The transformative impact of digital technology has only just begun. Beyond Big Data and global connectivity, we will see ‘The Internet of Things’, 3D manufacturing, smart robotics, artificial intelligence, and more.
As these disruptors evolve they will profoundly affect how we do business and will demand a new model for leadership. The command and control model, designed for the Industrial Revolution to drive efficiency, standardization and reliability, is still largely prevalent today. Though, in recent times, organizations have evolved that leverage human excellence and technology to continuously innovate and adapt — which is the antithesis of reliability and standardization.
Professor Ed Hess, of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, anticipates a leadership model for the future, in this extract from an article on Darden’s Ideas to Action:
What is about to happen is evolutionary — the organizational design commonalities of those companies (e.g. Amazon, Pixar Animated Studios, Google, Apple, W.L. Gore & Associates, Bridgewater Associates, Starbucks, etc.) will become dominant because businesses in a technology-enabled world will need to be more agile, adaptive, responsive, innovative and humanistic than was needed in the Industrial Revolution.
Technology will reduce the human headcount in many companies, but human beings will be needed to do the type of work that technology won’t be able to do well. That is, at least for the near future: higher order critical, innovative and creative thinking and high emotional engagement with other humans. The challenge for humans is that for most of us, it is very hard to excel at those skills by ourselves — we need to collaborate with others to do them well. And that requires a different system than the one built for the factory model of business.
Yes, technology will dehumanize businesses through headcount reductions. But, ironically, for those humans still needed in business, technology will require businesses to become much more humanistic — much more people-centric environments designed on psychological principles and the science of learning to enable the highest levels of human cognitive and emotional performance. That humanistic, people-centric environment will be based upon three psychological principles: Positivity; Self-Determination Theory and Psychological Safety. Those principles will drive the design of an internal system (structures, leadership model, culture, processes, measurements and rewards) that will enable the mindsets and behaviors that result in the highest levels of human cognitive and emotional performance. And that will require leaders who excel at the desired mindsets and behaviors and who role model the types of thinking, emotional engagement and collaboration — the team play — that will be needed.
Those effective leaders will not be domineering, all-knowing, elitist or self-absorbed. They will be leaders who are comfortable with ‘not knowing’ because they know how to effectively navigate and operate in environments characterized as VUCA (that is, with conditions of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). I believe they will be leaders with quiet egos and high emotional intelligence who embrace and enable ‘otherness’ — connecting, relating and engaging with other stakeholders in the pursuit of a meaningful, purposeful organizational mission.
I believe the CEO of the future will be better described if she or he is called the chief enabling officer. Leadership will become enable-ship. A main responsibility of the chief enabling officer will be to enable the highest levels of human performance in the pursuit of continuous learning and innovation in order continuously add meaningful value to stakeholders.
And to do that, the CEO and other senior leaders must role model the right mindsets and behaviors — the 4Es:
Engage the world with a quiet ego and as a lifelong learner.
Embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity like a courageous scientist.
Excel at managing self and ‘otherness.’
Enable the highest levels of human development and performance.
In the Smart Machine Age, who wins? I believe in most industries it will be the organizations with the best thinkers, creators and innovators who excel at creating stakeholder value together through diverse multifunctional, multicultural teams. Leading those organizations requires a new story about leadership. The development of human excellence story.
Professor Hess is the co-author of ‘Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age’ (Berrett-Koehler, January 2017).