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5 Key Literacies Every Leader Should Know

Cornerstone Editors

From the onset of the gig economy to the rise of artificial intelligence, millennials and members of Generation Z understand that change is coming to the workforce, but many don't feel prepared to face these changes. According to a new report from Deloitte, just 36 percent of millennials and 29 percent of Generation Z believe they have all the skills and knowledge they'll need to thrive in the future of work.

How can they gain and develop the critical skills that will not just prepare them for the onslaught of workplace change, but also fundamentally make them more flexible and adaptable? They'll first have to expand their definition of skills, says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future.

"To thrive the workforce of the future, it'll take new practices, disciplines and world views," he says. "That certainly includes skills, but it's much more than that."

In his new book, The New Leadership Literacies, Johansen lays out the five key literacies employees—especially leaders and future leaders (like millennials and Gen Zers)—will need to embody in order to be more nimble in the evolving workforce. He'll present these literacies during his keynote presentation at Cornerstone Convergence, but shares a special preview with ReWork below.

1) Look 10 Years Ahead

Today, when they consider company strategy, most leaders immerse themselves in the present state of the organization and inch their way out to the future—looking only two or three years ahead. This is a missed opportunity, Johansen explains. "The immediate future is what our military calls the VUCA world—volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. In this kind of world, there's just too much noise," according to Johansen.

This traditional approach makes it harder to let go of specific trends and notions that might be important today, but won't matter 10 years down the line. Meanwhile, a further look forward enables people to think more creatively about what how the future will look—and how to prepare for it.

2) Face Fears Voluntarily

When workers think about the future of their jobs, it's normal to feel overwhelmed by what's to come, be that automation or the decline of certain industries. Hard as it is, that daunting feeling is an ideal opportunity for what Johansen calls voluntary fear engagement. "It's crucial to find a way to practice and prepare to face fears in low risk ways. It's a gainful engagement," he says.

Younger generations have a big competitive advantage in this area because they grew up with visual media and gaming. Video games allowed these generations to practice leadership, strategic thinking and teamwork in a safe setting as children. Today, as adults, fear management can take many forms—for example, a warehouse operator can use virtual or augmented reality to show his or her employees what their work will look like ten years down the road. Seeing a highly-automated warehouse operated by robot workers might be tough to look at, Johansen says, but having a realistic outlook is critical in order to adapt.

3) Learn to Shapeshift

Organizations of the future won't be as hierarchical as they are today, and to be an effective leader at such an organization, workers have to become shapeshifters, Johansen says.

"Future companies will have no obvious center—they grow from the edges and can't be controlled," he explains.

That means leaders will have to develop an elasticity of mind that enables them to easily accept new team structures and employee patterns. The relationship between managers and direct reports may be more teamwork-based and collaborative, for example, rather than one party calling the shots. Adjusting to this new environment requires a mental shift from leaders, but it'll pay off with employees feeling more empowered.

4) Be Present—Even If You Physically Aren't

Organizations are becoming not only distributed, but also decentralized. Increasingly, employees are working remotely, or gathering in co-working spaces rather than in traditional offices. As a result, it's vital for leaders to figure out how to lead from afar; that means being more mindful of the strategy behind check-in meetings and setting goals that employees could follow independently.

"Leaders have to figure out how to be better if they're not there physically. We have to be better than we've been in person," Johansen says.

5) Stay Positive

The future will always be uncertain, but the key to facing unpredictable changes in stride is creating and sustaining positive energy.

Positivity isn't necessarily a literacy that can be learned, Johansen warns, but for millennials and the Generation Z cohort, it comes naturally. Those who have come of age in 2010 or later are particularly in luck, Johansen says: "They have a sense of urgency, they're very good curators and they have good filters. They want to change the world and have hope."

Armed with these literacies, tomorrow's leaders can gear up for a future where soft skills such as adaptability and open-mindedness will be as valuable as traditional credentials. But like any skill, these literacies will need need refinement through lifelong learning.

"Continued learning and the gaining of new literacies will no doubt be a requirement in the organization of the future," Johansen says.

Photo: Twenty20

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