What Does it Take to be a Next Generation Leader

As a fluid, more evolved workplace is beginning to take shape, where a hybrid and diverse workforce is collaborating in the process, leaders must be attuned to two key attributes that are becoming the chief traits of next-generation leadership: emotional intelligence (EQ) and aptitude for learning.
Celine Chami
Sep 08, 2022

A fluid, more evolved workplace is beginning to take shape, where a hybrid and diverse workforce is collaborating in the process. This is resulting in shifting working models where traditional leadership strategies may not be well adapted to meet such substantial changes.

There is a growing interest in a new leadership style based on attributes like empathy, agility, innovation and active listening. This has developed particularly post-covid as a result of people’s mental states having been altered during confinement and lockdown – so the view on what is expected in the workplace began to shift. The result has been a new set of expectations based on values, impact and purpose.

Effective leadership does not end here, though. Leaders need to navigate through constant change and uncertainty, and deal with the impact of failure as much as with achievement. So they must be attuned to two key attributes that are becoming the chief traits of next-generation leadership: emotional intelligence (EQ) and aptitude for learning.

Emotional intelligence

Experts define emotional intelligence as the ability not only to manage one’s own emotions, but be equally receptive to, and manage, others’. As emotions can weave through different work situations, leaders should be able to comprehend what triggers, blocks, motivates or engages their employees for the sake of promoting healthy collaboration. Even when conflict emerges, leaders should be able to deal with it before it transforms into a toxic workplace culture.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of the bestselling book “Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships”, EQ consists of five key pillars:

  1. Self-awareness: refers to the ability to know one’s feelings and emotions, and how they may impact job performance and professional relationships.
  2. Self-regulation: refers to the aptitude to control one’s feelings, especially under pressure. It also denotes one’s ability to adapt to uncertain situations and adverse circumstances.
  3. Motivation: refers to the capability of looking at the full picture of one’s job and understanding the purpose of the work being done. It also allows the leader to reflect on employees to understand what drives them and what hinders them, so that they can be incentivised and motivated in the right way.
  4. Empathy: refers to one’s ability to practise active listening and be receptive and responsive to the team’s needs. Empathetic leaders give employees their full attention and work towards providing a safe workplace built on trust and justice.
  5. Social skills: refers to the aptitude one possesses to create an emotional connection with team members through communication. This is essential in conflict resolution, as well as in change management, where leaders need to build healthy relationships among employees, as well as reassure their teams in times of change.

Philippa White, Founder and CEO of The International Exchange (TIE), explains that as the issues facing the world become increasingly complex, leaders will need to lead effectively across different boundaries.

According to her, the leaders who will be the most successful are those that will cross and connect cultures, that understand multiple worlds, resonate among people different from themselves, are prepared to unpick what they have always done, and face head-on the issues that emerge.

According to Sathya Smith, CEO and Founder of Piper, EQ is crucial to truly understand what your team needs to be able to work productively, develop and achieve their goals. Paying attention to the little things – body language and tone of voice, for example – provides great insight into a person’s current mood and, although harder to gauge remotely, it is important to stay vigilant for subtle cues.

Why is emotional intelligence a key trait of future leaders?

Michael Karlsen, CEO and Co-Founder of Onomondo, explains that in an increasingly digital world, human interaction and interpersonal relationships can be harder to come by, especially given our reliance on technology. Therefore, emotional intelligence will not necessarily be something that develops as naturally for the next generation of leaders as it has for previous generations. Rather it is something that would sometimes need to be built and developed as part of a leadership toolbox.

Sathya Smith suggests that as the world around us is constantly changing – race relations, climate change, pandemic, cost-of-living crises – leaders need, now more than ever, to be hyper aware of the impact of world events on employee state of mind and know how to manage them.

As the workplace becomes more diverse and more inclusive, employee needs and expectations will vary and may not necessarily converge. If not handled properly, this could ultimately lead to conflicts and a toxic workplace.

Leaders with a high EQ will know how to deal with diversity so it becomes a source of individual and collective growth. They will equally identify and manage possible conflicts in their early stages, allowing the team to overcome its differences and work towards better workplace cohesion.

Philippa White presents a different point of view. According to her, having a high EQ isn’t enough when it comes to leadership. When working on a multicultural team, hiring people from another culture or working in a different culture, cultural intelligence (CQ) is an essential ingredient for leaders in today’s world.

“Cultural intelligence is the natural evolution from IQ and EQ,” she explains.

Aptitude for learning

Learning is not just about personal growth. In fact, and according to Mindset Works, recent “neuroscientific discoveries have shown us that we can increase our neural growth by the actions we take, such as using good strategies, asking questions and practising.”

This means that the growth leaders experience through learning will impact how they envisage their strategies, behave within their environment and deal with employees.

Michael Karlsen clarifies that all learning builds upon an appetite for, and exploration of, the unknown. In order to grow their aptitude for learning, leaders must therefore first develop a growth mindset. Those that do are open and focused on constantly improving, always scanning the horizon for new opportunities to learn and grow, going outside their comfort zone with the hopes of expanding upon their existing abilities. These leaders are not afraid to fail – because each failure is another opportunity to learn and grow rather than a limitation of abilities.

Although experiences with failure may vary from one environment to another and might elicit different reactions, leaders with a learning mindset will know how to shield their employees from the consequences of failure.

Sathya Smith explains that leaders must be continually improving themselves. They may not always get things right, but it’s important to acknowledge their mistakes and seek solutions. An aptitude for learning comes with practice. To increase it, we must first address our attitude to growth and how we approach development.

How should the workplace embrace an aptitude for learning?

Learning is an ongoing process and is a natural part of the workplace. After all, employees and leaders learn so they can be better at their jobs, and propose new and innovative ways to work.

Philippa White explains that learning is about helping employees understand how it will impact their ability to do their job and live their lives. Then they will become better versions of themselves both personally and professionally. To her, it comes down to truly understanding what people are looking for. And if the learning opportunity meets their needs, it will help leaders understand how it impacts them as humans, as citizens of a company, and not just as consumers of jobs.

“It can’t be boring. It can’t be academic. They need to see how they can turn that knowledge into something tangible,” she states.

Michael suggests that it is important to establish a workplace culture where people are not afraid to fail. He proposes replacing the word ‘failure’ with ‘learning’, encouraging employees to try new things and be sure to learn from them. This is the first step in creating an environment where employees aren’t intimidated by trying new things, expanding upon new concepts, or completely throwing out the old playbook and trying new things out for themselves.

Encouraging an attitude towards learning should not come at the expense of the work-life balance, especially in these times where employees and leaders alike are suffering from burnout and exhaustion. Learning should not be viewed as an extra activity, to be done during the person’s free time. It needs to be properly embedded within the work environment and individual or collective tasks, allowing people to be encouraged to grow an aptitude for learning.

This is especially true in the case of the next generation of leaders that will be engaging their entire teams in a similar mindset and that need to set the right example for everyone to follow.

Celine Chami

Marketing and communications consultant

Celine is a brand expert and university lecturer with over 20 years of experience. As well as working and training hundreds of companies in the MEA region, she is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Human Resources.