14 ways leadership and management roles will evolve by 2020

  • DeakinCo.
  • 14 August 2018

The business landscape is rapidly changing across industries, thanks to demographic changes and evolving technologies. As our organisations become flatter, millennials come to dominate the workforce, and disruptive technologies like AI and machine learning shape the way we do business, organisations more than ever need competent, future-oriented leaders. 

So what will the leaders and managers of 2020 and beyond look like? These are some of the key skills and attributes the leaders of tomorrow will need to thrive. 

The evolving workplace

Towards 2020 the workplace will continue to evolve in accordance with demographic trends, changing attitudes towards work, and greater cultural diversity. While management control will continue to decline, managers will remain critical elements in the organisation.


Our workplaces are becoming more diverse, and in the future, we could see a single manager leading as many as five generations in a team. Regardless of industry, the future of the workplace is one of greater diversity, especially across age groups.

Shorter employee tenure

Similarly, employees won't be lifelong employees, and managers will be leading people with short tenures, so individuals for shorter periods rather than established teams for the longer term.

Flatter organisations and collaboration

In the decades past, management was about strict hierarchies, top-down decision making, and control in the manner of Taylorism and scientific management. These hierarchical structures saw managers as key players – middle parties – in the flow of information from the top level to the line workers.

Today, our workplaces continue to change. We're moving away from the prescriptive, tell-them-how approach to management. Openness and collaboration is important, as well as the traditional elements of supervision, targets, coaching, and feedback. Workplaces today and in the future will value employee engagement as much as performance management. The leaders of tomorrow will recognise and embrace different points of view.

The flatter structures also mean leaders will less likely manage numerous layers of managers below them, and the middle manager might be rarer in the future.

How leadership and management roles will change towards 2020

The next few years will be more about leaders guiding people and then getting out of the way. In contrast to routine task supervision, managers and leaders will understand what their employees want from their job, how to achieve the best outcomes for employees, and how to engage and retain them.

1. Agents of change

In the coming years, successful leaders and managers will be those who step outside of their comfort zone and welcome – and even drive – change. These leaders have the courage, strategic focus and wisdom to take leaps of faith and find new ways to achieve business goals. In turn, they will support the evolution of their organisation and teams to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.

2. Ability to identify new solutions

Similarly, as agents of change, our leaders and managers of the future will be innovative and creative, with a demonstrated ability to come up with new solutions. Changing business landscapes and disruptive technology means new opportunities that need to be captured with new ideas. These leaders will be successful at shaping the impact of the disruptive forces of change, rather than be passive and reactive.

3. Lead for the wisdom-based economy

As industries move further away from traditional workplace models with top-down, siloed, and hierarchical structures, leaders and managers must support cultures and teams that reflect the wisdom-based, not knowledge-based, economy. Knowledge and information are ubiquitous, so to stay competitive you need to do more with what you know. Promoting diversity of thought, along with continuous evolution, are key.

4. Create new areas for growth

The best leaders and managers in the coming years will successfully guide their organisation and teams through the major cultural demographic shift already in progress. These leaders will recognise it as a growth opportunity, and they will leverage strategies like cultural fluency and intelligence, innovative team-building, and novel marketing strategies reflecting the new cultural demographics. Diversity will be seen by these leaders as not a cost centre, but a new profit centre encompassing both talent and market, for strategic growth.

5. Find and close opportunity gaps quickly

The successful leaders and managers of tomorrow are those who can identify and close opportunity gaps in their market. In doing so, they'll effectively manage competitive threats as they arise and anticipate trends and solutions. Broadening observations to find opportunities, exploring new frontiers, and identifying timing and depth of opportunities are crucial elements of this trait.

These leaders will innovate to overcome opportunity gaps, and they'll find new ways of doing things and drive their team to evolve to meet goals.

