Stop managing like it’s 2007 – A new leadership style for the future of work

posted on May 15th 2017 in Generation Z & Leadership & Productivity with 0 Comments

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We are all familiar with the leadership-workshops where you can learn ways in which to improve your style of leading or managing your team. These styles fall under a variety of common labels, from transactional and transformational to autocratic and participative to name a few.

There is nothing wrong with these types of leadership except for one thing – they were invented and implemented in the “old” world of work.

This means these leadership styles don’t necessarily fit into a work environment where Generation Z is about to enter, where teams are distributed all over the globe, and where experiences and freedom become more important than money.

  > experiences and freedom become more important than money <

In the first place, leading and managing in the future of work demands a very uncomfortable thing: for you to rethink your fundamental personal understanding of leadership and your role as a leader. Further still, it will lead to major changes in HR.

What will happen? Find answers to some of your questions in my blog, where I’ll show you some interesting research findings and tell you about my own experiences of leading in the future of work.


Why “hero-leadership” isn’t working anymore

One of the very basic beliefs of leadership is that managers command tasks given to their team and ensure/control their results. Some modern leadership styles are even build on this idea.

When it comes to leading in modern work environments, it is common belief that managers simply replace and compensate their physical presence by online communication tools like video conferencing but continue their normal leadership style, as many think that managers are basically the “decision-makers”.

This “hero-leadership” behavior results in a low-freedom environment for the whole team, which has two negative effects:

First, the team is underachieving as it is less able to coordinate its tasks due to limited autonomy.

Second, it creates a non-attractive work environment for the new talent of Gen Z, given their entrepreneurial and flexible mindset.  

Team-leaders tend to underestimate their team’s ability and willingness to lead themselves by overestimating their own role.

There is still little research on managing distributed teams, as research mainly focusses on information and communication tools and the team leader. But recently published papers (have a look here and here and here) take into account the team, with aspects like national diversity, time-zones, and team-structure.


A new leadership style for the future of work

A new leadership style is shared leadership. Shared leadership is seen as a promising way to effectively lead in the future of work. Especially in dynamic, knowledge-intensive and highly interdependent contexts of work it has been shown to increase team-performance.

Shared leadership means that the team leader proactively enables every member of his or her team to lead themselves and one another. The whole team not only has a shared decision-making authority and therefore responsibilities, but also a high level of interaction and cooperation.

  > the benefits: decision-making authority and therefore responsibilities, but also a high level of interaction and cooperation <

My own experiences have taught me that team members become more motivated in a shared leadership environment and overall performance increases. Why is that?

I ensure that my team members have a great latitude to apply their skills AND judgment in different work contexts – from designing a new training model for our Gen Z customers to hiring a new team member.

How did I change my behavior as a leader? I try to see my role in enabling and supporting their work instead of commanding tasks and maintaining close control, in enforcing team culture and seeing myself as part of the team, by coaching and training them, providing information and input and by improving the overall communication and coordination of tasks, which enables task-based trust.

  > new leaders become part of the team <

Shared leadership therefore is different from participative leadership, where team members in fact get involved in decision-making processes but where there is no mutual influence – the manager remains the decision maker.

Especially for distributed teams, shared leadership has major benefits. Team members, whether they are in their home offices, close to the HQ, or spread all over the globe, who have to fend for themselves, should be able to regulate their own behavior and performance in the team.


How shared leadership will change HR

The new generation entering the job market will not only want to have meaningful careers, but also the possibility and freedom for self-development, you’ll read in Forbes. They are able and willing to take on responsibilities and want to have influence on overall decisions.

Laszlo Bock, ex-SVP of people operations at Google writes in his book Work Rules:
“The most talented people on the planet want to be in high freedom companies and talent will flow to those companies. And leaders who build the right kind of environments will be magnets for the most talented people on the planet.”

  > high freedom companies will be magnets for the most talented people on the planet <

This implies two major trends for HR.

First: companies should offer jobs that enable team members to practice shared leadership, especially when it comes to distributed teams.

Second: hiring decisions will include looking for team members who are willing and skilled to take shared leadership responsibilities, so candidates have to offer this quality as well.

Providing training for both managers and teams regarding shared leadership will be crucial to the future of work, especially for companies who rely on the success of distributed teams.

Interested in diving deeper into this topic? Contact me for a talk!