Skillsoft Blog

The 2020 Leader: Attributes for Success in the 2020 Workplace

We are pleased to bring you a guest blog post today from Jeanne Meister, upcoming keynote speaker at Perspectives 2011 and co-author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today.

By Jeanne Meister 

In the book, The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today, we ask the question:

“What are the key attributes of a leader in the 2020 workplace?”

Our answer posits five attributes leaders will need to navigate the workplace in 2020. These are shown below, a chart taken directly from The 2020 Workplace book:


So it was interesting to read the latest book by Adam Bryant, who writes the “Corner Office” column for the New York Times and whose book The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed has just been published.

Bryant proposes that successful leaders share five specific qualities and look for those same qualities in people they hire. Here are the five qualities along with a view toward leveraging these qualities in the 2020 workplace.

Bryant’s Five Qualities of a Successful Leader

1. Passionate curiosity

Bryant: Passionate curiosity is an infectious sense of fascination that some people have with everything around them.  Leaders who have a passionate curiosity ask the “big inspiring questions,” in an attempt to always want to know more. The most effective leaders wonder why things work the way they do and whether those things can be improved upon. They want to know people’s stories, and what they do.”

2020 Leader: As Peter Drucker was fond of saying: “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask questions.” And the bigger and more inspiring the questions the better  in an attempt to have people become energized and excited enough to propose solutions.

2. Battle-hardened confidence

Bryant: Great leaders display “a concept known as ‘locus of control’. . . People who have it will take on, and own, any assignment thrown their way. They say those words that are music to a manager’s ears: ‘Got it. I’m on it.’”

2020 Leader: Leaders who have “battle-hardened confidence have a positive attitude mixed with a sense of purpose and determination. As Bryant says in his book, “People who have it, will take on, and own any assignment thrown their way. Or as Gary Hamel argues in his book, The Future of Management, leaders build accountability into everything they do.

3. Team smarts

Bryant: “The most effective executives are more than team players. They understand how teams work and how to get the most out of the group both in the current assignment and with a view toward future assignments. Just as some people have street smarts, others have team smarts.”

2020 Leader: In the 2020 workplace, team smarts is also about having good “peripheral vision” for sensing how people react to one another, not just how they act. Leaders must be on the lookout for individuals who can be part of a high performing team and know how to bring the team members together around a common goal. Innovative methods of developing these teams will be leveraged in the 2020 workplace and they include: leadership skills training programs leveraging social networking tools, group mentoring, reverse mentoring, as well as providing coaching at lower levels of the organization.

4. A simple mind-set

Bryant: “Most senior executives want a crisp vision and communication style. This means:  be concise, get to the point, keep it simple.” Bryant proposes more leaders need to be able to summarize their ideas in a 10-word summary, which sounds easier than it is.

2020 Leader: Leaders will need to be concise and crisp in the face of ever increasingly complexities in running their businesses. But how? One answer is to insist on a 10-word summary of new ideas from your team. Another is to use microblogging tools inside the company, like Yammer or Chatter, which force the user to summarize their thoughts in as few characters as possible. The new job of leaders in the 2020 workplace is to be digitally confident while “being concise, getting to the point and keeping it simple.”

5. Fearlessness

Bryant: “Fearlessness refers to calculated and informed risk-taking by executives who have a vision for the future. When chief executives talk about executives on their staffs who are fearless, there is a reverence in their voices. They wish they could bottle it and pass it out to all their employees.”

2020 Leader: As we approach the workplace in 2020, we cannot imagine the future by simply extrapolating from the past. As Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox says, “one of the attributes of being fearless is seeing an opportunity even though things are not broken.” Leaders need to see changes coming in their businesses and prepare for these by “future proofing” the enterprise, meaning understanding the implications of these revolutionary changes and taking actions to position the company in the coming decade.

Which of these five qualities do you think is the most important in a leader as we head into the 2020 workplace? Are there any others you can add to the list? Please go ahead and share your suggestions in a note to me at:

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