I recently met John* who, after long years of being employed in a highly technical position, has been promoted to Manager leading a team of 20. This was also a gesture from his Company to acknowledge his long-term service. However, John confessed that he is finding his new role extremely challenging due to various ‘people’ dynamics.
John’s Company is also struggling. Faced with increased turnover figures, management had decided to increase staff salaries as they attributed this to market shifts. As turnover rates maintained their pace, the Company decided to carry out a staff engagement survey and the outcome revealed lack of leadership practices (and related attributes) as key determining factors causing people to leave. Meanwhile John’s Company had invested into a number of management and leadership development programmes but still few of its leaders seem to be equipped with the management skills required to lead an engaged workforce.
Probably this is not an isolated case and possibly such dynamics may be manifesting in various forms across other businesses in different sectors.
But what should leaders be looking at when determining their tactics and how can they evolve to become successful 21st Century leaders?
Whilst it is hard to point out certain trends to one single dimension, I believe it is key that we try to find our answers away from the comfort predictability of yesterday and in recipes that made us successful in the past. In my view it is crucial for leaders to quickly adapt to our changing world which is more global, digitally enabled, transparent and complex, but perhaps more importantly, to adopt a leadership style that embraces the diversity (in its broader context) of our workforce.
If we take a cross section of the current workforce we find not less of four different generations employed under one roof. The ‘Boomers’ (1946-1964), GEN X (1965-1976), the Millenials (1977-1997) and GEN 2020 (born after 1997). These generations have all developed and evolved their unique characteristics in a range of aspects including their preferred communication style, learning style, decision making, problem solving, use of technology and nonetheless their preferred leadership style. On the one side, we have employees used to accept a directive leadership style and on the other, we employ people who are more technologically driven but nonetheless, prefer a more collaborative style of leadership where empowerment, respect, development and career progression are not just buzzwords but essentials to be expected.
By 2020 GEN Z will make above 10% of our workforce. According to the European Statistical office by 2060 there will be 2 people of working age (15-64) for every person aged over 65 (ratio 2:1). The current ratio is 4:1. We are witnessing a working population that is aging and changing. The writing is on the wall. Supply and demand factors will be felt at Global level and the effects of an ‘Employee Market’ (similar effects to what we are currently experiencing in Malta due to economic growth) will be felt deeper and stronger.
The 21st Century leader should therefore understand how to lead and engage a workforce from different age spectrums, on the one side engaging, involving and empowering the youngest generations and on the other, re-training and evolving the older workers to possibly stay in employment beyond pensionable age.
Trends are suggesting a shift away from the traditional leadership styles to those that are more empowering and embracing the strengths of a diverse workforce. The beauty of different backgrounds and people with different/conflicting ideas to work together towards shared common goals is there to be enjoyed!
Looking forward and not backwards is key to constantly identify new patterns and predict changes and leadership styles needed for a world that is coming.
Written by: Joseph Farrugia