The Critical Skill You Need for the Future of Work

We are deep into a period of uncertainty that is likely to continue, which makes one thing more certain than ever: The skill you will need to be successful in your work from here on out.

But first, what does the future of work look like?

If we listen to the high level view from the likes of McKinsey and Company, we will see successful companies that are:

  • Flatter with less hierarchy and streamlined decision-making
  • Using faster information flows enabled by analytics
  • Embracing more cross functional teams and a “test and learn” approach to initiatives
  • Fully leveraging flexible working structures like remote/hybrid
  • Dynamically allocating talent, relying on agile and resilient teams that are able to move fast, adapt to change, and continuously learn.

They have a long report that explains all the pandemic and market forces shaping this new future. A CEO quote included in the report brings this idea home well:

“We have removed boundaries and silos in ways no one thought was possible”

The good folks over at Gartner HR look at how this will reshape the workforce. In addition to a profound shift in remote work, they see that companies will be challenged to support and promote workforce success in a variety of ways.

Company strategies will diverge.

“While some organizations have recognized the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic and prioritized the well-being of employees as people over employees as workers, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high risk with little support — treating them as workers first and people second.”

Which kind of company will you want to work for?

Probably the one that is going to strive to be one of the top employers in the new world order.

Those companies will be shifting to strategies that promote resiliency over efficiency. These companies will be separating critical skills from critical roles, forming dynamic and empowered teams to tackle their toughest problems. And these companies will likely grow organically and as a result of mergers and acquisitions as a great reshuffling takes place in many industries.

What skill will you need to survive and thrive in that type of work environment?


Yes, soft skills are going to be the difference makers for individuals in this dynamic and challenging new world of work. The ability to use critical thinking, plan strategically, and provide leadership (titles 100% aside) will be crucial.

But leadership is complex. It sometimes involves exercising authority, but also requires an ability to make decisions, coach team members, engage stakeholders, and to organize and orchestrate.

This requires that you be able to initiate and engage in meaningful discussions; collect, cultivate, and clarify ideas; form agreements and alliances; encourage and support people; and to listen and respond to different perspectives and adjust to changing situations. All of this, I would argue, requires that you double down on one skill at the center of all of this: empathy.

The ability to understand and share the feelings of others will make or break your ability to garner the type of support and insight you will need to be a leader (from whatever role you play and regardless of what title you may hold).

Dan Pink would have you do a quick test to see where you are at with this right now. “Take your right forefinger and draw a capital E on your forehead.”

If you look like the guy on the left, you have some work to do. If you drew it like the guy on the right, you may be in good shape. Read Dan’s post and the linked articles there for more.

Better yet, read his book To Sell is Human to learn about how powerful listening and empathy is to influence and sales (and yes, leadership has a lot to do with sales).

Empathy is a skill to be developed and it is essential to leadership, which is essential to the best work at the best organizations in the future. And the future starts now.