Trust me – I’m a leader
The primary difference between industrial age and digital age leadership is that the former is assigned to you by the HR department and the latter is conferred on you by the people. Leadership was easier in the industrial era because the workers had no choice but to obey orders.
This is changing. Whilst the robots and algos are quietly studying the movements of their human coworkers before their learning algorithm has picked up enough to take it from here, there is a new breed of human emerging who is impervious to the onslaught of technology.
These next-gen humans are simply those that are prepared to activate their cognitive capability in the workplace, rather than just going through the motions and following the process manual. Their creativity is fuelling the superstar organisations of the digital age.
Such superstar individuals are happy to work with leaders, but not simply to mindlessly follow their detailed instructions. I see the relationship between talent and leaders as akin to that of athlete and coach.
The athlete does not resent having her heart rate measured or having her track session timed. She knows that her coach will use her personal data to improve her athletic ability, which is good for both parties.
Most industrial era organisations are not stocked with armies of cognitive athletes. Their business models and recruitment process see to that. But within the ranks of ‘sleep working’ automatons there are people who would desperately like to discover their true potential and would leap at the chance to be supported in this respect.
But they are unlikely to make themselves known if they do not trust their leadership. Coaching is an intimate experience and thus open to exploitation. Leaders who really want to become leaders in the digital age need to recognise that if they want to have genuine followers, they need to make building the trust of their people the priority.
This will be seen by some industrial age leaders as unbecoming. Why should we have to pander to the needs of our subordinates, they will think. One of the new rules of the digital age is that the power axes has shifted towards the talent. The sooner you realise that your organisation’s future is predicated on your access to cognitive athletes and that these athletes are few and far between, the sooner you will realise how leadership needs to change as we leave the industrial era.