences, according to research by Cynthia E. Clark and Jill A. Brown. Their article, “Meet the New Board — Same as the Old Board,” provides advice on how to ensure that board refreshment achieves its desired goals in this critical time.
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In addition to navigating strategic uncertainty, many organizations are experimenting with untested models in one of the most fundamental aspects of business — that is, where, when, and how work gets done. Some are exploring four-day workweeks while others are considering reduced schedules. Most are trying some form of hybrid or flexible work for knowledge workers. To do this while balancing the equally pressing needs for productivity, engagement, and results, organizations need leaders who will roll up their sleeves, test, and learn.
Remote, hybrid, and flexible work models are putting more strain on employee connections and collaboration. In their winter 2021 article, “Are Your Team Members Lonely?” Constance N. Hadley and Mark Mortensen — the winners of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize for the best article on organizational development — explored the challenges we encounter when teams are more flexible, less stable, and more time-pressed. And Deb Mashek writes that, despite the importance of collaborative work in the 2020s, most organizations fall short in building workers’ collaborative relationship skills.
Managers play a pivotal role in all of this. Being able to manage well — to design good jobs, develop people, foster collaboration, manage performance, and create equity — is a supremely valuable but often-not-valued competency, according to researchers Jim Detert, Kevin Kniffin, and Hannes Leroy. Our predilection to venerate “leaders” while minimizing the contributions of good managers has led to underinvestment in needed management skills, they write in “Saving Management From Our Obsession With Leadership.”
We’re still at the beginning of the 2020s, a decade already marked by volatility and uncertainty. Developing managers’ skills and capabilities and incorporating different perspectives into decision-making will provide a strong foundation for moving forward.