With the business world taking some hard turns these years, how do you embrace, adapt to, and shape your future? The answer lies in the mindset of the modern, responsive leader – and in actually changing behaviour.
In the two weeks up to Christmas, I had some long talks with business leaders and innovation thinkers about their outlook on 2020. They came from several diverse industries, ranging from finance over engineering to building services. The discussions were circling around the development in technology, and how it affects the businesses they’re in: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Internet of Things, the falling prices of energy, automation and software robots, the cost of big data.
They had all heard statements like “40% of my job can be automated with existing technology”, “the bitcoin bubble is going to burst, and it will affect the stock market too”, and “you must stay paranoid to stay in business”.
Clearly, these leaders were very well aware of the context of their businesses, but they were uncertain how to approach the new year. On one hand, they have the business strategy, that they together with their peer leaders created in the fall. They could merely go ahead and execute it, according to plan, funding, and mutual expectations. That is, they could stay on the know path and observe how things evolve, waiting to respond in the right time. On the other hand, they could take a more active role, and use the situation as a springboard for not only adapting to the development but also being part of shaping the future for themselves, for the employees, and for the organization they are responsible for.
Actually, they all wanted to do both. But how?
The guiding principles of the future of work
From what I’ve observed over the past four years – helping leaders and organizations transform to a modern, future oriented workplace – there are five characteristics, that describes the modern leaders; leaders who balances the old-school strategy execution with the new-school responsive leadership:
1. People first The responsive leader focuses on people and on behaving them with respect, understanding, opportunity, and dignity. Note, it’s not employees first or customers first. It’s people; which also covers society, community, and competitors. The modern leader wants to create an organization, where people feel they belong. Social capital becomes a yardstick for fantastic leadership.
2. Purpose, meaning, sense-making, and value-creation The responsive leader seeks to solve problems, instead of focusing on products and services. This is in fully alignment with the movement towards purpose-driven leadership, meaningfulness, and sense-making. It has to make sense to go to work. The modern organizations strive to solve problems for the customers, and for society, e.g. inspired by the 17 Sustainability Development Goals by UN. The success is measured in value-creation also, not only in revenue.
3. Continuous innovation and experimentation The responsive leader constantly encourages everybody to experiment with processes, approaches, thinking patterns, and technology. This requires a culture that avoids the alienation of innovation, and instead embraces it in everything from everyday improvement to strategic, radical changes – and pivoting. The responsive leader also accepts that things actually change, when you experiment. For some leaders, it’s tough to let go of the old-school predictability and management.
4. An insatiable drive for results The responsive leader is not only focusing on the human sides of business, on experimentation, and on purpose. The responsive leaders I’ve seen thrive in this are very focused on creating results, winning customers, gaining market share, and creating revenue. It takes both talent, skill, and effort.
5. Everybody has the opportunity to take a lead Finally, the responsive leader knows, that the only way to do this is by applying distributed leadership. Both from a business perspective to get the intelligence and cleverness of every employees engaged in shaping the future (clearly, there exists people in the organization that are smarter than you on specific expert fields, and that has the right project fit for execution this specific task), and from a ‘people first’-perspective, to ensure that everybody feels acknowledged, seen, in development, challenged, and safe.
Balancing the approaches This modern leader takes a clear stand and stays responsive to the development both inside the organizations, and outside. The key word here is the right amount of responsiveness. Not too rigid, and not to fluttering. You need to strike the 1:5 balance between old-school and new-school. This is the paradigm shift.
Do not go into this with blinders without creating safety for your employees, but make sure that you are the trustworthy leader, that you need. This requires you to be visionary, transparent, ambitious, vulnerable, and personal. You must have courage to change, willingness to lean, and persistence keep going. You need a completely new approach to work. You need to be able to respond to the many rapid changes. You need new skills, new behaviours, and new systems. Most of all you need a new holistic mindset for handling a new type of workplace. Overall, you can see this shift as a focus from doing stuff to being someone.
The design of our workplace, and our understanding of what constitutes ‘work’ must change too:
The future of those modern, responsive leaders in 2020? It looks bright. Not easy at all, but bright. I do believe, we’re going to see some hard turns over the coming years. Yes, there will be shifts in the employment demography and the required skillset, and we as leaders must be responsible – and responsive – to this.
The leaders I talked to before Christmas seemed focused and determined. They did not seem to resign or give in. They wanted to respond and shape the future.
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