The Influencer Leader: A New Approach to Management for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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The world is in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, and other cutting-edge technologies are transforming how we work, which in turn is changing the profile of the workforce. As technology becomes more of a horizontal that affects every industry vertical, the workplace evolves in lockstep. The future of work will be technology-driven, and leaders will need to develop a specific set of skills to lead the upskilling, mentoring, and development programs necessary to prepare their workforces for the next phase of the economy.

Technology has a direct impact on staff. Every robot added per 1,000 workers results in a 0.2 percent decline in the employment-to-population ratio, which translates to a loss of about 400,000 jobs, according to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston University. The World Economic Forum expects AI and automation to eliminate 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025, but it also expects that technology to create 97 million new jobs requiring new skill sets. Demand for these new skill sets will outstrip supply, and finding staff to fill these new positions will be a challenging process.

New Forms of Leadership for a New World of Work

Productivity hasn’t kept pace with technology innovations, but workers can become more adept at adopting new innovations with the right upskilling efforts. But leaders will need to manage through this transition. They’ll need to focus more on results, accountability, and freedom instead of where and how employees get work done. Many a role will need to be redesigned. These changes take time, as people are often uneasy with new technology, and reskilling is a process.

As more repetitive tasks are performed by technology rather than people, employers will need more employees with strong technical skills across multiple disciplines, like AI and machine learning, data science and analytics, and cloud computing. Teams will ultimately focus on more value-generating tasks; technology can’t make decisions and solve problems in the same way as a person. Critical thinking skills will be imperative for both teams and leaders.

Technology changes at a fast clip, and organizations must constantly adapt to the cutting edge just to stay competitive. Doing so requires leadership that is agile, and companies need the right leadership structures in place to allow for this evolution. A hierarchical structure may not be the best strategy.

Rather than develop a select few people, management responsibilities will likely be spread across an organization. Accordingly, leadership models will need to capture the new path forward in this increasingly digital world.

Large teams aren’t as agile as a network of small teams that can be disbanded and reassembled as teams move on to new projects and challenges. This network structure can focus more on work and projects as teams become more product-, customer-, and service-based. This model could help bridge the gap between productivity and technology, but forming teams quickly requires a clear understanding of everyone’s skill set, scorecard, and purpose.

A growth mindset will help leaders to strategize and pivot while following the latest trends and innovations. Organizations need to be able to dislocate themselves before a competitor does.

Leaders will also need to be strong advocates for their teams so that both the team and the individuals comprising it can achieve their goals. A leader needs to provide their team with the right resources and direction, which means understanding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. That way, roles can be assigned effectively, and training or additional resources can be allocated to ensure teams have the right skill sets.

In a technology-heavy world, strong communication skills become even more imperative than they traditionally have been. Staff members need continuous feedback so they can adjust goals accordingly and move to projects that are good fits. More frequent communication increases transparency, which is key to developing teams and moving forward as an organization.

Along with providing clear direction and strategy to staff, leaders of the future will have to take on the role of thought leaders and influencers. To be an influencer means that the leader has obtained a level of success and shares their knowledge and philosophies to motivate others to achieve the same. In this model, leaders grow because they have followers, unlike the days of old when leaders were promoted into their positions regardless of whether they had a following.

Bert Miller is the CEO of MRI Network.

By Bert Miller