As the changes promised by the ‘future of work’ become embedded within organisations across Australia, executives must depart from traditional models of leadership to maximise organisational growth. The capacity of executives to cope with the demands of their work is at risk unless the need for new skills and new approaches is recognised.
What is the key difference between the organisational cultures of the future and workplaces of the past? We can all reel off a list of significant dissimilarities. Resources. The internet. Globalisation. But there is one difference that seems to rise above the rest.
The unprecedent rate of change.
Executives and organisations are dealing with disruptions that emerge at a frequency that has never been seen before. This shouldn’t be surprising – part of what makes the future of work so attractive is the intensity with which we can do our work. Inherently associated with this intensity is the capacity for disruptions and other changes to creep up on us without being identified. Leaders, therefore, are in a situation of constant flux.
According to the World Economic Forum, hierarchical forms of leadership – the preferred models of the past – are incompatible with this new organisational landscape. The ‘chain of command’ system often results in one person making all significant decisions. While this set-up might work where the number of significant decisions that need to be made is limited, it does not function where leaders are being faced with multiple large-scale issues at any one point. Leaders are at risk of becoming overwhelmed when faced with these conditions.
Clearly then, organisations need to take a new approach. In both a structural and personal sense, executives must embrace a style of leadership that is centred on collaboration and teamwork. I think MIT’s Sloane Management Review describes the issue perfectly when they quote the former chief talent officer of Netflix Patty McCord:
“Organizations need to completely rethink what they are about and what it means to lead. It’s not about one person or even those residing at the top anymore. In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community.”
The importance of McCord’s statement lies in his identification of a solution to the problem before us; he suggests that the future of work can be navigated by making leadership development a central component of employee training. If you can ensure that there are leaders at every level of your organisation, then there will always be someone at the coalface to make a decision when the need arises.
This will require systemic, organisation-wide change. InsideHR reports that 81% of CEOs rate their organisation’s leadership development programs as sub-par while only 6% of HR leaders say that their organisations are ready to meet new leadership demands. Obviously, organisations are not currently in a position to establish this teamwork-oriented model of leadership. Therefore, organisations must act quickly and effectively to ensure that they are equipped to meet the demands of the future.
Sebastian Salicu from InsideHR suggests that organisations should start to focus on “meta-competencies” to achieve this ideal state of leadership. Meta-competencies are the skills and knowledge bases necessary for the development of other competencies. If organisations focus on cultivating meta-competencies throughout their workforce, employees will naturally pick up other leadership skills as they continue to perform their tasks. It would be inefficient to teach every employee how to do the job of an executive; a more communal, foundational approach ensures everyone in your workplace has a basic level of leadership competency that will naturally facilitate further development as more responsibility is acquired.
Regardless of what approach your organisation takes, the writing is on the wall: Workplaces are no longer in a position where they can rely on the leadership qualities of their C-Suite. Instead, they must adopt a more horizontal, collaborative leadership project.
The future of work appears to be one of perpetual motion; there are a lot of moving parts, each of which is complicated in its own way. Naturally, one leader can’t oversee all of these components.
Reskilling is often talked about when it comes to the future of work. Most of the time it is spoken about in the context of tangible skills. There is no reason why leadership should be omitted from this discussion in relation to lower level employees.
By establishing a norm of responsibility-sharing, you not only ease the burden on your official leaders but encourage the development of a new generation ready to take the reins when the time is right.
There is no end to the benefits.