The Leadership of the New Era

by Bluepoint Leadership Development |

“If a man takes no thought of what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.” – Confucius
For leaders, experience is by far the best teacher. It teaches them how to adhere to core values, coach and mentor others, encourage creativity and innovation and inspire diverse populations – all very important leadership competencies and practices. Unfortunately, this same experience is an untrustworthy guide for the world we are about to enter. To continue to have a real impact on their organizations, leaders are well advised to peer into the past to understand the future. We are already in the early stages of a global, digital economy that is completely dismantling and recreating our existing social and financial frameworks. Markets are becoming increasingly volatile, key talent is in short supply, information is rapidly and broadly dispersed, and traditional organizations are flattening, being turned upside down and are losing their boundaries. This frenetic pace of change will likely continue unabated for the foreseeable future. And a new chapter in leadership is about to begin: Leadership 4.0.
The evolving nature of organizations and leadership to understand the future of leadership, it is helpful to look back over the last century to gain an appreciation for the evolving nature of organizations and resulting demands on their leaders.

Leadership 1.0: The Production Systems Leader (1900-1980) Prior to 1900, leadership was seen as primarily a political, religious and military matter. Enterprises were typically very small and organized around a craftsman or owner who personally directed all activities. In the early 1900’s, three huge shifts in technology occurred which laid the groundwork for a whole new way of organizing and leading. In 1901, Marconi transmitted the first trans-Atlantic radio message, in 1903 the Wright brothers made the first powered flight, and in 1908 Henry Ford started mass-producing the Model T automobile. These dramatic advances in communication, travel and automation were a tipping point for organizations. Now larger organizations were created, and the prime concern of their leaders was the efficient operation of repetitive production systems to satisfy a growing demand for products and services. Organizations tended to be highly structured and pyramidal, and employees usually remained in the same organization or vocation for their entire careers. Order, predictability and constancy were the watchwords of the day.

Leadership 2.0: The Quality performance Leader (1980-2000). In the early 1980’s, intense international competition, primarily from Japan, spurred a major shift toward quality. The prime concern of leaders was to create products and services at the top end of the measurement scale, whatever that might be. They sought to produce the best, least expensive, fastest, strongest or most attractive version of their product or service. Waste, defects, delays and inefficiencies were targeted for elimination. Organizations became highly matrixed and most employees had a significant process improvement element in their job. The emergence of downsizing irreversibly altered the employee-employer relationship.

Leadership 3.0: The opportunistic enterprisers (2000-to present day).  As we entered into a new century, productivity improvement tools (Internet, email, and social media) gave employees unprecedented access to information and networks as well as unprecedented penetration of their work into their personal lives. Opportunities abounded. The prime concern of these leaders was to capitalize on the huge shifts in technology, connection capability and commerce. Organizations became more fluid and often spawned ad hoc teams to

Leadership 4.0: …a brave new approach for a new generation. “If a man takes no thought of what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.” – Confucius
pursue emerging opportunities. Booms and busts were equally common. So what will Leadership 4.0 look like? While the substantial amounts of change we will likely face in the next few decades make the future quite murky, we can be pretty sure of four challenges leaders will face.

1. Talent acquisition and talent development will likely be the number one competitive advantage.
Technological advantages will become increasingly rare so organizations will need to rely upon their talent to be competitive in the marketplace. The increased value of creativity and innovation will increase the productivity gap between average and top performers (e.g. top performers may be ten times as productive as average performers). Added to this will be the fact that skills and knowledge will quickly become irrelevant, and leaders will need to ensure that their talent pool is continually learning and developing just to stay even.

2. Communication will no longer be seen as a leadership competency but something that is synonymous with leadership.
The constant effort to push more information into organizations will cease. Information will become ubiquitous. People will have immediate access to any and all information related to their work. The leader’s role will change from providing accurate and timely information that helps people do their jobs to one that gets people to think differently and act in concert. People will not need more information; they will need more meaning and purpose, something that will draw them together in a common endeavor.

3. Innovation will be everyone’s business.
Innovation will no longer be the sole purview of R&D. To survive and thrive in a hypercompetitive world, everyone in the organization will need to be innovating — generating new products and services, finding new ways to serve customers, identifying unconventional revenue streams. Leaders will need to create environments in which people at all levels bring their very best creative talents to this work.

4. Leading Change will become everyday work.
Organization change will no longer be a discreet activity initiated by intermittent economic, demographic and technological forces but rather it will become a constant state of operation. Leaders will need to continuously cycle through a process of creating pathways, sharing expertise, and coaching others on personal change.
Leaders must get to the future first. They need to be scouts, prophets and pathfinders. Go there, discover what it is like and return to teach others. As novelist William Gibson said, “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.” This is an incredibly exciting time for leaders who are prepared to step up to a whole new set of challenges. Never has great leadership been so important and never has it been in shorter supply.