7 Leadership Trends For 2015

The Industrial Revolution has been over for quite some time, yet for some reason the outdated management style that ran assembly lines persists today. Here are the main ways that the modern workplace has shifted and how company leaders are scrambling to respond.


Harvard Business Review’s cover for July/August 2015 boldly states: “It’s Time To Blow-Up HR and Build Something New.” We couldn’t agree more.

15Five has been predicting the end of human resources for some time. CEO David Hassell wrote that “when people are treated as assets, they will be unable to access their highest levels of performance and will be unwilling to contribute in a way that leads to growth and success. When people feel valued as people — instead of cogs — there is no limit to what they can accomplish”.

Sure HR has its place in terms of handling paperwork, creating policies, and implementing benefits like health plans. However, the time has come for managers to develop open and trusting relationships directly with employees. Instead of HR dealing with employees only when they are on the verge of quitting, managers must own these relationships on a deeper level than ever before.

Why? because the workplace is shifting…again. There is a software application that automates just about every menial task that a person can perform. This has cleared the way for the age of the knowledge worker, highly specialized and creative employees like software developers and content writers.

Our dependence on and interdependence with technology is changing every aspect of our existence including how employees work and how leaders lead. Technology provides us with the ability to iterate and produce at lightning speed. But it can also be incredibly harmful for people who don’t learn to find balance with tech down-time. Productivity can suffer when people become so distracted, that they can’t work uninterrupted for hours at a time – a necessary component for entering what is called a “flow state” at work.

There is also a demographic shift at play, where millennials will comprise half the workforce in the next few years. The Y-Generation is perplexing Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers who are struggling to understand them and meet their demands; meaningful work, accelerated growth, flexible schedules, and strong relationships with managers.

Like it or not, the proliferation of technology and a modern generation of purpose-driven, entrepreneurial employees have changed the way we work. Below, we have compiled the top 8 leadership trends that are being set by those who embrace the change and who are succeeding as a result.


Engagement & Culture Focus

Culture was Merriam Webster’s 2014 word of the year. Once considered a soft consideration in the dog-eat-dog business world, today culture is one of the greatest drivers of performance at some of the world’s most successful companies.

Executives have realized the power of sustainability. Rather than motivating individual employees and teams repeatedly, creating a high-performance culture allows an organization to run more smoothly and. People become self-motivated, driven to achieve the mission.

Since culture only works when it is adopted by the tribe, you will have to hire for it. More and more companies are posting their mission, story, team and values on their website. Now potential, purpose-driven employees can vet a culture before they even respond to a posting or move forward with recruiters.

You may be asking yourself, “What is this doing in a discussion about leadership? Culture is an HR matter.” The trend we are beginning to see is that culture is being created and maintained by leaders, not Human Resources departments.

According to Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends Report, culture and engagement consistently ranked as the number one people-issue across all regions and industries. 87% of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, and 50 percent call the problem “very important.” According to Deloitte, “without strong engagement and a positive, meaningful work environment, people will disengage and look elsewhere for work.”


Collective Leadership

How implementing the A, B, C’s can create the foundation for environments that inspire companies to work together towards a common goal (James Quigley, CEO of Deloitte, Touche & Tohmatsu Ltd. from 2007 to 2011).

Empowering people to become leaders and influencers has the potential to benefit business in a number of ways. It drives greater commitment, engagement and accountability at all levels, and produces the future top business leaders.

Traditionally, the principal approach to leadership within teams has been embodied by a sole individual. In the real world, however, this is rarely the case. Rather, multiple individuals within a team may serve as leaders, and responsibilities of leadership are often rooted in an individual’s expertise that is most relevant to the given problem. This is where the collective leadership model comes into play. Collective leadership occurs when people come together and fuse human, cultural, and technological resources in ways that improve their communities for the common good.

Quigley (cited above) addressed the challenges that face leaders in pursuit of achieving a collective organizational model through what he calls the A’s, B’s, and C’s of leadership. The ambition of this model can apply at all levels of an organization—whether leading a client service team of 10 or 100, a geographic marketplace of 1,000, a national function of 10,000, or a firm of 100,000.

The A, B, and C’s

  • “A” represents an “As One” environment, in which those in the organization behave “as one” in pursuit of shared goals and objectives.
  • The B’s and C’s that are the building blocks of effective leadership that need to be in place for an organization to behave “as one” in pursuit of shared goals and objectives.

