Key skillsets for business leaders


12th January, 2023

3 skillsets business leaders can use to futureproof their careers in 2023

Don’t put your career development off again in 2023. It’s possible to grow your business and your resume by focusing on the following three skillsets.

Entrepreneurs at heart, business leaders tend to be forward-looking, growth-oriented people who are always keen to learn more and do things their own way.

Whether you’re running an organisation of thousands or flying solo, it’s easy to fall into the trap of maintaining focus on the growth and development of your teams, your service offering or your cashflow and forgetting about keeping your own skillset up to date.

That means, in order to reduce the risk of falling behind in years to come, you should start thinking about the skills you’ll need for tomorrow, today.

To get you started, this article will discuss the following three key skill areas for business leaders:

  1. Active learning skills
  2. Pattern recognition abilities
  3. Diverse networks and cultural intelligence

Read on to discover how these attributes can boost your career long-term.

1. Active learning skills

Active learning is about being aware of, and understanding, one’s own thought processes.

Most entrepreneurs know they need to be open to continually learning new things if they want to run a successful company and be excellent leaders.

But the importance of active learning skills isn’t so widely discussed or understood.

According to a 2018 study by Youth Business International (YIB), supported by Accenture, young entrepreneurs need to be able to both “unlearn and relearn” through a process known as active learning.

To succeed, the study found, leaders must “take responsibility for their own professional and personal growth, and proactively find new sources of, and approaches to, knowledge”.

To cope with changing markets and other adaptations, entrepreneurs must be open to immersing themselves in unfamiliar environments and learning by engaging in new worlds — whether these end up being physical or virtual.

To get ahead, then, we must all be willing to get outside our comfort zones and embrace the unknown.

Entrepreneurs who succeed in the future will likely be open to new ideas and change course as industries, society, economies and technology continue to evolve.

If you’re to meet your goals in the next five, 10 or 20 years, then, it’s going to be crucial that you continue to upskill and, in particular, keep an eye on technological trends.

2. Pattern recognition abilities

The business world (and life in general) is increasingly complex.

Leaders must consider more factors when planning for and managing their organisations than ever before.

Changes to industries, policies, regulations and the like also tend to happen quicker than ever, which makes the ability to identify new trends quickly a competitive factor.

Pattern recognition skills make it possible to spot opportunities before competitors, as well as pick up on potential problems and rectify them before they become huge issues.

Leaders must be on the lookout for patterns that show up in the marketplace, in how their organisations run and respond to changes, in how employees and customers and others behave, and in financial numbers.

You can also use pattern evaluation to determine how others find success.

Seeing, evaluating, and responding to patterns from both the ‘big picture’ and a more detailed view can make all the difference to how businesses perform in the long term.

In a newsletter a few years ago from Robert D. Behn, a lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the professor shared how pattern recognition skills build up over time and can lead to great problem-solving abilities.

When talking about problems, opportunities, and strategies, he said:

“If a manager cannot recognise the “shape” of a problem — its key features — how can he or she begin to solve it?

“And, of course, a manager can’t identify a problem’s key features if he or she has not accumulated a large mental data bank of experience with a wide variety of problems.

“Similarly, in the search for a strategy, the manager needs to draw on experience, attempting to match the features, peculiarities, and specifics of the current problem with the features, specifics, and peculiarities of problems he or she has observed or encountered.”

To futureproof careers, leaders must start building up their data bank of experience and continually evaluate scenarios, results, and other factors for pattern-based information.

Decision-making, when informed by this type of data, can be quicker and more effective and lead to significantly more success.

3. Diverse networks and cultural intelligence

Finally, future leaders must be willing to build diverse networks and demonstrate a high level of cultural intelligence.

Today, the world is hyper-connected, and businesses are increasingly relying on worldwide markets to not only source clients but also staff members.

If you want to charge ahead in the coming years and succeed in these global markets, you’ll need to embrace diversity.

You’ll need to seek out teams from around the world, lead employees with different backgrounds, and learn about and appreciate all the cultures those people represent.

A 2016 report from Deloitte identified the need for future entrepreneurs to respect different people and ideas.

It referred to the need for “inclusive leadership” to handle the diversity of markets, customers, ideas and talent, while outlining six signature traits of inclusive leadership.

There’s Cognizance (determining your bias), Curiosity (growing through exposure to different ideas and experiences), and Commitment (staying the course even in hard times).

The other three traits were Collaboration (the idea that a diverse-thinking team is more effective than the sum of its parts), Courage (taking a risk to talk about imperfections) and Cultural Intelligence (realising that not everyone sees the world through the same lens).

Inclusive leadership means understanding and valuing the uniqueness of different people, accepting them and leveraging the thinking of diverse groups for better decision-making and ideation.

In fact, studies show that CEOs with strong connections to people of varied demographic backgrounds and diverse skill sets lead to increased business value.

One study published in the Journal of Corporate Finance points out that “CEOs learn privileged information from their social connections” and that “evidence suggests that CEOs’ exposure to human diversity enhances social learning and creates greater growth opportunities for firms”.

To build a booming business now and in the future, leaders must develop their social networks to help provide a foundation for their personal and business growth.

Prepare for the business environment of tomorrow

Working on the three steps covered in this article — developing active learning, pattern recognition and diverse networks — will help you across many facets of your leadership journey.

Start to think about how you might grow in these ways over time and futureproof your career for the coming decade.

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