Leading in the new world of work: What has and hasn't changed?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 - 15:25
AIM Blog - Leading in the new world of work

As leaders, we build a repertoire of behaviors that work well for us and then we refine, tweak, refine. In the early stage of our leadership journey, we make mistakes often – mishandle communication, make hiring boo-boos and misjudge the impact of our own actions on others – and then we learn not to do these things again. We carry a library of examples in our heads of things that did and didn't work so we can repeat our successes and minimise our failures. This is all rational and efficient behavior.

Increasingly though, the past is failing as a map for how leaders need to act in the future. The world of work has changed dramatically as a result of demographic shifts, with the rise of millennials and globalization, and tech advances that reduce boundaries to; innovation, communication and access to information. As a result, we need to rethink how we lead. 

So what has changed?

Talented workers want tech-savvy work environments and a great culture, driven by a leadership team that embraces flexible work styles. They value workplaces that are transparent in their operations and physically enticing, have societal impact and allow for rapid advancement. 

Old school is not cool when it comes to work styles. Leaders in the new world of work need to embrace communication channels that acknowledge rising generations’ preferences and be enlightened about the evolving world. They use corporate social tools like Yammer, Slack and Trello, that make workplaces more efficient, and they embrace work styles that facilitate collaboration - a hallmark of rising generations. 

Remote workers are also on the rise so having work environments that are conducive to productivity irrespective of where you are, are important. 

What hasn’t changed?

Even with 50% of the workforce being millennials and the speed of tech advances demanding constant reinvention of products, services and organizational change, two things are still true:

  • Great leaders are needed to interpret the world and make decisions
  • Everyone has leadership potential, even in everyday roles

These two statements could have been said any time over the last 100 years and yet what qualities of leadership make good leaders now? While researching our newly launched book, The Leadership Mind Switch, we surveyed over 500 emerging leaders about what three words typify the ideal qualities in a leader. The top responses were a variation on “trust”, “trusted” and “trustworthy”. 

Being a trusted leader is not a new concept. Although in a world where information is abundantly available and customers, employees and stakeholders can quickly and freely express their dissent, motivation to be a trustworthy leader should be higher than ever if you value your job. More importantly, if you value your reputation and being a good human, it is as important as ever. Being trustworthy is also as easy as ever - do what you say, own up to your mistakes, don’t tell lies, treat people well. As we write this, the Uber CEO, one of the most prominent companies in the world, is losing his job because he can’t do the last one. The idea of treating people well is an old concept but doing it has become more nuanced.

In the new world of work, some things have changed and some remain the same but the best talent are demanding more of companies and their leaders because they have many options.  It is a competitive marketplace.  They can choose between the gig economy, the startup next door or an established company and in the US, alone, an estimated 40% of companies are unable to fill all the positions they need.  

As a result, leadership teams find themselves competing for the best talent while also trying to keep their existing employees engaged in new ways. In Deloitte’s Global Millennials Survey, they found that 2/3 of millennials say they hoped to be working for a different organization in 5 years or sooner.  1 in 4 would quit immediately if they had another offer. And nearly half said they would quit within 2 years. With the high cost of recruitment, a good leader that is ready for the new world of work might change their decision. After all, people work for leaders not companies.

Kylie Wright-Ford is an operating executive, advisor and board member for growth companies in the US.  Australian born and raised, and globally traveled, she has unique first-hand perspectives on leading across geographies, generations and styles.  Her first book, co-authored with Debra Benton, The Leadership Mind Switch was published by McGraw Hill on June 4 2017.  Please see www.kyliewf.com and www.makethemindswitch.com for more details.