Last updated on 5. February 2021Automation, digitalisation, flat hierarchies, employment law: in the digital age our needs regarding work are changing – and so are the demands we have on our bosses. Discover here how the leadership style 4.0 can appear. It is not easy to be a boss: great responsibility, difficult decisions have to be made and always having a sympathetic ear for your staff, irrespecive of what else is going on. Nowadays there are a few new challenges for senior staff as the changes resulting from the digital revolution require a new leadership style 4.0.
Leadership Style 4.0 and Company Demography
Thanks to technical and medical progress as well as increasing quality of life in many countries, people are becoming older. However, longer lifespans and a decrease in birth rates in most societies, means that the individual has to work much longer and pay into the social security system. In future it will become commonplace for people over 70 to be looked after as an active member of a company structure. Robert De Niro portrayed such a senior team member in the movie “The Intern”, who was taken under the wing of his boss, who herself was only in her early 30s. Older employees have other needs than young ones, they possibly no longer feel the urge to climb the career ladder or manage extensive projects, but they would like to stay motivated and efficient instead of being forgotten about in all the hustle and bustle. The senior team members may also find it harder to keep up with the latest state of technology. Therefore they should be given the opportunity to work with conventional devices and applications. Rest breaks and suitable working times are of particular importance for older employees as they may possibly not be able to keep pace with the younger generation regarding performance and capacity.
Leadership and Authority in times of flat Hierarchies
Flat hierarchies and short decision making paths – is no longer only start-ups and small companies, who claim this for themselves. Nowadays also large corporations add informality to their advertising slogans. This all sounds great, but where in the hierarchy are supervisors, if there is so much emphasis on equality?. And who is responsible when something does go wrong? Many bosses find it difficult to balance authority and flat hierarchies. The hierarchy blurs, employees do not have to constantly explain, document and justify their actions. Despite this, coordination and structuring are still necessary. The response of leadership style 4.0 to this changed hierarchy order is trust – control and pressure from the top do not work long-term. Employees should enjoy their freedom and go their own ways, but at the same time they also carry part of the responsibility. In return, it is the task of the leader to guarantee time, place trust and offer help when required.
Instead of achieving authority through the use of power, in the digital age using authenticity may be another option. Even the boss is now allowed to show and communicate supposed ‘weakness‘, at the same time he or she should always stay on top of things and be a reliable port of call for all employees. The leadership principle Leading Out Loud states that those with responsibility are to talk continously about their leadership and learning process, give reasons for their decisions, pass on information and also openly communicate challenges. If the boss leads by good example, then in a best case scenario an open and communicative corporate culture develops, in which everybody is broadly informed, while also receiving valuable feedback from colleagues and the boss.
Leading in times of constant Accessibility
Also in relation to the legal position, the digital age brings many challenges. For example, how do you monitor the minimum break period or maximum working times, if employees respond to emails until they go to bed when on a business trip or working from the home office? In particular unions and authorities are raising the alarm as they fear that too relaxed rules for remote working may endanger the health of employees. Subsequently it becomes a management issue to agree binding rules with the team and to guarantee, as best as possible, recovery periods for employees – even in the age of mobile communication, individual responsibility and flexibility. For this the leadership style 4.0 has to reconsider conventional time management: tight deadlines and unannounced work assignments at short notice are a no go. Such poor time management will create stress to the employees and the frequently conjured up scenario of constantly being on call and working through nights in the home office become a reality.
The Person in the Centre of Leadership 4.0
With all the progress and technologilisation there is one constant: the human. Irrespective how much work machines can take off, the human remains in the centre of the business processes as only he or she is able to act empathetically or think creatively. Precisely because digitalisation and automation are increasing ever more, it is important for supervisors to be more a good judge of character, rather than a technical expert. In future managers have to reward their employees with recognition and attention, as well as offer them demanding activities and support them with their personal development. It may be that the interpersonal aspect of leadership becomes even more important in future as people work with colleagues less face-to-face, but instead increasingly mobile and completely location and time independent. Nevertheless, employees still want human feedback and recognition for their contribution.
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