Three Leadership Traits Critical to the Future of Work

Three Leadership Traits Critical to the Future of Work

The ongoing evolution of the global economy is a reflection of powerful changes occurring within the human population. Economies once historically sidelined by political headwinds, poor infrastructure and underutilized workforces are using digital technologies and access to interconnected resources to build unprecedented wealth and influence.

But growth economies are doing more than catching up with traditional markets. They’re now leading profound changes throughout the global economy. India has surpassed the U.S. and Japan as the leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies;1 Latin America’s once stalled economy expects stable growth throughout 2019;2 and the purchasing power of China’s middle class has forever changed e-commerce and how consumers find, purchase and acquire products and services.3

Business leaders, understandably, can feel overwhelmed by the pace and scope of modern change and what it means for their organizations and workforce dynamics. These three leadership qualities can guide them to success in an uncertain future.

Demonstrate Emotional Intelligence & Soft Skills

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Leaders must be truthful to their own feelings while acknowledging the feelings of others. The era of lifetime employment and guaranteed pension plans is ending in many regions, which means employees around the world harbor fears about job security and long-term financial well-being. Moreover, Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends report shows that employees are increasingly searching for roles that allow them to work with purpose, putting additional pressure on leaders to connect with their workforce on a deeper level. Business leaders who internalize this reality and take meaningful steps to curtail their employees’ anxieties command the respect of workers.

Candidness is the cornerstone of true communication. Leaders must actively develop their emotional intelligence (EQ) and soft skill quotients so they can inspire individual employees and entire workforces by speaking to their emotions while always delivering the truth. Reality, ultimately, always prevails. People respect leaders who treat them with respect and prepare them with information that will impact their lives.

Emotional intelligence and soft skills should become priorities for business leaders who wish to thrive in the future of work. Being able to relate to the aspirations, sensibilities and challenges of other human beings requires a concerted effort to listen, understand and take action. As workforces, especially in growth nations, gravitate from rural areas to emerging megacities, leaders must proactively address their concerns about finding affordable childcare and transportation, accessing financial investment opportunities and pursuing professional development programs. Soft skills allow leaders to communicate information instead of dictating information. This connection builds strong relationships and productivity among workers who then feel critical to the business’ objectives and success. Because, in truth, they are. Genuine appreciation is a powerful motivator.

Have a Passion for Technology

Leaders who feel they have “made it” are doomed to irrelevance. The image of a business leader in a corner office with teams of employees to carry out their orders and promulgate their communications is becoming obsolete. Technology is always evolving, and business leaders cannot rely on others to fill the gap when it comes to proficiency with modern digital devices, platforms and strategies. Learning new technologies takes time, and for many leaders, time is a precious commodity. Digital transformation, however, demands that business leaders passionately engage with developing technological innovations and trends that impact business operations, consumer engagement and sales strategies.

The future of work requires leaders to have the technical ability to communicate across the latest digital ecosystems and media channels. This acumen demonstrates their understanding of how technology is evolving and how it drives business in a hyper-interconnected world. Business leaders should regularly ask employees and outside vendors (and even competitors) to “show me” or “teach me,” because these questions demonstrate a passion for learning and an emotional intelligence that appreciates the need to stay informed and relevant.

Being technologically savvy also allows leaders to connect the dots in terms of operational resources, workforce skillsets and the need to pivot priorities and growth investments. When in doubt, there is no shame in asking how to use the latest application or device. The future waits for no one.    

Know all Growth is Global

Think about your smartphone.  It probably contains lithium from Chile, indium from China and coltan from Rwanda.4 Even the most local business relies on the global economy, and leaders who are able to contextualize business opportunities with an international mindset are poised for success in the future of work. In 2025, the world’s population will reach 8.1 billion people—which represents a historic level of business opportunity, untapped markets and revenue sources waiting to be discovered.5 Growth is the result of forward-thinking initiatives that plan for where business is heading. As western economies continue to struggle with political turmoil—from the implementation of Brexit to uncertain U.S. international trade dynamics—growth economies can wield increased influence across all industries.  

Growth-focused leaders, however, face the challenge of building consensus and securing buy-in from various stakeholders. From C-suite executives and employees to investors and shareholders, leaders must be able to communicate a vision and strategy that captures the potential of the future of work. Leaders must always think in terms of a globalized economy, because that is where the opportunity resides—in the hearts, minds and needs of an expanding population. This will continue to propel businesses in the future, so long as leaders provide a vision moving forward.

Growth economies offer business leaders more than lucrative sales markets. They provide valuable supply chains and investment opportunities in assets ranging from infrastructure and manufacturing to human capital and digital technologies. In a globalized world, the future of work belongs to leaders who understand that opportunities will come from economies on the rise and leaders who understand the influence EQ, technology and a global mindset will have on their ability to succeed.

1.    “India Leads US and Japan in Driving RPA and AI Based Technologies.” Analytics Insight, 2 Oct. 2018,
2.    Latin America Outlook 3Q18 -
3.    Sixth Tone. “How China's Middle Class Will Dictate the Future of E-Commerce.” Sixth Tone, 16 Jan. 2018,
4.    Minerals in Your Mobile Phone - The East African.
5.    “U.N.: World Population to Reach 8.1B in 2025.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 13 June 2013,

Sophia Powe
by Sophia Powe

Editor-in-Chief, Voice on Growth, Mercer