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In business and in leadership, the only constant is change. Just as a leader gets comfortable with something, things often change and move them towards something different.

That’s the case for Elena Donio, who has led change to champion workplace equality and representation and also seen changes within her own industry.

After four years as CEO of Axiom, a legal services provider with 2,000 employees, Elena stepped down in 2020 and remained a member of Axiom’s board.

Elena is a skilled leader who is aware of everything happening around her, both individually and in her industry. She believes future leaders need to adapt and take a stand to make a difference.

I had the chance to interview Elena for my book, The Future Leader, when she was still at Axiom. Her ability to lead an innovative company and think outside the box have served her well, especially as she pays attention to what is coming down the pipeline.

Elena believes future leaders need to be aware of three major trends shaping the future of work:

Technology and AI

One of the biggest trends for the future of work according to Elena was echoed by countless CEOs I talked to around the world: the growth of new technology and AI. Companies have access to more technology and data than ever today, and that huge amount of data opens doors for new opportunities.

Future leaders don’t need to be experts on new technology, but they need to be willing to experiment and try new solutions. Elena recommends trying new apps and devices and really getting into what clients and the next generation of employees might be experiencing and what could improve their work and lives.

Elena believes future leaders need to be curious about new technology and know what’s happening with technology and in their industry. With things changing so rapidly, leaders have to make a conscious effort to stay on top of trends and changes so they can lead their company and connect with employees.

Elena put it this way: “It’s really important to be inquisitive, to be listening, to be hearing, and profiling for ideas in all places of the company, to be able to be vulnerable and know that the best answers very often don’t come from the top officers, but rather come from a syndicate of individuals who are closest to the client, closest to the problems and opportunities that we’re seeing in the field, and to really be active in creating and enforcing and rewarding that kind of dialogue.”

Distributed Workforce

Employees don’t always sit together in offices — especially with the COVID pandemic — and leaders need to be able to adapt to a distributed workforce. A growing number of people around the world are working remotely, even outside the pandemic, which allows companies to access a wider range of talent and for employees to have flexibility in how and where they work.

But in order to best leverage a distributed workforce, leaders need to know how to communicate and motivate employees they don’t often see in person.

Elena said this: “The global economy driving a distributed workforce calls on us to be better at communication and keeping people connected, and the tools and scaffolding are adapting to make that possible.”

In the future, it won’t be enough to send a company-wide email, because attention spans are changing. At Axiom, Elena and her team used different media to connect with employees, such as videos and connecting employees in shared spaces. She says future leaders have to be creative about the way they communicate, especially when it comes to building connections with younger employees. That means adapting to and embracing new ways of communication across a distributed environment.

Gig Economy

When the gig economy first took off more than a decade ago, many people thought it was a fluke because people couldn’t get full-time jobs during the recession. But the gig economy has shown its staying power and continues to grow at a staggering pace today.

“The idea that the economy has recovered in such a big way yet the gig economy is stronger than ever is really indicative of the fact that this is just how many people want to work,” Elena said.

Future leaders need to understand and be able to work with the gig economy. Elena thinks this is especially important to understanding the expectations of the next generation entering the workforce. These younger workers often want to optimize around experience and touching multiple things in their lives, such as multiple different types of solutions and technologies and multiple different groups of people, ethos, and environments. In order to meet their expectations, future leaders must know how to connect with gig workers and offer purpose and connection.

The future of work is changing, and leaders need to be aware of evolving trends so they can create a future-ready environment for their employees.

If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

  1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.
  2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader which has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith. It explores the most essential skills and mindsets for future leaders.
  3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did it. You can subscribe to that here.