A vision for leadership in a technological future

Written by
Roland Siegers

07 Sep 2018

07 Sep 2018 • by Roland Siegers

To succeed in an automated workplace, future leaders must be adaptable, self-aware, culturally intelligent and empathetic, writes Roland Siegers.

The future workplace is often depicted as a dystopian vision: the traditional office, once buzzing with life, reduced to rows of machines. The Bank of England’s chief economist warned that automation could cost up to 15 million UK jobs.

But CEMS research demonstrates that 97% of our graduates – 75% of whom now work for multinational companies – believe technological change will impact positively on business; 56% consider either social or management skills as the key ones to develop.

These young professionals are creative and optimistic, seeing opportunity in change. They grew up with technology and believe it can make life more efficient and flexible. Organisations must act on the insights of this generation to nurture leaders with the skills to give them competitive advantage and invest in soft skills in the face of the efficiency of artificial intelligence (AI).

In forward-thinking companies, traditional ways of management – where technically qualified specialists are eventually promoted – are likely to die out. Organisations will need leaders who embrace who they are and where their bias lies; who want to learn and grow with the company to operate efficiently.

Such companies will demand a comprehensive understanding of tech and change management, which is so dynamic in nature that it is not about concrete IT skills, but the ability to thrive in a VUCA world.

The organisations that become industry leaders will be committed to community building. Equally, successful managers will develop employees to get the best out of them and create conditions for others to excel. Top communicators will be required, who understand complex human nature. 

Community building and self-awareness

The notion of ‘leadership’ has been flawed by typical attributes of masculinity such as strength, boldness and fighting spirit. You can see the consequences in global politics – think Trump, Putin, Duterte, Erdogan – as well as the corporate world.

I strongly hope these will soon be regarded as the last stand of the ‘angry old men’. In a world of automation, shared services and collaborative markets, leaders will require attributes traditionally associated with femininity, such as compassion, and the willingness to compromise.

Only self-aware people will be able to transform into well-rounded leaders, and self-awareness is best acquired through experiencing being a minority: spending time abroad, being close to customers and working with employees at every level.

The next generation of leaders will need to display high cultural intelligence as they operate globally, able to move swiftly through the initial stages of small talk to connect at a deeper level. They will have high potential to lead international teams and thrive in a technological age.

To develop skills, leaders must leave their comfort zone, live in a foreign environment early in their career, learn another language, become immersed in other cultures. Cultural intelligence involves experiencing the limitations of your own world view, acknowledging what you didn’t know about the other place, and returning more resourceful.

Morality and globality

It is now near impossible for business to defy moral behaviour: think of fines imposed on fraudulent companies in recent years and breakthroughs such as the Paris Climate Agreement.

Coming with the dawn of the internet and the predominance of the English language is the globality of civil society. As customers are able to organise themselves on the same scale as companies, leaders must ensure their company not only provides products and services fit for purpose, but act responsibly in all interactions with nature, employees and tax systems.

To meet the expectations of our graduates, there will be pressure to nudge companies and managers to do the right things – not only to do things right.

If we all get this right together, we will live in a world where the machines perform the dull, repetitive work, while we focus on what gives meaning – everything linked to human interaction.