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In Practice

How to Futureproof Your Career

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The huge forces of AI and COVID are changing the career trajectories of millions of workers. So what does it mean for executives who are building their careers in this new environment?

BRINK spoke to Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj and Naeema Pasha, who are the authors of Futureproof Your Career: How to Lead and Succeed in a Changing World.  

PASHA: The starting point for the book is the level of uncertainty that we are facing in the future of work. There are certain personality traits, abilities, qualities and skills that separate those who manage uncertainty well and those who don’t. 

A High Tolerance for Uncertainty

One of the skills is self-reliance, which is a trait associated with a person who displays self-sufficiency and inner resourcefulness. If you feel that you are capable of managing the change, that you have responsibility, then you are more likely to be able to manage uncertainty. This is a big part of how leaders need to navigate uncertainty for their teams.

JANJUHA-JIVRAJ: We recognize that the level of complexity facing organizations today is unprecedented, so we can’t find solutions that we’ve applied previously. Leaders need to develop a more entrepreneurial mindset in creating conditions for new solutions. A key driver for entrepreneurial leadership is about having a high tolerance for uncertainty and strong intrinsic motivation. 

This shift in thinking can be challenging for individuals who work in large commercial organizations, because they have limited exposure to uncertainty compared to entrepreneurs who start up their own businesses. 

Roles and functions are changing faster than we realize, and adopting a growth mindset and being prepared for change is essential.

Bringing the Whole Self

BRINK: One of the skills you say is now needed is something you call cognitive diversity. What do you mean by that?

JANJUHA-JIVRAJ: We’re trying to get at how you bring out the ways in which people think differently. When we talk about creating new solutions, innovation really relies on two things: diversity and creating inclusive cultures, or cultures where difference is encouraged and thrives.

Diversity is about bringing a team together with a wide range of experiences that they bring with them, in other words getting people to bring their whole self and their whole being into the solutions. In this sense, we are really just in the first stage of understanding a diversity agenda. Relationships are critical to create inclusive teams, and leaders have the opportunity to role model this behavior. 

Bringing Activism to the Workplace

JANJUHA-JIVRAJ: We focus on what it means to bring activism into the workplace and how you manage it. One of the big trends of the last couple of years has been the rise of social change and activism in the workplace. COVID exposed inequality, and the Black Lives Matter movement really exploded. 

And once you start talking about what it means to be human in the workplace and what it means to bring the whole person to work, you can’t ask people to leave what is really important to them outside of work before they step into the office. 

The values that you bring can become a powerful driving force for your career, but they also need to be handled well. This is the first phase in which we’re really talking about activism in the workplace. It’s a learning journey for leaders and for everyone within the organization to understand how this manifests and how it aligns with the best business goals and the wider corporate responsibility goals that companies have as well.

Being Data-Informed

BRINK: You talk about the impact of AI on people’s work lives, and you have this phrase about being data-informed rather than data-led. What do you mean by that?

Pasha: We need to think deeper and more analytically and widely about data and data leadership. It’s not just about relying on data. There’s a phrase that’s attributed to Henry Ford about if you ask people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses at the time. 

We have got so much hype around AI, but it really requires a skillset of being critical and asking: Do we need this data? Are we collecting it in the right way? What is the purpose of this data? Is it ethical data? Do we need to do things in a different way and perhaps think and work in a completely different way? 

JANJUHA-JIVRAJ: We advocate for everyone to get more comfortable with data, understand what it’s being used for, how it’s being collected, what questions are being asked of it. And then actually once it’s pulled together, how we shape stories around the findings, because we know building an emotional connection will help others connect to your vision, especially when there is so much uncertainty.  

These shifts we discuss in the book impact everyone; admittedly to different degrees. The big takeaway is that roles and functions are changing faster than we realize, and adopting a growth mindset and being prepared for change is essential. Regardless of your seniority, experience or age, re-skilling is essential to stay relevant in the next normal phase of work.

Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj

Associate Professor in Entrepreneurial Leadership and Diversity at HEC Paris

Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj is an associate professor in Entrepreneurial Leadership and Diversity at HEC Paris in Qatar. She has previously held academic roles in the U.K. setting up entrepreneurship centers at Henley Business School and Brunel Business School.

Naeema Pasha

Director of Future of Work, Equity and Careers at Henley Business School

Naeema Pasha is the director of Future of Work, Equity and Careers in Henley Business School, where she established the World of Work (WOW) to explore future of work readiness. Her work focuses on AI impact, human skilling and equity leadership. Naeema has been shortlisted as one of the Top 30 Global Thinkers, 2021 by HR Magazine.

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