What are the qualities of tomorrow’s top leaders?

Andreas von der Heydt
Head, Kindle Content at Amazon, Germany
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Tomorrow´s leaders will – more than ever before – live, work, and compete in a highly fluid, disruptive, and sensitive world. To succeed and to live a fulfilled professional and personal life, this breed of leaders possess very unique skills, characteristics, and values – 7 distinctive qualities!

This article comprehensively outlines what it takes to become a great leader. It is based on 100 articles that I wrote as an Influencer here on LinkedIn over the past three years and which have already been read by more than 3 million business professionals, commented on several thousand times, and liked by tens of thousands.

For the first time ever I have categorized the key messages (including main comments and key discussion points) of these 100 articles into seven categories which in my opinion represent the seven main qualities of tomorrow´s top leaders.

Within the next two weeks I´ll publish a book with the same title like today´s article. The following text is a LinkedIN-exclusive and pre-published summary of the book. It explains in a succinct manner how the best leaders will lead and live in the future and how you can become one of them.

Quality 1 – Inspire
Tomorrow´s top leaders truly think bold and big. They challenge themselves and their teams to live their dreams. They trust in their skills and capabilities, search for the big picture, and enjoy looking beyond it. They think, feel, behave, and act positively. They surround themselves with like-minded believers, positive shapers, and creative makers. They have understood that you are what you eat, i.e. you are affected by the company you keep.

They use the power of questioning (e.g. tons of Why and Why Not questions) to overcome fear of failure, bringing more alteration to their lives, and helping to uncover what one really wants to do with their life to assist in triggering improvements and innovations.

Although these leaders also analyze mistakes and failures of the past, they are much more focused on developing future visions by thinking outside of the box. And afterwards, they spend a lot of time explaining their visions to their teams to get their buy-in and support.

Quality 2 – Lead & Execute
Tomorrow´s top leaders avoid what quite often causes today´s experienced and successful business leaders to arrive at utterly wrong conclusions, since the latter lack comprehension of how to live by two of today’s most relevant business and leadership principles. First, they are not VUCA leaders. Second, they have not been able to grasp the concept of DyBoPe leadership. These are two crucial concepts for future leaders.

They are both effective and efficient by aiming at doing the right things in the right way. They are not driven by short-term results, instead they are completely customer-centric following a long-term perspective. They strongly believe in the art of execution and know how hard and painful it can be to have things seamlessly implemented.

The outstanding leaders of the future master one of the ultimate balancing acts of superior leadership – they know how to lead with head and heart. Meaning they are respected for having both a strong results focus and social skills. Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt stated: “To handle yourself, use your head. To handle others, use your heart.”

Quality 3 – Explore
Tomorrow´s top leaders have a strong passion to learn, to question, to dive deep, and to be misunderstood. Relentlessly.

Their interest goes far beyond their own organizations and industries. They absorb whatever comes across their way and catches their interest. With curiosity they try to figure out what a new watch from Apple might mean for them, what implications it could have when Mark Zuckerberg starts his own reading club, when Articificial Intelligence is nominated by a company as a board member for the first time ever, when Airbus builds an electric plane (and not Tesla), how Puma could compete with Nike and Adidas (or not), when Disney bids farewell to the movie star, or if Microsoft might be cool again.

Quality 4 – Grow
Tomorrow´s top leaders believe that you will what you want and that there are no limits to personal growth. They are what I call “Realistic Optimists,” i.e. being both optimistic and realistic. As such, they combine the two into one behavioral style that creates a unique sense of open-mindedness, attention, and focus. This high level of awareness and focus allows them to see things many of us do not notice while we´re too busy with problems and ourselves.

They are masters at succeeding professionally and personally by following certain principles to better navigate their lives and to concentrate more on establishing sustainable and precious relationships to guarantee success without personal regrets. They are clear about what they want to achieve in life and about the price they have to pay for it. They have reframed the notion of work-life-balance as they´ve realized that work and life are irrevocably interlinked. They have found smart ways to integrate the two of them efficiently and effectively. They don´t consider workaholism as a virtue; they believe in managing up and pushing back if necessary.

