Some professional circles let their enthusiasm for the philosophy of leadership blind them to its application. Instead of practicing what they preach, leaders pick trendy new books and speakers every year, throwing managers into chaos as they struggle to keep up with best practices.

As Gen-Z enters the workforce in droves, the days of theory over practice have come to an end. While Millennials were experience-focused and high-minded, members of Gen-Z are practical and focused. They expect to have frequent face-to-face talks with their managers, plenty of flexibility for telecommuting, and opportunities to make the world a better place through their work. They saw what happened to Millennials during the crash of the late 2000s. Gen-Zers don't just want to avoid the same fate -- they want to make sure that others don't suffer in their place.

They aren't the only ones demanding change in leadership, though. Increased access to information means employees of all ages have more context by which to judge their leaders. Managers, meanwhile, have no excuses left. Anyone in a leadership position in 2020 should know what employees expect and how to deliver on those expectations in ways that benefit both the employees and the businesses where they work.

Whether you manage a team of one or 100, embrace the new reality of leadership by keeping an eye on these trends with staying power:

Proactive Rewards for Smart Risks

Plenty of companies claim they want employees to take risks. In reality, most managers continue to encourage employees to play it safe. Leaders who allow too much risk under their watch get the axe, while leaders who allow too little usually hit their quarterly numbers and deal with fewer heated arguments.

Two-faced risk embracement may have worked last decade, but no longer. Leaders can't skate by without innovation in the 2020s, and young employees won't tolerate being silenced. Commercial real estate brokerage Keyser, an Inc. 5000 honoree, drills intelligent risk-taking values into its hires to create a culture where failures don't carry the shame they do in other environments. Today's leaders should reward risk when team members take smart chances, not after the results reveal whether the experiment worked. 

Respect for Soft Skills

Hard skills help candidates get in the door. Soft skills determine whether they succeed on the job. As training options become smarter and skill gaps become easier to navigate, leaders must focus less on what employees and potential employees already know and focus more on how much potential for growth they demonstrate.

LinkedIn Learning named creativity as its top soft skill for 2020, which should come as no surprise. Emotional intelligence made the list for the first time at No. 5. Definitions of emotional intelligence vary, but leaders should understand how others perceive them and how to navigate tricky situations without making anyone feel attacked. Understanding and prioritizing these soft skills will be key for leaders to hire qualified talent.

Prioritization of the Whole Person

Remote work options and flexible leave have created workplaces where employees don't have to pretend to love the 9-to-5 grind. Old-school leaders can enjoy rigidity if they want, but employees expect the benefit of the doubt regarding how and when they work. Leaders in 2020 must fine-tune their asynchronous communication strategies to keep up with teams who no longer view full meeting rooms as necessary evils.

In addition to remote work and flexible schedules, employees have begun to embrace better work-life balance. The trend of unlimited PTO, once considered a luxury, now fills savvy employees with suspicion. HR company Namely found that employees take fewer days off with an unlimited policy than they do with a traditional plan. Even though employees can work anywhere at any time, they don't want to be on call 24/7. Leaders should set the example by using all their PTO days and leaving employees alone when they aren't on the clock.

Elimination of Unnecessary Hierarchy

Org charts don't carry the same weight as they used to. Companies can't say they prioritize innovation, and then let leaders turn around and punish people who don't walk their ideas through the chain of command. Life moves too quickly in 2020 to worry about who needs to sign off on what. For leaders to encourage smart risks, they must also accept that the most valuable risk takers don't see much point in stiff hierarchical rules.

Leaders who don't inspire their teams without corner offices don't deserve their titles. In 2020, that will become even more apparent. Real leaders earn respect because they listen to their team members, provide guidance, and advocate fiercely when the moment calls for action. Payment processing company Gusto eliminated job titles in favor of simple levels, with numbers one through eight denoting authority. Gusto says the change has helped eliminate ego-driven disputes and empowered employees to stay focused on the mission.

Leadership in 2020 will be simple: no nonsense, less ceremony. The age of stale leadership philosophy has ended. The new age of trust, honesty, and personal initiative has finally begun.

Published on: Jan 28, 2020
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