10 Hot Leadership Topics of 2023

"Disruption on all fronts has changed the employment landscape globally. The need to engage with work colleagues in a more purposeful and collegial way is now, more than ever before, core to effective leadership behaviour. " 
- Ian Taylor, Sheffield North Island Managing Director 

Companies everywhere have been struggling to find top talent. Yet, when they do hire quality employees, they often don’t prioritise career growth or flexibility to nurture and retain their talent for the long run. A lot has changed over the past few years in the face of challenging world events, including the hot leadership topics and workforce trends that companies will need to stay ahead of to retain top talent.

1. The struggle to create positive work cultures

Work culture has taken its biggest hit in decades. With more employees dispersed than ever before, workplaces that are traditionally in person see their talent drawn to greener pastures. There’s a risk of toxic “bubbles” building within companies that don’t consistently offer all their people the same level of flexibility or positive experiences. And this has quickly raised the stakes for what it means to be a “best place to work.”

According to more than 450 CHROs who participated in DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2023, workplaces will only continue to become more diverse, flexible, and dispersed, hence challenging what it means to have a unified company culture. As a result, leaders will play a more vital role in creating positive and magnetic work cultures for their teams. Leaders who are more inclusive and empathetic can not only prevent toxic cultures from emerging, but also better foster and sustain the positive work connections that help retain key talent.

2. From ideal employee experiences to real commitment

All the changes in the world outside of work have fueled a strong desire from employees to see companies commit to new ways of doing things. For many, this has seemed like a push towards sustainability that’s driving social causes, but really, it’s about getting more commitment. Employees and consumers are voicing a stronger desire to see companies embrace changes to address major challenges in business and society.

How can companies find the best path to business success while also growing a talented workforce that will want to stay with them through any challenges to come? Will more companies come to adopt a 4-day work week? There are strong signals that a reduced work schedule may better meet the needs of the modern workforce. However companies decide to move forward, they must offer more than an ideal employee experience and commit to better ways of working. People want to see real change, not go back to the old way of doing things.

3. Management—the burden fewer want to bear

A growing sense of crisis and change fatigue has been sinking in for leaders, many of whom have been overwhelmed by talent losses amidst rising inflation and costs to hire.  As a result, companies are seeing an increased risk to their most critical pool of talent that can’t be satisfied only by increased pay.

Considering how crucial leadership will be to retaining all their other talent, companies must quickly prioritise leadership development and support before they take on critical losses at higher levels. This may mean extending leave time and other benefits to reduce the growing risk of burnout for leaders, who historically have been rewarded by bonuses alone.  

4. Hybrid and remote teams seek stronger connections

It’s lonely out there for a lot of workers, especially those who are hybrid and don’t find connections as meaningful as companies might expect. According to a recent study on work loneliness, building lasting connections isn’t about the amount of in-person time people are exposed to. Whether employees feel lonely depends on the closeness, security, and support they get in their interpersonal relationships. This means that even an in-person or hybrid work environment could fulfill the interpersonal needs of only some and not others.

The desire to reconnect does not mean a return to working in person, except for employees who choose it. How employees connect matters more than where they connect. Developing leaders with more effective interpersonal skills will help foster stronger team connections, no matter where they work.

5. Shifting focus from “Great Resignation” to “Great Retention”

As companies face the reality of operating in leaner, more expensive times, they have a greater need for retaining top talent. No matter what the buzz word du jour (and there have been a lot of them this year), it’s clear there are immense pressures on HR professionals and HR leaders to find and keep their best people. For many, this is leading to a sharper focus on identifying high-potential talent and finding ways to mobilise and share their talents internally.

According to our latest Global Leadership Forecast research, only 52% of companies adequately identify and develop high-potential employees. And most don’t incentivise leaders who are willing to share and connect talented employees to other internal opportunities. This needs to change as teams and organisations get leaner. Leaders can be trained to spot and develop winning talent for their companies. When leaders have effective development discussions with their teams, they help employees visualize and navigate a successful career path at their companies.

6. The problem with productivity paranoia

Productivity surged as a hot topic this year due to the controversy over the effectiveness of remote work, and the resulting productivity paranoia of managers that ensued. Yes, there’s a disconnect between the number of employees who feel productive and the number of managers who are confident their people are productive. But the real problem is managers’ lack of trust and inability to manage expectations.

Instead of trying to better monitor productivity, managers should be setting and better managing performance expectations with their team members. Performance expectations should vary for each employee and may be very different for every team. By having these critical discussions, leaders can more consistently check in and provide clarity and feedback on employees’ performance. And the good news for hybrid and remote workers? Effective performance discussions can be as flexible as employees need them to be, since they can happen anywhere.

7. Power skills rise to the forefront of leadership

Influencers’ mentions of the leadership skills most needed in the workplace this year focused on a critical set of interpersonal skills (e.g., empathy, emotional intelligence, communication, influence, etc.) that have become more popularly known as “power skills.” Although they have always been important (even when painfully dubbed “soft skills”), these power skills have gained attention as the workforce has had to confront increasing change and crisis after crisis.

Leaders have had to navigate more human and personal discussions with their teams that can be challenging if power skills aren’t equipped. Leaders will need to continue to develop these skills in order to manage teams well. And it will be an advantage for companies to develop them even further. Having leaders with stronger interpersonal skills will continue to be vital in helping teams manage the changes ahead, especially when it comes to building stronger relationships in hybrid and remote teams.

8. Diverse pipelines offer a next-generation advantage

Recently, there has been heightened focus on the advantages of having stronger diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices to attract and retain talent. This has been especially true for attracting next-generation talent including Gen Z and younger Millennial workers who more strongly voice a desire to work for companies that prioritise DEI. However, many companies make the mistake of focusing their diversity efforts exclusively on their recruitment and hiring practices, without doing enough work to create an inclusive environment that enables diverse talent to stay and grow within the company.

The benefits of building a more diverse and inclusive workplace extend well beyond the current generational demographics and talent landscape, especially as concerns about global recession rise and hiring slows. To better endure an economic and hiring slowdown, companies will need inclusive leaders who can engage diverse teams and create opportunities to retain diverse talent. Setting longer-term goals around developing an inclusive and diverse pipeline of talent will help increase DEI sustainability.

9. The new employee learning imperative

Accessibility is quickly becoming an imperative in employee learning and development. Employees want to learn so that they can grow their careers, which is key to retaining talent. So, companies must be able to deliver quality learning experiences to employees anywhere—whether they are in person, hybrid, or remote.

Given that employee learning starts the moment they onboard a new company, their impressions about what learning quality they will receive can quickly take shape, not to mention their impressions of what kind of place it will be like to work at. As companies grow more flexible and dispersed, so must their learning experiences. In order to better meet employees' needs for flexibility, companies must provide great employee experiences that are equally accessible.

10. Driving innovation to shape a better future

Innovation was a topic that surged on our list towards the end of the year, and for good reason. Companies are facing critical decisions about how to successfully operate and innovate amidst growing economic concerns. The stark reality is that there’s a two-fold need for driving innovation to secure a better future.

Leaders and decision makers must grapple with how to leverage new technologies to not only transform their business, but to also connect teams and better enable their workforces. Innovation will remain important for driving new business opportunities outside, but also internally to ensure a sustainable talent pipeline that’s vital for growth.

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