Discussion of Industry 4.0, also called the Fourth Industrial Revolution encapsulating the digital and AI revolution is everywhere. Books, news broadcasts, TV programs, endless social network streams, and copious articles are now readily available to bring leaders up to speed on the impact of Industry 4.0 on business. However, there is not anywhere near the same amount of explanation or description on how leaders are supposed to evolve to operate in this new 4.0 space.
In this article I will discuss what 4.0 means for leadership and how leaders can execute efficiently in a world demanding this new 4.0 leadership.
Leadership 4.0 is a contemporary approach to leadership that incorporates the rapid advancements and transformations brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution the age of digital supremacy over the analogue and the rise of AI. Leadership 4.0 recognizes the need for leaders not only to adapt and leverage new technologies but to embrace people and process complexity and foster an inclusive and collaborative culture that is demanded by the post millennial generations.
Post-millennials, have distinct expectations and preferences when it comes to leadership styles and behaviours. Particularly from those of ageing ‘baby boomers’ such as myself. Below I will describe some of those expectations and how we current leaders must adapt to engage with the need of this new workforce.
- Authenticity: Post-millennials value leaders who are authentic and genuine. They appreciate leaders who are transparent, honest, and true to themselves. They want leaders who can share their personal stories, vulnerabilities, and successes, and who can build trust through their authenticity.
- Availability: Leaders can no longer spend the majority of their time in an office or in meetings. Leaders must be available on the shop floor to set the vision and remove the barriers. Leaders must enable the workforce from the bottom up not direct from the top down and seek opportunities to engage and learn with and from their team members.
- Inclusivity and Diversity: Post-millennials have a strong focus on inclusivity and diversity. They demand leaders who embrace and celebrate differences in race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other identities. They expect leaders to foster inclusive environments where everyone feels and importantly ‘is’ valued and included.
- Collaboration and Teamwork: Post-millennials are accustomed to collaboration and teamwork due to their experiences in new education systems from school, in higher education and with group projects and social networks. They expect leaders to promote a collaborative work culture where teamwork is encouraged, and diverse perspectives are considered. They value leaders who can facilitate collaboration and create opportunities for collective problem-solving.
- Mentoring, Coaching and Development: Post-millennials have a desire for continuous learning and personal development. They seek leaders who are willing to mentor, guide, and invest in their growth. They value leaders who provide feedback, offer learning opportunities, and help them develop their skills and capabilities. In fact, I will put this even more strongly, they demand such leaders else they will embrace mobility and take their skills elsewhere.
- Technological Proficiency: Being the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital age, post-millennials expect leaders to be technologically proficient. They want leaders who understand and leverage technology to drive innovation and enhance productivity. They appreciate leaders who embrace digital communication tools and platforms to connect and collaborate effectively. This means that older leaders must overcome their prejudice of digital solutions. Hard copy instructions and work procedures now need to be digital or AI solutions in aspects from technical problem solving to completion of routine forms.
- Purpose-driven Leadership: Post-millennials are purpose-driven and seek leaders who are committed to making a positive impact. They want leaders who align organisational goals with societal and environmental values. They value leaders who prioritise corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and ethical practices. I have seen more team growth in enabling the team to participate in a food distribution project than was ever accomplished on a ‘team building’ event.
- Flexibility and Work-Life Balance: Post-millennials value work-life balance and flexibility in their work arrangements. They expect leaders to support flexible work options, such as remote work and flexible hours, to accommodate individual needs. They appreciate leaders who prioritise employee well-being and recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life integration. The older generations may have worn 60 hours a week as a badge of honour, but the new work force do not and actually I think they are right. Now manufacturing plants cannot have operatives build cars at home, however, to keep employees engaged they must still adapt to enable team members to have flexibility and work life balance, or we will simply lose these employees.
- Adaptability: Leadership 4.0 emphasises the ability to adapt to rapid changes and uncertainty. Leaders should be agile, open to new ideas, and willing to experiment. They must navigate through complex and ambiguous situations with resilience and flexibility.
- Psychological Safety and Emotional Intelligence: Leadership 4.0 recognizes the importance of promoting psychological safety and demonstrating emotional intelligence in building and maintaining effective relationships. Leaders should create cultures where individuals feel safe to contribute. These leaders must demonstrate empathy, make active listening a key skill, and foster strong interpersonal skills to connect with their teams and nurture a supportive and inclusive work environment. And not because it’s a legal requirement in many countries but because it is the right thing to do. There is a ‘hard’ edge to these ‘soft’ skills and that is that now more then ever soft skills drive the bottom line.
- Collaboration and Teamwork: In the digital age, leaders need to drive collaboration and teamwork across diverse teams, both internally and externally. They should facilitate balanced processing, diverse knowledge sharing, encourage cross-functional collaboration, and leverage the collective intelligence of their workforce to drive innovation and problem-solving.
- Ethical and Responsible Leadership: Perhaps above all Leadership 4.0 places a strong emphasis on ethical decision-making and responsible leadership. Social media is plastered with corrupt and abusive leaders who take advantage by leveraging power. Leaders must now consider the societal impact of their actions, do the right thing, promote a culture of transparency, integrity, and business and environmental sustainability.
It’s important to note that these preferences can vary among individuals within the post-millennial generation. However, these are some common themes and expectations that have emerged based on studies and experience working with these new generations. Effective 4.0 leaders who understand and respond to these demands can better engage and motivate post-millennial employees.
Leadership 4.0 encompasses a holistic approach that integrates people and processes and engages with the whole person to achieve a level of performance that all can believe in and fully engage with for personal and business success. It may not be easy, but leadership must evolve to stay relevant.