Leadership has always sought to prepare professionals for the challenges of the future. However, in recent years, this task has been made more difficult by the scenario of unpredictable and high-impact events, sudden breaks with known patterns, and uncertainties surrounding every organizational decision.
How can a leader be prepared for the challenges of the future if the pace of change has become difficult to keep up with?
That’s the question everyone is asking.
Given the unfulfilled expectation that we would return to some semblance of normalcy in 2023 – a year that gave no respite to surprises and intense structural changes in the market – 2024 has already begun as the year in which leaders must realize that this changing reality is here to stay.
And in unstable times, whatever leadership trends appear on the radar, there is one human capability that strongly underlies them all: building trust.
Whether it is ensuring the ethical implementation of AI, managing the new natures of work, defusing political tensions and global conflicts: the best way for leaders to overcome this scenario will be to build trust.
Here are some complex issues that leaders are expected to face in 2024 and how, through them, they can build a culture and environment of trust that people can count on.
Leadership: how to prepare for 2024
AI as an ally
Unanimously chosen as the most important technology of 2024 in trend forecasts, Generative AI enters a more practical phase this year. In other words, those who have not yet taken the first step are already lagging behind.
Generative AI, which can be used in a variety of ways throughout the global economy, remains a mystery to many companies that have not yet understood how to implement it in their processes, and the challenge for leaders is to prepare the organization to take advantage of the opportunities it offers.
In this regard, good business analysts and systems integrators will be essential to integrate AI into the overall enterprise architecture.
But it won’t do any good if employees are not properly trained to get the most out of this technology.
It is safe to say that we are experiencing a revolution in worker retraining that will be extremely important for leaders to establish trust among those who fear losing their jobs or not being able to keep up with the pace of a technology-driven workplace.
AI usage trends for 2024 are focused on cybersecurity, increasing supply chain efficiency, developing new software, automating customer service, and streamlining job candidate screening.
Navigating the sea of geopolitical, climatic and economic uncertainties.
The end of the grain agreement between Russia and Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East are examples of geopolitical events that affected the global economy in 2023. On the other hand, the armed conflict in Ecuador in the early days of 2024 highlights the turbulent climate that will continue into the new year.
In addition, we have an election year, what has been called a “global election super-cycle.” Voters will go to the polls in markets representing about 54% of the world’s population and nearly 60% of global GDP, including a highly polarized election in the United States, which will have a fundamental impact on the global business environment.
At the same time, 2024 promises to witness a new temperature record on planet Earth, even higher than that of 2023, a year in which several climate catastrophes affected human lives, food supply and several companies in the affected countries.
On the other hand, the World Economic Forum forecasts a further slowdown in the growth of the world economy by 2024, influenced by rising interest rates, higher energy prices and the slowdown in the world’s two largest economies: China and the United States.
This continued lack of large-scale economic clarity, coupled with technology market instability and geopolitical and environmental turbulence, will create new challenges for 2024. As disruption becomes a constant, leadership will require extreme adaptability.
Major leaders are re-evaluating their strategic priorities, focusing on talent management and stakeholder expectations in addressing environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, building confidence amid uncertainty.
Accenture’s “Resiliency in the making” report also points to another trend in this direction, showing that the number of companies that will increase their resilience by investing in automation will increase over the next three years. Automation focused on forecasting scenarios can be valuable for gaining insight and making quick decisions.
In today’s environment, leaders must have different scenarios prepared, a challenge for planning and budgeting cycles, but one that will inevitably lead to fewer surges and disruptions if they need to adapt.
Facing new regulations
2024 has already begun with the entry into force of the new European Union law regulating sustainability reporting. The CSRD or Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive is one of the foundations of the European Green Deal and, although it has specific local action, everyone is already preparing for its implications for companies at a global level.
Thus, ESG issues remain a challenge for leaders, who must now not only ensure the implementation of new sustainable practices, but also ensure internal processes capable of effectively collecting, verifying and presenting results, as well as complying with new disclosure requirements.
Once again, the answer seems to lie in the integration of technology and data analytics, codifying ESG processes and transforming them into relevant information. Reliable data, finally, helps build trust among stakeholders at a time when many companies are navigating misleading sustainability and social discourse.
Artificial intelligence is also once again facing challenges due to the indiscriminate and unethical use of its tools, with several regulations under discussion for 2024.
Leaders will be responsible for initiatives aimed at establishing clear guidelines for the use of AI, ensuring human oversight and protecting customers’ personal data.
Leadership and the workplace
Leadership challenges are always characterized by the unique demands of the times and in 2024 a fundamental change in the landscape is generational change, marked by a transformation in the way new generations engage with work and their perceptions of the workplace.
In 2023, we see a widening gap between executives and their employees in the return to face-to-face work, with post-pandemic normalization showing a rift between leaders and their team’s desires.
Many workers question this resistance to telecommuting as a lack of confidence on the part of their managers in their ability to be productive from home and this, in turn, undermines trust in leaders.
Trust also deteriorates when telecommuting policies are changed, especially with little notice and little communication, after employees have made important economic and life decisions in the face of management promises.
If CEOs truly believe that employee engagement and retention are their top business concerns, they must consider what actions and policies will drive the results they seek in the face of this new reality.
For example, by developing policies that not only accommodate remote and hybrid work structures, but also benefit from them. They must also have a clear strategy on how they intend to build and maintain trust in these work formats, as well as being consistent with previous communications and clearly explaining why they are making changes.
All of this starts with a greater connection between leaders and front-line workers, understanding what is important to them.
In 2024, actions to create environments in which Generation Z and other generations feel valued and understood, adapt leadership programs to prepare managers and executives to lead younger, diverse, remote, and distributed teams effectively will be invaluable.
What should we do differently in 2024?
Looking ahead to 2024, all these tensions in the workplace and around the world are creating a worrying storm of volatility, which can only be weathered by building trust.
Whether choosing how to implement AI, dealing with unforeseen events or changing the nature of work, it will be more crucial than ever that leaders have a strong vision for the future and that stakeholders are able to understand the “why” of what they do, becoming advocates for their decisions themselves.