Effective leadership in a future forward company has transitioned from an individual nature to a more-collective focus. The hierarchical structures that were successful in the past will not allow companies to creatively innovate at a pace that is necessary to remain both relevant and competitive today. 

And while, in the past, innovation was viewed as a more nebulous, far-off wish-list of things not yet achieved, today we know that innovation is responsible for up to two-thirds of an organization’s value. To be more exact, Gartner research documents that top-line growth stalls resulting from failures to innovate are responsible for market losses exceeding $2 trillion.

One single idea uniformly implemented daily was a good strategy during the industrial revolution. But, today, we are operating in a connection economy that requires much broader input to meet the consumer demands of a diverse marketplace. As it happens, the 17th century poet John Donne had the right idea: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main …”

Leadership that builds commitment and respect, engagement and agency for employees is the key to building a future forward company with the ingredients to innovate. Mary Parker Follett (named the Guru of Guru by Peter Druker) laid out this framework for meetings and it is an example of what democratized leadership can look like in the workplace.

There are three expectations we can take into every meeting:

  • Expect to need others. Enter with the intention to make your differences and diversity fruitful in order to make something together.
  • Expect to be needed. Bring your whole self to the meeting. Ask and answer questions to the best of your ability and pursue them wherever they may lead in an atmosphere of trust
  • Expect to be changed. You have a reciprocal obligation to allow your truth to be affected by others.  You should expect to leave a meeting not quite the same person as when you entered.

Further, leaders who create workplace structures that support a variety of personal requests (or requirements) and responsibilities can be a successful strategy for building agency for employees and a more inclusive culture. By removing systemic barriers that have proven to limit diverse professionals’ access, leaders can not only undo historic wrongs, but also realize the full potential of massively underutilized talent.

Leaders who prioritize flexible work, inclusive benefits, and unlearning previous assumptions will prove more agile and successful in the rapidly changing workplace.

1. Remote and Hybrid Options

Geographic mismatches between fast-growing, higher wage jobs and Black and Brown talent are leaving significant talent pools out of the conversation. Commuting time, unpredictable schedules and family demands discourage caregivers from pursuing and accepting promotions. Remote and hybrid work options are one way to mitigate this structural obstacle.

2. Expanded Benefits

Benefits that support women and other underrepresented groups in the workforce. Mandatory paid parental leave, childcare credits, vacation and time off policies that accommodate time for both leisure as well as critical time off to manage health concerns, family crisis, medical emergencies, or home repairs.  Annual company-wide shutdowns give everyone a respite and normalize taking time off.

Healthcare benefits that include coverage for preventative physical and mental health; specialized care for transgender employees; expanded definition of family and who can receive coverage; flexibility for employees to incorporate exercise, meal planning, healthy eating habits and meditation throughout their day as needed.

3. Non-traditional Pathways

Creating space for professionals with non-traditional career pathways provides enhanced opportunities for emerging professionals, particularly those from underrepresented racial, ethnic and gender groups. Many of the skills needed in today’s workforce do not require a four-year degree. Giving serious consideration to the requirements for job postings will expand the talent pool and provide new opportunities.

In summary, the profile of a corporate leader has changed. Over time, the most successful leaders will build interconnected networks of people aiming for the same goal within their company. Employee roles will have a valued purpose and employees will be recognized for their contributions to the overall workings of the company. To ensure diverse representation at all levels and an inclusive culture, workplace structures must align to decrease barriers and expand opportunities.