Revolutionary shift for leaders

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Written by Barry Johnson on 26 June 2018

With the fourth industrial revolution, much will change. One of the expected changes will be organisational structures. The skilled workforce will undoubtedly be needed as will the levels that are not economical to replace. Many roles will be required to ensure the services to the new technological operations.

But organisational agility will present a crisis for middle management. While visionary leaders looking at the big picture will still be essential, much planning will be bottom-up and will feed and be fed by Artificial Intelligence. Decision-making will happen more at ground level in real time.

Will there be the need for the traditional middle manager’s role when operational communication, direction and control are dramatically reduced?

Thinking companies will replace the middle-management layer with problem-solving teams, technically competent in the advancing technologies, sound communicators, solution orientated and creative in the rapidly changing situations.

The most significant challenges will be to transform and reimagine the role of leaders. The people now at the top are redundant; the past is gone, the future is developing, history is no guide to the future. It is clear that leadership and cultural challenges will change the large slow bureaucracies.

Leaders must drive change faster despite the management layers that threaten to sabotage agility out of fear or ignorance.

The senior leadership team will have to be interacting with operational units that are currently a number of levels below them. They will be dynamic, forward-looking, highly communicative, questioning, listening to the people that this level they used to see but didn’t talk to.

As Colonel Stanley McChrystal suggests in his book 'Team of Teams', “the temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organisation, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing.”

These new leaders will provide an infrastructure and innovation resulting in changes towards self-organisation.

That will happen as waves of change in technology, operations, markets and skill requirement impact the organisation that still has to make a profit in the rapidly changing market demands, with the swiftly evolving competition, quickly changing products and scarcities of the brainpower necessary to cope.


The basis of rewards will change, sets of behaviours will shift as the operational environment shifts. It will prove very difficult for those currently established to adopt an entirely different approach to leading and managing.

The modern organisation will invent, innovate, move fast, and become vastly smarter and more capable than the past, but only if the new executives can guide, listen, inspire and influence, without controlling, and do this, with humility, the organisation must shift to survive.

Successful organisations will have more leadership emerging bottom-up, more value-adding and changing of work. As the world gets more agile, slow companies must get on board to keep up with the pace of change. To do that, they will have to tackle their culture and the deep-rooted mindsets of their present leadership.

The future is now get with it.


About the author

Barry Johnson BA, CMCIPD, MCMI, is a non-executive director at Learning Partners Ltd



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