The ability to obtain the best of team innovation and creativity, while maintaining discipline and focus on execution, is the best of both worlds. Leaders in this movement, like Apple and Cision, have seen that their teams embrace a clear vision, and agree fundamentally on goals, objectives and direction. Teams speak in one voice, they recognize and celebrate their interdependencies, and they leverage each other’s unique capabilities to deliver winning outcomes.


Open Communication

Tapping the power of questions: the crucial links between talent, engagement, and vital business outcomes.

Always say what you mean. That principle sounds so simple but all too often, what we try to communicate gets lost in translation despite our best intentions. Though we say one thing, the other person hears something different, possibly because of a change in context. When people and companies lack in communication skills, misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts ensue. Effective communication is about more than just the words you use, it blends a set of distinct skills including:

  • Nonverbal cues
  • Engaged listening
  • Stress management

Also important is the ability to communicate assertively, and to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of the person with whom you’re communicating. The best way to do this is to ask questions consistently, to gather information that you can act upon and to allow others to share their experiences.

Gallup found that “consistent communication — whether it occurs in person, over the phone or electronically — is connected to higher employee engagement.” Seems simple enough. However, these mere transactions between managers and employees aren’t enough to increase engagement. Employees look to and value communication from their manager not just about their roles and responsibilities, but also on what happens in their lives outside of work.

The best managers understand that each person they manage is unique, they recognize them as individuals who have different successes and challenges both at and away from work. Accommodating for an employee’s uniqueness while managing each job towards high performance will begin to build and establish a level of trust and communication, and open the doors of communication for a unified workplace. Managers who see their employees as people first, are most likely to succeed in creating this type of culture.

Poor communication can limit the effectiveness of an organization, even a small business operation with just a handful of employees. Improving communication efforts can be simple and effortless, for example:

  • Listen
  • Meet in person
  • Follow up/through
  • Create a team project

These behaviors — related to communication, performance management, and strengths — strongly link to employee engagement and give organizations better insights into developing their managers and raising the overall performance of the business.


Employee Health is a priority. Consider it a Win-Win (Win) situation

Your employees are healthy + happy, and your company saves money all while increasing productivity. Why wouldn’t you want to make a healthy investment like this?

With the onset of collaborative workspaces by industry leaders like Google, it comes as no surprise that in 2015 there is a strong focus on employee health. People sharing space means that one person’s cold may soon create an absent team.

The best bet for less sick days is to create an environment where people are likely to stay healthy. Managers know that when employees are stressed, overworked, have poor diets, and aren’t getting enough rest, they will eventually get sick or burn-out. The days of the “live to work” mentality are being replaced in the workspace with a healthier “work to live” state of mind.

Companies are starting to see that the true value of their business and success lies at the hands (and happiness) of the people who handle day-to-day operations. Now, they are seen as the culture and backbone that ensures a business meets, and even exceeds, its goals.

Today’s managers create environments that encourage and support thriving employees and promotes a happy work/life integration within the office space. Wellness in the Workplace programs are becoming increasingly prevalent. Some companies provide healthy lunches once or twice a week, or partner with a local gym to offer weekly/monthly fitness classes. Here are some other health-positive ideas:

  • Encourage Exercise – provide secure bike parking, promote a walking club or offer membership discounts to a local gym or exercise studio
  • Invest in Incentives – whether they’re financial or otherwise, inspire employees with programs designed to promote healthy behaviors.
  • Recommend Resources – bring in specialists to promote and educate employees on the benefits of alternative lifestyle changes, like stress management, dietary or life coaches

A leading provider in health benefits, Aetna, implemented a simple and low-cost initiative, meditation + mindfulness/yoga, to promote wellness. After 10 weeks, their employees saw improvements in biometric measures, like lower stress levels, heart rate and less production of the cortisol stress hormone. Aetna also noted improved sleep quality, reduced pain levels, and higher productivity reported from their employees participating in the program.


Employees First

The concept of putting the well-being of employees first seems like common knowledge, a standard practice in the workplace. But this hasn’t been the case until recently.

