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9 Skills Business Leaders Of The Future Will Need

In the digital age, the skill set required of the modern business leader is changing. We find out how to thrive in the age of technology

Thu Feb 28 2019

The workplace of the future is an ominous place in some circles. Automation and robotics have displaced the majority of the human workforce; retraining and upskilling has lost its worth; and the career ladder is short too many rungs, impossible to climb.

But, in January 2019 at the MERIT Summit—an executive education conference—room was made for optimism.

BusinessBecause put the question to attendees, ‘What is the one key skill or trait all business leaders of the future will need?’ and the answers came in aplenty.

Here are the nine key skills successful business leaders of the future will need:

1. A global mindset

Anders Richtnér (pictured below), the CEO of Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) Executive Education, thinks that future business leaders will need an understanding that their roles are not bound to a single company, or culture, or place.

What they will need is an affinity with the global issues that tie us all together.


2. Adaptability

The workplace of the future will require business leaders to have the willingness and patience to engage with the challenges posed by adapting...

ever-changing environment. They’ll need to adopt a “self-transforming personality,” thinks Carlo Giardinetti (pictured below).

The dean of Executive Education and Global Outreach at Franklin University Switzerland, in Lugano says that leaders who don’t already have this mindset need to ask themselves how they can become a self-transforming leader who embraces the VUCA world, and is comfortable with polarity—"it’s not a skill game, it’s a mindset shift game,” he asserts.


Lori Niles-Hoffman (pictured below), an independent learning strategist, agrees.

She recites a neuroscientist friend of hers, who says we need to train the brain to a level where it’s comfortable with change.  

“But that [comes] with constant exposure, and I think that’s probably the biggest skill [we’ll need] because if you can’t manage that, you won’t be able to keep up,” she says.


3. Empathy

Preserve the human context. That’s what Charles Fouche, professor of entrepreneurship at NEOMA Business School, and ESCP Europe, thinks is necessary for the business leaders of the future.

“It’s much more about environment and ambiance, in the sense of respecting the other and providing him the space and fuel to grow.”

4. Inter-disciplinary learning

“Emotional intelligence is one of the main aspects that we can bring to new people going into the workforce, giving them a cross-disciplinary experience, but also a cross-cultural experience,” says Dave Cass, director of Education and Executive Development at Maastricht School of Management (MSM).

Dave explains that at MSM, almost by osmosis, you learn from your peers from different industries.

“It could be you’re in software development and you hit a problem two years down the track, and something you were told from someone who was a veterinarian could lead you to the right answer.”

5. Control

Gerald Lang, professor at Kedge Business School, in France, believes that any business leader who is an expert in their field also needs to be able to motivate, control, and manage their people.

“Controlling is part of a leader’s work as well, so we shouldn’t be feared to talk about these issues as well.”

6. Coding terence-key-skills-merit

Everyone should take a coding class, says Terence Tse (pictured right), professor at ESCP Europe and cofounder of AI company, Nexus FrontierTech. 

“Unless you really go deep into Python you will probably not end up being a coder, but that’s not the point,” he says. “The point is you should know what Python can do […] and how it can affect your decision making.”

7. Digital detox

“I always suggest people try and do the digital detox. Pick up a damn book, and read, just read a lot,” continues Terence.

“The more time you spend on social media, the more narrowly focused you will be, because you’re always looking at the Facebook pages of the people in your group, or the Whatsapp group of people who are talking about exactly the same thing.”

8. Lifelong learning

Giuseppe Auricchio, executive director of IESEOnline at IESE Business School, says that continuous learning is more than a skill, it’s an attitude.

But, it transcends learning for personal gain. It also requires the ability to pass on information.

“Yes, you can develop the skill of learning, after that you need to develop the skill of teaching—people need to be able to learn, people need to be able to teach,” Giuseppe adds.

9. Cognitive flexibility cedric-key-skills-merit

Cedric Borzee (pictured right) learning service director at digital learning solutions provider, Crossknowledge, says he is always quizzed on the skills of the future by his clients.

This year cognitive flexibility has made an appearance—how to learn and how to unlearn in the process.

“Functional skills will remain key, and there the challenge really is to reconnect that to how people apply the skills to their job.

“The lifespan of skills is becoming shorter and shorter, and we will need cognitive flexibility, the ability to continually reskill.”