Binoculars Nothing brings out our inner futurist quite like a new year, does it?

Everyone's gazing into their crystal balls come January, and we here at CPA Success are no different. I spent way too much time recently dissecting a report from Intuit and Emergent Research that offered an educated guess of what business will look like in 2020.

Now it's IBM's turn, and they're setting their sights on the not-quite-so-distant future.

In a report titled “Working Beyond Borders,” IBM took a shot at answering today's version of the $64,000 question: How can a business grow and still be operationally efficient in tough economic times?

If you're a regular CPA Success reader, you won't be surprised by the answer: Going forward, successful leaders will need an entirely new set of skills to guide their organizations through the corporate chaos.

“Organizations are still very focused on improving operational efficiencies. They're being very careful about costs and process improvements,” said Maria-paz Barrientos, IBM's consulting leader for human capital management in North America. “In the near future, they will be looking to grow. This is a very optimistic group. They know they have to worry about efficiencies, but at the same time they're looking to develop new products and services and expand into new markets and geographies.”

So how do you do that? By focusing less on the day-to-day and more on the what's-to-come.

“Human resource officers today are very effective at managing labor costs, recruiting, onboarding and, to a lesser degree, evaluating workforce performance. The things they're not very efficient at yet — and where there is a lot of emphasis for the future — are rapidly developing workforce skills and capabilities, developing future leaders in the organization, and fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing. These three areas are critical to their future success and growth.”

In other words, new skills. We're all so heads-down focused on our mundane day-to-day tasks that we miss what Andrew Zolli calls the “weak signals of disruptive change” on the horizon. The point of the IBM report — in my mind, anyway — is that we need to focus as much on what's to come as on what's already here.

“Organizations that are doing better financially than their peers are very aware that they need to work on these areas,” Barrientos said. “They're looking at how to better develop their future leaders and the need for creativity within the leadership workforce. … Leaders are starting to realize that they can't make decisions in a bubble. To successfully travel through turbulent times, they need to have the right support around them.”

Listen to my conversation with Barrientos in its entirety, then tell me: What leadership skills do you think are most vital going forward?

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