Global Leadership under Fire: Embracing Disruption and Collaborative Intelligence in Business

Jobs of Tomorrow by Paresh Soni Associate Director: MANCOSA Graduate School of Business

A tsunami of change is upon us and inevitably it will shape the way we work. These new configurations will almost be unrecognisable by today’s business leaders.

In an age of major disruptions especially in rapidly evolving technologies, business models, demographics, and even workplace attitudes which are all shifting concurrently, change is not only constant but also exponential in its pace and scope. Companies from start-ups and online businesses to incumbents in all industries will experience the effects in far-reaching and transformational ways.

As these waves of change transform global business, leading business organisational planners are embracing disruption in the way organisations work while they rethink how to prepare business management and in particular leaders to succeed. In anticipation, these professionals are intent on reinventing the business environment to meet the demands of a new digital era.

Within this perspective, leaders today need an expanded repertoire of skills and a new mind-set to succeed in an ever-more fast-paced, chaotic, and highly competitive business environment. They must be able to think strategically in a global context, articulate an inspiring vision across cultures, and make wise choices amid complexity and uncertainty. They must lead global teams, build dynamic networks, and grow the company’s ability to compete around the world. Increasingly, this calls for collaborative leadership and the creation of collaborative cultures that can harness the knowledge and expertise of all stakeholders to innovate, be agile, partner effectively, compete, and win.

What then makes a good leader especially considering these new dramatic changes? In the past, leadership qualities focused on strength, decisiveness, and the ability to successfully carry out a plan. While these traits are still valued in leaders today, gaining – and retaining – a position of authority now requires a complex cocktail of skills including cooperation, collaboration and adaptability. In the face of the digital era, business leadership is undergoing a further shift.

The use of augmented reality will make leaders very effective. Instead of relying on knowledgeable human inputs to weigh up a situation and make a plan of action, leaders will be able to leverage the new disruptive technologies of artificial intelligence.
Together, these forces will revolutionise the way that work gets done in companies and will compel leaders to rethink even the most basic assumptions about how their organisations’ function. They will need to discover new ways of organising, performing, and leading, along with new approaches to recruiting, developing, and engaging employees. All this in organisations with limitless data, open boundaries, employees and machines working side by side, and rapidly evolving employee value propositions.

In the digital environment, life will be much quicker because there will be much more information. In addition, the new leaders will need to tap into the full potential of the people who work for the business. In effect this will mean that the leader in a highly disruptive environment will invariably have a greater understanding of what his team can do and empower the personnel more. Leaders in the digital age will be much better at asking questions, and showing some vulnerability in what they don’t know.

The new leader in the constantly transformative business world will have to be inclusive and use a blend of both digital and soft skills in order to be both effective and successful. There will be occasions when hard leadership skills will have to be combined in a brew with soft leadership skills such as personality, sensitivity, and the ability to be flexible.
Whilst leadership will have to be decisive in making decisions that require extreme agility, it will equally have to be able to encourage and empower the organisation, creating the conditions in which employees feel safe to try something new. That will come down to rewarding innovation and providing passionate detachment. This in turn will require the business team being passionate about what they are trying to achieve, but knowing it is not the be all and end all of the business.

Leaders who are prepared to embrace a world of major disruptions and combine the use of both hard and soft approaches, and knowing where and when to tap into collaborative intelligence, will be the most effective.

In order to lead in the new digital era individuals will have to be armed with new skills and competencies, hitherto unknown. Curiosity will be one of those key facets and this comes with a number of dimensions.

A leader in an age of mass disruptions will have to be curious about how emerging technologies could improve the performance of the business. He or she will have to be willing to learn, and immerse himself or herself. This leader will then have to be curious about the people around him or her to understand how, where, and why they want to contribute. He or she will also have to be curious about the context in which they operate.
The digital era will have staggering implications for the way that organisations function, and their leaders will be no exception. While the traditional concept of ‘a boss’ isn’t exactly complementary, a focus on combining hard and soft characteristics paints a new picture. As well as facilitating a shift in the perception of good leadership qualities, artificial intelligence could lead to the transformation of organisational hierarchies. However, although artificial intelligence may narrow down decisions, the final say should always be made by humans after due consideration. One cannot rely solely on artificial intelligence when making corporate wide strategic decisions.

Within the context of these new realities the death of business hierarchy is almost a certainty. There will be more open collaboration both within and between organisations. Part of the role of digital leaders will be to simplify the organisation and cut through the hierarchy. In the present context many organisations have too many layers and too much bureaucracy.

This change in the structure of the bureaucracy could be incredibly positive for businesses and organisations, attributing worth to all tiers of the hierarchy and building richer relationships, regardless of superiority. With artificial intelligence on hand to carry out both menial leg work and contribute to vital decision making, having a hierarchy at all could eventually become unnecessary.

Speed and agility will become essential to competitiveness. The new leader will look to break up entrenched departments and reporting lines, opting to organise work in smaller and more agile interdisciplinary teams and rotate individuals among projects, training, internal incubators, and even social impact initiatives. These agile and innovative approaches, along with design thinking and other related methodologies will become the norm of a new digital leader.

The new leaders will continually develop their personnel so that they are equipped to deal with the tidal wave of change. They will also inculcate diversity, inclusion, and flexibility in their corporate DNA. They will shift to problem-solving interactions.

Smart leaders will monitor these changes and experiment with new ways of working that aligns with their company’s context and capabilities. In addition, they will define their businesses not in terms of their competitive advantages but in terms of the purpose that makes them relevant in a rapidly transforming world.

In order to prepare and embrace these major disruptions in the digital world, leaders will have to find new ways of working. A culture of constant change requires a coordinated and scaled effort to transform leadership behaviour. In short, the new leadership model will be inclusive and work with agile teams on principles of collaborative intelligence.

Finally, to power the transformation, business organisations in the digital era will have to design new processes that turn leaders into catalysts of change throughout the organization, so that each leader ‘lives’ the leadership model and adopts the new cultural behaviours. The far-reaching impact of this process can result in changes to talent planning, performance management, and the business operating model.

Paresh Soni is the Associate Director for Research at MANCOSA [GSB] and writes in his personal capacity