Organizations are facing great changes after the pandemic and the rise of the second information age. This includes changes to their operations, business processes, and labor force expectations. The second information age involves changes to jobs and the economy due to automation and artificial intelligence. It’s important that we have leaders that can embrace the change and make their teams successful.
The name for these changes is called digital transformation which is the process of using technologies to create or modify business processes. This adds a new dimension that fully redesigns business processes to augment work with technology. There are also new work arrangements that challenge the notion of the traditional employee.
Remote work has become far more common and is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels. Working remotely is more accepted and valuable for decreasing infrastructure costs, reducing commuting time and pollution, and increasing productivity. It also creates a more fluid work-life balance.
Even employees who have traditional offices are doing more tasks mediated by technology and participating in virtual teams. They are also learning and developing through technology, which is called virtual human resource development. (Bennett, 2009). As working and managing remotely are fairly new, having the skills needed to lead effectively is essential.
Important power skills
For many years now, these essential leadership skills were labeled “soft skills”. However, there is a growing trend in the business world to refer to soft skills as “power skills.” This is because employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of these skills in the workplace. Power skills are those that are more focused on human interaction and relationships. They include things like communication, teamwork, and empathy.
And while they may not be as tangible as hard skills, they are essential to succeed. Yet power skills are some of the hardest skills to master. According to our recent study that gathered data from over 10,000 professionals, the top power skills range from adaptability, problem-solving, and agility all the way to social, emotional, empathetic, and creative skills.
Although we live in a time when there is a great concern for the loss of empathy, due to social media, human emotion and empathy skills were highly valued (Bennett, in press). We also concluded that both logic and intuition are necessary for both leadership and the workforce at large. Leaders must become agile with different modes of information processing as they work within systems faced with the change of digital transformation.
Similarly, Question Mark’s 2021 report has power skills as six of the top ten learning trends:
- Critical thinking and Problem Solving,
- Empathy, and
- Teamwork (pp. 4-5)
These relate to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) (2008) leadership competency model. However, SHRM adds managing politics, influence, change, and leadership stature to its list. Further, new leadership challenges, such as diversity and inclusivity, increase complexity and risk.
Future of leadership skills
As organizations require more adaptability, creativity, and agility from their members, leadership job descriptions and roles will increasingly emphasize power skills. Unfortunately, organizations failed to properly manage virtual teams and maintain social cohesion during the pandemic and recovery, according to early evidence. (Bennett & McWhorter, 2021).
One can develop power skills at any point in their life by practicing, reflecting, and making necessary adjustments; but mentorship, learning about human behavior, and experiential learning are key to developing these skills. Organizations that have in-house leadership development programs that support employees in exercising a range of power skills, combined with new technology and data literacies, tend to be more successful.
This is because these programs help employees to develop the skills they need to be effective leaders, while also staying up-to-date with new technologies and trends. However, this can be an area of frustration if internal options are not well executed or when limited time is a barrier to participation.
Advancing power skills with a degree
Degree programs have major advantages as they are naturally interdisciplinary. Therefore, they expand the range of innovation and application beyond a narrow field in order to foster flexibility. They also often combine data skills with power skills through inquiry projects.
Online programs help overcome space-time challenges while fostering practice in virtual environments with collaboration technologies. Practicing new skills in a safe space is more effective than trying them out for the first time with real employees. As a result, this may reduce a leader’s performance anxiety.
As technology advances and organizations change, humans should focus on what they do well and let technology handle the rest. In other words, the leadership of the future is leading with power skills.
About the author
Elisabeth E. (Liz) Bennett, Ph.D. is an associate professor of business and director of the Masters of Science in Leadership at Concordia University – Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. Research interests include organizational culture, creativity, informal learning, technology leadership, and virtual human resource development. Dr. Bennett brings industry experience from Fortune 500 financial services, manufacturing, information technology, continuing education, and academic medicine. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia with an emphasis in Human Resource and Organization Development (HROD) and an interdisciplinary graduate qualitative research certificate. She holds a Master’s in Adult Education with a cognate in Instructional Technology, earned with distinction, also from the University of Georgia. Dr. Bennett serves on multiple journal editorial boards as well as engages in international service that supports economic development for the socially vulnerable and inclusive prosperity.
Bennett, E. E. (2009). Virtual HRD: The intersection of knowledge management, culture, and intranets. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 11(3), 362-374.
Bennett, E. E. (2022). Leveraging technology to design and deliver human resource development. In P. Holland, T. Bertram, T. Garavan, & K. Grant (Eds.) The Emerald Handbook of Work, Workplaces and Disruptive Issues in HRM. Emerald.
Bennett, E. E. (in press). Social media and HRD: Powerful tools and dark patterns. In T. F. Rocco, M. L. Morris, and R. Poell (Eds.), Handbook of Human Resource Development (2nd ed). Sage.
Bennett, E. E., & McWhorter, R. R. (2021). Virtual HRD’s role in crisis and the post Covid-19 professional lifeworld: Accelerating skills for digital transformation. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 23(1), 5-25. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1523422320973288
Question Mark (2021). Modern skills for 2022: Measuring the strength of workforce skills and ensuring employees have what they need to face the future. Reported available at: https://www.questionmark.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Modern-Skills-for-2022.pdf