3 Trends in Leadership We Can't Afford to Ignore

04/09/2013 06:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2013

I'm not a "futurist" -- although I've always thought that would be a great job. Even so, as I work to develop many different leaders among different organizations and industries simultaneously, I can't help but notice three under-invested areas in how we develop our emerging leaders.

Sustainability, virtualization, and crisis continuity are things people talk about often, but, with some notable exceptions, tend to remain rote, reactive or status quo among most organizations. Worse, they are under-served topics in leader education and development worldwide. Yet as the saying goes, they will not be ignored, and will demand greater share of mind and wallet for leaders in the years immediately ahead.

1. Sustainability

Just as today's executives must master product, process, resources, and marketplace, emerging leaders will additionally achieve and compete based on their skills at optimizing sustainable practices in waste, energy, materials, and economics, as well as their social and environmental impacts. They will have to balance these things delicately in order to steward increasingly limited resources. In fact, as constraints grow, they will need to lead in ways that create common-good intersections between corporate (or individual) gain/profit, people, planet, and community.

2. Workforce and workplace virtualization

The cycle of rigid, giant, even "too big to fail" companies with traditional organizational structures is ending. Too big and bulky to succeed for much longer in their current form, they are increasingly breaking down due to their inflexibility in the rapids of change. As this happens, new, more agile and modular structures are emerging. Organizations our future leaders will run will be leaner, perhaps more democratic, and "fit for purpose." Traditional office campuses will continue to disappear, as technology enables ever better collaboration without regard to location. Virtual work forces and workplaces will be the rule rather than the exception. Future leaders will thus need to hone new organizational models and leadership styles that welcome and optimize, rather than fight against, these changes.

3. Continuity in Crisis

War, terrorism, unrest, and climate change -- the human condition -- will continue uninterrupted. Man made disruptions and natural disasters alike will demand of future leaders the flexibility to operate with equal continuity in various states of infrastructural impairment, and have greater and more real time continuity capacities. Testing and honing large-scale uninterruptable functionality will be on the desks of near-future leaders as proactive -- rather than reactive agenda items.

These are hardly difficult to imagine as major emerging factors likely to face our near-future leaders. We're talking about them, and having conferences and workshops, yet when it comes to roles, resources, and education, most enterprises and institutions of learning are not putting these issues front and center. They are simply too easily labeled "nice to have," particularly when budgets are tight.

Without such programs, it's as if we hope the new skills will materialize spontaneously among leaders. And of course they will, but in reactive modes, and that, of course, is preventable with some "future thinking" and advance planning in the here and now.

We (and here I mean the planetary "we") are more likely to succeed, given these changes, if we take a proactive approach to developing our future leaders with these trends front and center.