Digital disruption and the rise of Generation Y in the workforce means that leaders need more than just gravitas and a good business brain to succeed in today’s fast-changing business world 

The question ‘Why should anyone be led by you’ – posed by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) some 16 years ago – is even more relevant today. This is because while change is constant, we live in especially volatile, ambiguous, complex and uncertain times. The scale, breadth and pace of change we’re seeing – with the wheels moving on Brexit and an outspoken new US president – is unprecedented. Despite this, it’s likely that the pace of change will never be this slow again. From a leadership perspective, this is both exciting and daunting.

The business case for trust

Digital disruption is fuelling developments in science, communication and beyond, leading us into what the World Economic Forum (WEF) calls a ‘fourth industrial revolution’. This will profoundly affect the way we all work, live and interact – think ubiquitous mobile supercomputing, self-driving cars and genetic tweaking. Digitalisation, data and tech advances will also lead to huge organisational efficiencies. But while management will be handing the bulk of its administrative tasks to artificial intelligence (AI) in the near future – a change to embrace – shifts towards automation will need to be balanced by a renewed focus from management and leaders on empathy, ethical judgement, intuition and other traits that machines lack.

LEADERSHIP CRISIS

Generation Y – those born between 1980 and 1994 – now comprise much of our workforce and have particularly high expectations of leaders. They demand to be involved in a more collaborative decision-making process and seek immediate approval and reward for their efforts. They crave personal development and responsibility, and are more loyal to principles than they are to people; they won’t tamely follow your lead just because you’re the boss. Gen Y is, by and large, being led by the baby boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964, they adhere to very different values and behaviours. Between them, they’re attempting to redefine what constitutes the workplace in a time of immense change. Predictably, the result is fractious. The reason I sat on a leadership panel at the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos in January was because the organisation has identified a crisis of leadership – a sobering 86% of those surveyed said they had no faith in government leaders. So how can we rise to the challenge of inspiring a generation that is hardwired to seek out change and is often equipped with the entrepreneurialism and digital skills needed to create that change? Because if their needs are not met, they will vote with their feet and find somewhere or something that does satisfy them.

The future of work: how do we make it ‘work’?

Predictably, the result is fractious. The reason I sat on a leadership panel at the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos in January was because the organisation has identified a crisis of leadership – a sobering 86% of those surveyed said they had no faith in government leaders. So how can we rise to the challenge of inspiring a generation that is hardwired to seek out change and is often equipped with the entrepreneurialism and digital skills needed to create that change? Because if their needs are not met, they will vote with their feet and find somewhere or something that does satisfy them.

The reason I sat on a leadership panel at the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos in January was because the organisation has identified a crisis of leadership – a sobering 86% of those surveyed said they had no faith in government leaders. So how can we rise to the challenge of inspiring a generation that is hardwired to seek out change and is often equipped with the entrepreneurialism and digital skills needed to create that change? Because if their needs are not met, they will vote with their feet and find somewhere or something that does satisfy them.

HUMAN NURTURE

Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, the authors of HBR’s ‘Why should anyone be led by you’, made a powerful conclusion that went against the grain of traditional leadership approaches. Being an effective leader does not mean adhering to a list of prescribed character traits – it’s about being comfortable with being authentic and human. Effectively, just being yourself. If that all sounds too easy, it takes time and a great deal of self-analysis to arrive at this identity – to find your unique voice,  yet to conform just enough to gain traction, to balance business smarts with charm and charisma, and to grasp the nuances of when to show emotion and when to refrain. It calls for a radically more human approach than we have probably experienced ourselves during our own careers.

The ability to empathise, influence, delegate and create the conditions for everyone’s success supersedes notions  of top-down control. Paradoxically, as we hurtle towards  a period when AI and robots are poised to become smarter than people, amplifying our human characteristics becomes even more urgent and critical.  I enjoy leading. I joke that I was a CEO when I was two and my elder siblings would agree. In more human terms it means I have a clear vision. I know what I want to achieve and I always do my utmost to lead by example, and to inspire people to want to get behind me. I have real passion and conviction. Otherwise, in these empowered times, why on Earth would they?

Lindsay Pattison is worldwide CEO of Maxus

READ NEXT: IS THIS THE END FOR CASH?

Read More On: