The old model of leadership is dead – but the new is not what you think
I spoke last week at the IACCM conference in Rome about leadership and what skills would be necessary for leadership in the future. The new skills needed for leaders created considerable debate and discussion, so I thought I would share this thinking in a three-part blog – the new model of leadership, this week and then the five attributes of a great leader and how to become a great leader in the next two blogs.
It was fascinating to be stood on a platform in Rome talking about the future of leadership. Because Rome is where a lot of our ideas of leadership began. Think of the Roman emperors – or of Henry V at Agincourt if you want the English version. This is the leader as inspirer, as dictator, as the man who would lead you to death or glory, or generally to both.
The leader led, the people followed. The leader was responsible; the leader took the decisions. Mostly the leader was on his own, there was no one to consult. The nearest advice was weeks or months, and the success of whatever mission you were on was reliant on the good judgment and self-confidence of the leader.
But the leader was also reliant on his ability to inspire those that followed him. There are plenty of stories of Roman Emperors who were murdered by their troops when the troops lost confidence in them. And there are plenty of CEOs who have suffered a similar fate when their shareholders lost confidence.
It was essentially a military model and it was our only real model of leadership up until the Industrial Revolution. Then something happened. As the machines moved in, the business model became that of the machine.
When Frederick Winslow Taylor arrived at Bethlehem Iron in 1898 he brought a new set of tools to maximise the efficiency of the steelworks. At that point, along with everything else to do with business, leadership became more systematic, far more about command and control and less about inspiration.
The people you had working for you were replaceable and interchangeable, they were like the cogs in the machine, they were trained to do the same thing with complete consistency. Taylor viewed the role of management as that of enforcer, enforcing the adoption of standards and the enforcement of co-operation.
We have modified Taylor’s model a little because we now see the importance of people, but as anyone who has been through an aggressive downsizing or M&A process knows we still tend to treat people pretty much like pawns…… while proclaiming loudly that “people are our greatest asset”. The fundamental skills are still those of command and control.
Up until the end of the last century the world was still largely divided into leaders and workers and it was an ordered place.
But something has happened in the last twenty years to the environment in which we do business.
Businesses are changing as dramatically as in the first Industrial Revolution but faster. And the speed of change is increasing. Artificial intelligence is already being heavily implemented everywhere from taking over work that was previously seen as the domain of humans. The world in the next three to five years is going to look VERY different.
And this needs new leadership skills. The tools of management that we have today (and which incidentally most business schools are still teaching) are designed for circumstances that don’t exist any more.
Now what has happened, what has changed?
1. Globalisation of markets
We live in a world that is hyper-connected; where even in the poorest countries people have mobile phones; where you can go to sleep in Africa or America and wake up in Europe. Businesses manufacture in the cheapest country and sell all over the world. Workers from home offices can interact with colleagues and customers anywhere.
2. Extraordinary speed of technological change
Just look at a few of the things that are disrupting our business lives
- Smart translation
- 3D printing
- Driverless cars, trains and planes
- The increasing use of robots powered by Artificial Intelligence.
3. Access to information
What happens anywhere in the world is known in moments. Nothing is confidential for very long, leaders have to react instantly to circumstances that they cannot control – just look at the scandals that erupt weekly in our media – and look at how they can destroy businesses and careers.
This new world is emerging very rapidly and the question that it poses is: do we still need leaders and if so what sort of leaders do we need?
In my next blog I will look at the five characteristics of a new global leader – and would love your thoughts on what these are.