6. At ease with the unknown

The top leaders and managers in the coming few years will be comfortable with chaos, uncertainty, and the unknown. They will thrive and work well when things aren't clearly defined or predictable, and they’ll stay fast and nimble so as to respond quickly and effectively to a dynamic operating environment. These leaders will be the ones who are best prepared to take their teams and organisations to the next level.

7. Technologically savvy

Whilst the leaders and managers of 2020 and beyond won't necessarily be coding experts, they will have a comprehensive understanding of technology applications, capabilities, and trends. They need to have the technical skills to be able to advise their teams, and this can mean IT and other types of technical skills.

As the role of technology in organisations shifts from support efficiency to driving effectiveness and strategic vision, companies will require tech expertise among their senior ranks. These leaders need to be able to delegate between technology and human resources to maximise both types of resources.

8. Emotional intelligence

As we leave the top-down structures behind and shift towards flatter and less hierarchical organisations, managers and leaders need to be emotionally intelligent individuals who can understand and invest in their people in order to empower them to flourish. Traits like accountability, transparency, fairness, honesty, and an ability to design systems and processes for humans are unlikely to be replaceable by AI tools in the near future, so they'll be invaluable in the future leaders of the coming years.

9. Outcentric leadership

The successful leaders of 2020 and beyond will be those who are outcentric, as opposed to egocentric. In tight labour markets dominated by millennials, the traditional do-it-my-way approach might not be effective. Outcentric leaders and managers are focused on developing their teams; encouraging them to be active, valuable contributors, and valuing their input. They empower their teams and don't micromanage. These leaders focus on the overarching business goal and build and support their team from that reference point.

10. Soft-skills management

Leaders and managers in 2020 will be experts at assessing the soft skills as well as technical skills of candidates. Not only will team members need to be analytically competent; they need to have soft skills like creative problem-solving and people skills. Managers who can identify these competencies and leverage them will be well-placed to build successful teams.

11. Deal with cognitive overload

As technology tools continue to evolve and the pace of work intensifies, the top managers and leaders of the coming years will be successful at managing cognitive overload. They'll effectively deal with data and information from multiple sources and continue to adapt to the huge volumes of information moving through organisations.

12. Self-discovery

Leaders and managers of 2020 and beyond will be open to self-discovery. They will be willing to explore biases and how they impact their own decision making. By staying open to self-discovery, these leaders will stay open to diverse points of view. In this way, they’ll be effective at managing diversity, and be proficient at encouraging and building upon employee input. This can lead to more cohesive teams, better employee satisfaction, higher productivity, and enhanced organisational performance.

13. Charismatic communicators

The leaders and managers of the future might be those who are good at communicating in a personalised yet contextualised way. These charismatic leaders engage employees and drive change by sharing personal experience and practical examples, as well as grounding their story in the organisational context. These leaders and managers could use the personal communication approach to create an inclusive team environment and show concern for success and well-being.

The outcome of this meaningful narrative can be smoother change, quicker buy-in from team members, and a cohesive team or organisational culture that supports the organisation's evolution.

14. Result-only management

The top managers of the future may be those who focus on results only, rather than the how and where of team members’ work. The best managers will act to create work environments where the emphasis is on results and output, rather than hours logged and processes. This reflects a workforce that's becoming more autonomous and independent, and the impact could be greater job satisfaction and employee empowerment. Leaders will need to have exceptional communication skills and relationship-management ability.

Create leaders of the future with DeakinCo.

In a disrupted and rapidly-changing business landscape, the promising leaders and managers of the future are those who can adapt to the multiple forces of change. Top skills and attributes they'll need include being able to drive change, ability to identify and leverage new areas of growth, self-discovery, and outcentric-style management. Armed with these competencies, the leaders of 2020 and beyond can successfully guide their teams or organisations to retaining, or even increasing, their competitive edge in the market.

DeakinCo. provides learning and development solutions that measurably enhance the performance of individuals and the organisations they work in. Our workforce solutions range from micro-credentialing to bespoke learning solutions. To find out more about how our services can enhance your organisation’s competitive advantage and help you leverage your human resources, contact us for a discussion today.