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Tomorrow’s Leadership

by Nicole Rouiller, Director General, Cégep Marie-Victorin (2003-2013)

Since it was established, CICan has always been a trailblazer supporting the leaders of its member institutions to develop their skills. Its leadership institutes and the recent mentoring program are a testament to the significant role that CICan plays in developing inclusive and diverse leadership. Against the background of CICan’s 50th anniversary, this article aims to outline my vision of the key skills that will be required of tomorrow’s leaders.

When I took on an executive role in my college in 1990, I was passionate about leadership and the challenges it entails. My own leadership style has evolved with the help of mentors who have helped me challenge myself and in view of the challenges that have marked my career.

Today, work contexts are radically different from what they were back then. The use of social networks and numerous technological innovations have transformed our communication practices and our professional relationships. What can we say about the demands of the workforce, which, in the wake of the pandemic, is demanding flexibility and adaptability in relation to hybrid work and teleworking? The past two years, which are marked by the creativity and agility of the education system in fulfilling its educational mission during the pandemic, cannot be ignored.

Today, the role of leaders no longer consists of directing mere support staff, but rather mobilizing the knowledge and skills of their staff. Not only do you have to work as a team, be committed and mobilized, but you also have to learn how to learn, because change is constant.

Heraclitus said: “Nothing is permanent except change.” In colleges, CEGEPs and institutes, leaders have to deal constantly with change management. This may involve adapting programs of study to the reality of the labour market and ever-changing technologies, supporting disadvantaged students, and keeping up with the changing needs of businesses, etc.

Our reflections and observations lead us to conclude that tomorrow’s leadership will need to include the following skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

1) Understanding others and developing your team’s skills

Developing emotional intelligence is, in my opinion, the most important of the expected skills. Emotionally intelligent leaders have a good understanding of their own emotions as well as others’ emotions, and know how to manage them effectively. Empathy, compassion, and respect are qualities of the most capable and valued leaders. In an age where adaptation and anxiety issues are sadly all too prevalent in the population, these skills are vital to creating a healthy and fulfilling work and study environment. Peter F Drucker, the inventor of modern management, said: “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves – their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.”

Tomorrow’s leaders will be open to diversity because they will seek to surround themselves with people who complement them and who will bring them diversity of thought. Their strength will lie in their ability to bridge ideas and people.

2) Understanding and acting on your environment

We are entering the fourth-biggest revolution of the modern age, which will combine several technologies such as the Internet of Things, robotics, big data, and artificial intelligence.

We live in a volatile, uncertain, and complex environment, as technologies and societal needs change and advance, organizations constantly have to evolve and rethink their strategies. Agility is a value in times of change, as leaders must be able to make speedy decisions based on sound principles. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to sniff out and seize the new opportunities that arise as trends emerge and take hold.

The most successful leaders will be those who have the confidence and skills to identify weak signals, recognize key trends, and derive sources of innovation from them. This is why curiosity will become a vital quality, as leaders will have to constantly be on the lookout for new knowledge while promoting lifelong learning for both themselves and their staff.

3) Creating meaning

Leaders that people want to follow have developed their vision and know how to communicate and share it with their staff. This vision is based on sound values, which are embodied in the organization and also in the leader’s private and professional life.

We are looking for individuals who demonstrate an ethic and represent an ideal which they adhere to whether it be ethical, environmental, or social. Leaders are expected to have the courage to act, and not to be afraid to leave their comfort zone in order to progress. They must not put off difficult decisions; they must dare to tell the truth and not what others want to hear; and finally, they must be able to admit that they were wrong.

Leaders who are on a mission to grow their team members will have more impact and greater professional longevity. In short, authenticity and courage will be essential to the profile sought in the future.

Leaders will be expected to excel in all communication strategies, in person on social media, in front of an audience at conferences or in front of staff. Communication becomes the lever to forge constructive relationships on both sides.

Tomorrow’s leaders will have to be authentic and rely on their head, their heart, and their courage.2 Top leadership is characterized by the ability to position oneself as a strategist and to face the future. Leadership from the heart is achieved when executives succeed in mobilizing their teams by showing consideration to those around them. Finally, courageous leadership is marked by the ability to make difficult decisions. Each of these leadership elements translates into behaviours that are conducive to understanding others, making decisions by adapting to contexts and forging a unifying and meaningful vision.

I will conclude with a quotation by Napoleon, which sums up the essence of my management philosophy and which I suggest to tomorrow’s leaders in all humility. “The most difficult art is not in the choice of men, but in giving to the men chosen the highest service of which they are capable”.