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The five biggest challenges leaders will face this year

Leadership is one of the most important factors in business success. Organizations depend on leaders to set strategy, manage changing market trends, and guide them through challenges to success. Now only three months into 2018, it appears this will be a particularly challenging year for individuals at the tops of their organizations.

To understand the biggest challenges leaders and organizations will face in 2018, we asked 44 senior members of the AIIR Global Coaching Alliance for their perspectives. Using a qualitative data analysis, we identified five of the greatest challenges that leaders and organizations will face in 2018. Following are selected insights on those themes.


1. Staying focused and energized amidst profound change, complexity, and ambiguity

Leaders have been dealing with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) business conditions for decades. However, leaders now work in an environment of near-constant change in which they and their organizations are continually required not only to adapt, but to anticipate change and stay at the cutting edge to survive.


“Senior leadership teams will need to exercise discipline to stay focused on long-term thinking in a VUCA business climate. The best leadership teams will find ways to productively navigate in these complex times.”

Ren Wiebe, M.ED., ACC | AIIR Toronto


“Leaders will be tasked with balancing employees’ and customers’ demand for stability and reassurance with the demand for greater agility required to respond to uncertain and radically shifting market conditions.”

Jeffrey Janowitz | AIIR Tel Aviv


“The challenge for leaders will be flying the plane while building it. They will need to be hyper-focused and minimize distractions.”

Charles Dormer | AIIR Philadelphia


2. Amplifying critical human capacities to thrive in the face of disruptive technologies

Amazing leaps forward in technology and artificial intelligence (AI) will create new paradigms in business. Forrester predicts that automation will replace 16% of US jobs by 2025, with the heaviest impact in office and administrative support positions. It will also replace many of the administrative duties that account for more than half of managers’ time.


“Anything engaged in routine will be displaced by automation and AI. Success in 2018 and beyond will require using automation to augment competencies a machine cannot perform—customer focus, interpersonal effectiveness and leadership capability.”

Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. | AIIR CEO


“Leaders and organizations will be challenged to stay current due to rapid technological developments that change markets, production costs and consumer demand.”

Catarina R. Dolsten, MD | AIIR New York


“Responding to technological disruption, and the level of control it affords individuals. Lower barriers to entries for competition.”

Paul Curci | AIIR Philadelphia

3. Coping with political change and unrest

A report by the World Economic Forum pointed out that “the world has moved into a new and unsettling geopolitical phase.” Globally, economic and political tension between the world’s major military powers is on the rise. Meanwhile in the US, political discord has reached previously unknown peaks. Leaders will be forced to navigate constant disruption in foreign markets as well as among their own employees.


“Leaders will be tasked with understanding the shifting political atmosphere as well as the increasing complexities of doing business outsides one’s own borders.”

Brian Szepkouski | AIIR New York



“Growing income inequalities. Growing civil and political unrest. Uncertain structural and fiscal policy changes.”

Dawn Cone, Ph.D. | AIIR Detroit


“Many seem to be predicting that the ongoing spread of society (haves and have nots) will continue to create shocks and opportunities for companies that can capitalize on the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of those who are not doing well economically.”

Ren Wiebe, M.ED., ACC | AIIR Toronto


4. Creating cultures of engagement that enable organizations to attract and retain top talent

Economic improvement produced tightening in the labor market. Sixty eight percent of HR professionals across industries report challenging recruiting conditions, particularly when it comes to recruiting for specialized skills or filling their leadership pipeline. According to a recent survey, only 14% of companies have a strong bench.


“Engagement is no longer one-size-fits-all. Giving employees, especially among younger generations, the ability to work for a business with a sense of meaning and purpose at the forefront will be key.”

Natalie Schurman, MSc. | AIIR Brussels



Promoting diversity and inclusion as part of organizational culture, especially amongst the ongoing sexual harassment allegations across industries.

Brittany Joslyn, Ph.D. | AIIR Dallas


“Baby Boomers are getting ready to retire and the largest generation that could fill their shoes is just getting started in the workforce. This creates a gap in talent. Finding and keeping the best talent will be tough (ex: Amazon pitching to the US regarding their next campus).”

Sherry Bisaillon | AIIR Seattle


 5. Cultivating the next generation of leaders

Millennials will make up more than half of the workforce by 2020. As Baby Boomers continue to leave the workforce by the millions, Millennials are moving to fill newly vacant management and leadership positions. In addition to typical business hurdles, Millennial managers face a unique challenge: managing their older colleagues.


“Developing agile leaders who are able to do seemingly incompatible things: be structured yet flexible, be agile yet process-oriented, drive for results yet put people and culture first. These are paradoxical leaders and there aren’t many of them.”

Manuelle Charbonneau, Ph.D. | AIIR Los Angeles



“Millenials are asking for more, and being asked to do more, without basic management skills or experience. This is both an opportunity and a threat.”

Jamie Ramsden | AIIR Charlotte