There is a demographic change hitting leadership teams in every organization: a shift from the baby boomer board members to the digital-savvy millennial managers who will make up more than 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. The millennial generations, Gen Y and Gen Z, are on their way through college or in their first years of work experience; they seek flexibility in what and where they work. The baby-boomers would like to join some early retirement program and spend the next decade golfing and traveling, but instead need to work beyond 65 and get acquainted with the label “silver agers, ready for perma-work.” For both generations, it is not a decision whether to join this new digital game or not. All of us will be simply be forced
to play by the new rules of these digital times. Instead, the way we can influence and master this crucial transition is by preparing not only ourselves but primarily our leadership teams to navigate this disruptive sea.
Whatever you consider today a leadership task will remain one in the future: defining goals and strategies, organizing and allowing for efficient collaboration, ensuring proper communication and networking, fostering innovation, etc. Doing it right and applying the right tools, concepts and methods for each of those tasks remain as challenging in the future as in the past. But what makes leadership in the digital world even more difficult is that this alone is not enough anymore. It is the order of the day to improve the classical leadership tasks.
Evolving Mission Statements
It’s not enough to have a great vision-mission-strategy developed over a nice four-day leadership-strategy retreat, written somewhere on your company’s homepage and printed on every letterhead. Instead, it is essential for your current and future workforce, as well as the growing population of millennial customers, to make sure you can articulate a clear and higher purpose behind what you are doing, why you are doing it and how exactly you meet your ambitious goals in your daily processes.
Changes in Who Makes the Decisions
We will see a revival of decision making because challenging times require people who can and will decide where to go and what to do. But it won’t be the privilege of the C-suite to take strategic nor operational decisions; the power will shift to the people and the teams closest to the customer. These employees will decide on the spot with the help of information from real-time dashboards and smart machines or tools what is the best way forward.
So, Will They Still Accept Me as a Leader?
It could be a smart thing to make yourself familiar with the fact that your (new) team won’t follow and accept you because of role, authority, decades of experience or some other privileges. They will accept you as a leader because of transparent practices and your ability to inspire. Get the basics right and communicate clearly what’s going on, what’s planned, and how things are going. Flavor it with a true personal interest in your employees, their life, and their individual career path. Finally, add some flexibility goodies as sprinkles on top and you are on track to grow your followers. Also, ensure that proper feedback and personal development mechanisms are in place.
In the very near future, there will be two groups of leadership teams. Group 1 will manage to attract the best, brightest, most innovative and digital-savvy millennial talents and see their companies thrive. And group 2 needs to take the others: less educated, less motivated, less adaptable, less capable, less resilient, less performing and less health-aware individuals. Group 2 will face a challenge in trying to achieve great results with a mediocre crowd — and that could be a serious challenge, given the disruptive circumstances.
Working and performing in times of significant change asks for a self-driven type of working compared to the old school “wait till I am told to”approach. So digital leaders, let go of your craving for planning and controlling everything. Instead, invite more unfolding, discovering step-by-step and a healthy fail-fast-and-fail-forward culture. The most valuable assets in the digital age are not treasure chests or bank accounts filled with gold, but assets every great leader can get, practice and master: openness, participation, agility and integration.
Michaela Lindinger is the creator of the NOWING Formula, a strategy used internationally by young talents and Millennials to maximize professional performance and stay healthy in the digital future of work.