Happiness is a growth priority for them. They define happiness not as daydreaming or as seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. In fact, they consider happiness and the well-being of people as a fundamental human right, well aligned with, and not hiding behind, economic growth and social responsibility. They know what numerous studies have shown – happy people are healthier, more confident, more productive, more satisfied, and more resilient.

Quality 5 – Develop!
Tomorrow´s top leaders enjoy developing and coaching others. They invest a lot of energy and time in building and maintaining personal relationships founded on trust. Trust is a core belief and value of these leaders which they work hard to earn and keep, e.g. by walking their talk, by communicating frequently and openly, by taking a stand (even if it´s not a popular one), by empowering others, and by following high ethical standards.

Tomorrow’s top leaders are very active team builders and try to lead engaged employees – employees who take pride in their work, who are committed beyond their usual call of duty, who are emotionally connected with their organization, and who want to succeed. They might integrate elements of leadership approaches such as the Fish! philosophy or train their teams on breakthrough techniques such as creativity.

No doubt, top leaders of the future have something else in common which is of paramount importance to their success – a relentless and passionate focus on talent. They are very intentional and uncompromising about this. They have created high-performing organizations consisting of exceptional talents. Tomorrow´s top leaders are what I coin HPCDA persons. Individuals who possess a happy, positive, can-do-attitude.

Quality 6 – Improve & Innovate
Tomorrow´s top leaders are data-driven, process-focused, and permanently in a disruptive mindset.

First and foremost, they are paranoid about the fact that speed matters more than ever in a quickly changing world. Although it´s not a new finding that market leading companies need to be fast and agile, they have found ways to realize the concept of speed. They have implemented very powerful techniques such as Only meet to make decisions, Leave Politics to politicians, Plus one minus two, Learn from successes, Stop presentation cat walks, etc.

Secondly, they apply new business metrics. Of course, revenue, cost, market shares, profit, etc. remain important. However, they put them into a new context and link them with a modified weighting and time frame. In addition, they will complement them with criteria such as customer engagement, customer excitement, number of disruptive ideas, and the capability to invent new successful business models.

Thirdly, they know that in hyper-competitive times, competition is not just on brand and technological innovation, but also – and foremost – on the business model. Disruption is king for them on purpose, and even if it were to mean being a self-disruptor! They have the ability and willingness to envisage where their customers, industry, and adjacent industries might evolve to in five to ten years.

Quality 7 – Care
Tomorrow´s top leaders want to support others, to give, to make an impact, and to do good. They care about the well-being of their employees and about broader environmental and social topics. They are aware of the fact that you have to give before you receive. They have integrated values like gratitude and appreciation into their lives and linked them with positive and people-focused thinking and acting to achieve a fulfilled life.

They show a strong interpersonal, day-to-day ability to genuinely and graciously thank other people for what they do. Unfortunately, it´s a behavior that´s too often forgotten in the heat of the battle. Moreover, outstanding future leaders avoid the common tendency of managers to focus on the shortfalls and misses. Instead they posses the beautiful quality to identify moments of achievement and greatness and to put a spotlight on them. That gives confidence and strength to the teams and often generates innovation and unlocks tremendous organization-wide value.

Clare W Graves – the great explorer of human nature and the father of the famous Gravesian theory – calls them Gold Thinkers. They are people and leaders who do not seek social approval, personal advantage or a sense of absolute truth. More than anything else they seek opportunities to contribute. Their faith in life is such that, even when they screw up, they always come away with a valuable lesson. Tomorrow´s top leaders are also great supporters of cause management, i.e. integrating social issues into their core strategy.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Andreas von der Heydt is the Head and Director of Kindle Content at Amazon in Germany.

Image: Nils Westerlund of Sweden, Sofia Braendstroem of Sweden, Alessandro Contini of Italy  and Emma Rose of Britain (R-L) of the HowDo start-up attend a production meeting at their office at the Wostel co-working space in Berlin March. REUTERS/Thomas Peter.

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