In the face of contemporary challenges, today’s managers confront a dynamic landscape shaped by climate change, geopolitical tensions, and relentless technological advancements. To navigate this paradigm shift, Federico Frattini of POLIMI Graduate School of Management in Milan contends that future managers must cultivate a new set of skills, focusing on human capabilities like empathy, critical thinking, and active listening.
Today, managers at any level face an array of challenges. This includes the acceleration of climate change, geopolitical tensions, and of course keeping up with rapidly developing technology that is continuing to transform, and sometimes disrupt, businesses and industries.
Managers also have a new awareness of what is important and what should be prioritised in business. Today, it is recognised that profit is not the be all and end all of a company. Compared with 20 years ago, many organisations and business leaders now realise that the pursuit of a higher, more expansive purpose which identifies the social and environmental problems that a business aims to solve profitably is key to its long term survival and success.
Because of these challenges, and also this new awareness within business, managers need a whole new set of skills for the future if they are to be successful and if they are to generate energy and commitment in their teams.
Looking ahead, there is going to be a growing emphasis on complex human capabilities such as empathy, critical thinking, action inquiry, especially within senior leadership teams. These skills are crucial for effective leadership because they contribute to the overall interpersonal and communication abilities of a leader, and are of pivotal importance to generate deep and shared purposes. While technical skills and expertise are essential, human capabilities play a pivotal role in building relationships, fostering collaboration, and creating an energizingwork environment.
They include having greater awareness of our emotions and mental processes. Becoming aware and taking control of our mental processes is critical to our ability to choose our purposes freely, rather than being reactive, and this will be a critical skill to harness in the future. Leaders of the new generation will need a developed awareness of this inner dimension, so they can inspire and energise others, and be committed and purposeful in everything they do.
Another important skill that future managers will need to focus on is active listening. Being a great listener doesn’t just mean reflecting back what is said, or being patient and accepting pauses and short periods of silence. Being a great listener means being able to amplify ideas and energise the person you are listening to. Of course, being an active listener means you will build trust with your team, and trust is the foundation of strong leadership. Human capabilities, including active listening, honesty, integrity, and authenticity, are crucial for building and maintaining trust with team members, stakeholders, and the wider organization.
At POLIMI Graduate School of Management, the Business School of Politecnico di Milano, we realised that managers of the future needed to harness these skills, and as educators, we redesigned our MBA program to focus on the development of these capabilities. This New Generation MBA integrates, for the first time, two important dimensions. On one side, it provides the hard competencies and skills needed to perform. On the other side, MBA candidates are exposed to cutting-edge tools to elevate their performance by developing their awareness of self and others, by being able to actively generate and share higher purposes that underlie any action and decision.
The world of business, and society at large, is going through big changes, this is why we decided to redesign our full-time MBA – to prepare a new generation of managers, entrepreneurs and professionals, to meet the grand challenges that are arising. When considering what is required in response to these challenges, managers point not only to the realm of hard skills but most importantly, to skills such as the capacity to engage people, understand motivation, and the ability to connect to emotions — especially in highly charged situations. Indeed, a fundamental part of our approach is to help our students in knowing how to recognize and choose purposes to consciously move their will, embrace authentic values and strengthen their inner compass.
So, managers of the future will need to be sensitive to the deeper needs and concerns of team members in order to foster a positive work environment. Empathetic leaders are better equipped to address individual and team challenges, build trust, and create a supportive culture.
Inner work complements, empowers and enriches everything you do in your job and in your life, and human capabilities contribute significantly to a manager’s ability to navigate the complexities of leadership. These management skills will continue to play a central role in fostering a positive work culture, building effective teams, and achieving long-term organizational success in the future.
About the Author
Federico Frattini is Dean of POLIMI Graduate School of Management in Milan. Dean Frattini is also a Full Professor of Strategic Management and Innovation, and Member of the management committee of Polimi GSOM.
Frattini’s main contribution to management research is in the field of Open Innovation, and in particular technology leverage strategies. At Politecnico di Milano he also co-founded Energy & Strategy, a research team that analyses the business models in the field of renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grid, digital energy and others. He has been Deputy Director of Energy & Strategy since 2007.