Renowned author and speaker Simon Sinek states that putting people first is not just good for employees, it’s good for business. Companies are trying to increase employee engagement and innovation and so they often use fear tactics to “encourage” creativity and productivity. Today’s leader knows that engagement and innovation are natural byproducts of giving people a purpose and making them feel valued as a member of the team.

The days when a company’s employees were seen as another piece of owned capital, like its finances, office equipment, and property are fading fast. Realizing that employees are one of their most valuable investments, companies are shifting towards creating a culture that reflects the quality of its employees, one that benefits them personally and professionally.

Leading the movement is the notion of remolding “workplace culture.” We have transitioned away from playing by the rules set in place by a dedicated HR department, to a more trial and error model. HR as we know it is on its way out the door. The rise of the startup culture is also eliminating the need for HR departments.

Rather, a set of values established by the company is now implemented early-on to create an atmosphere that attracts people who will support the culture and foster business success. Companies are no longer hiring solely for the skills someone brings to the table, now considering whether they fit into the company’s culture. Before hiring, leaders are asking how employees contribute to the team and fit with the values of the company.


Bridging the Generation Gap

There are fundamental differences in how varied age groups approach work. Thanks to technology, the complexity of business practices, and the pace of business activity, bridging the gap in the workplace is becoming increasingly more difficult.

This is the first time in history when we have 5 generations working side-by-side; The Lost Generation, Baby-Boomers, Gen-X, Gen Y, and recently Gen Z.

This is relevant since 1 out of every 3 employees wastes up to 5 hours each week as a direct result of friction in the workplace caused by intergenerational conflicts. Finding a resolution point, however, goes beyond technology, it speaks to the building blocks of a company’s culture, communication and work ethic. Here are some ways that today’s leaders are bridging the generation gap:

  • Create Diverse Teams
  • Understand Individual Motivators
  • Stage Gatherings
  • Encourage Feedback + Communication
  • Practice Reverse Mentoring

A recent survey of over 1,000 full-time employees from all over the country, showed the disparity in communication between different age groups. Millennials thought their Boomer bosses didn’t understand modern communication styles and social media. Boomers thought that Millennials would only text or email and wouldn’t pick-up the phone to discuss issues.

Many companies are now choosing to use communication platforms like Slack, 15Five, and Tiny Pulse. These offer solutions for better communication among and across teams. The most important conversations are being shared between employees and all layers of management both transparently and anonymously.


Coaching Is The New Managing

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn, rather than teaching them”, Tim Gallwey, author of a series of books about the Inner Game.

After speaking with hundreds of Millennials, Karie Willyerd (Senior Vice President of Learning and Social Adoption at SuccessFactors), discovered that what they want most from their managers is more help with personal development, not more managerial direction.

Younger generations just entering the workforce crave, and respond to, a genuine, positive coach who can make all the difference in their success. Coaching isn’t about telling people what to do, but helping them to achieve all they are capable of doing and being; it’s focused on team building and aiding in preparation for the next chapter.

Great managers realize that for coaching to resonate, they should consider the mentee’s psyche, and know that to create a winning team, they need to be in touch. Millennials aren’t shy about what they’re looking for from their managers. In order to be more efficient and proficient, Millennials want to:

1. Be Encouraging

Newcomers fresh out of college are fragile and malleable, and a little boost can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and improving performance. This presents a prime opportunity as a manager to coach that new person while they’re most fragile, rather than fostering a sink-or-swim environment.

2. Be Authentic

Good coaches aren’t afraid to show or experience emotions with their team, whether it’s the rush of victory or the disappointment of defeat. Managers who are authentic/approachable coaches and good listeners build trust, an essential foundation upon which to build a great team.

The ability to inspire and motivate others is a behavioral skill that anyone can develop, but coaching can be intimidating for people who have no experience with it. In the introduction to Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Coaching Employees, leadership coach Ed Batista discusses that a leader’s impact is not in telling people what to do but in empowering and motivating them. Batista believes that anyone can coach by asking key question to help employees “fulfill their immediate responsibilities more effectively and advance their development as professionals over time”.

Bottom Line: Leaders must provide employees with purpose and empower them to do their best work.

We are seeing some incredibly inspiring trends in leadership, where the people in charge are realizing that treating people well is good for business. We couldn’t help including some sound advice for re-humanizing and supporting your workforce in this list. If you would like more insights, please visit the 15Five Blog.

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