We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.

This paper looks at how the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will shape leadership and what capabilities leaders in the 4IR need to have. I'll also discuss how an organisation can support its leaders to best respond to the unpredictability, as well as the enormity, of the expected changes to create great leaders who can drive the strategy and culture while retaining and attracting the best talent.

Executive summary

The 4IR involves understanding forces that disrupt roles, organisational structures and the competitive landscape, as well as changes in the socio-economic environment. Disrupted organisations need to become more agile, with faster decision-making while also looking ahead at continued technological advances in the form of AI and automation. The ability to absorb new technology and assimilate it into value-adding activities is as essential as it is challenging.

Technology does not reside exclusively with the CIO but with the CEO downwards. Whereas smaller new entrants have ruled the last decade, the scale of the options available suggests bigger and established companies may have an opportunity to beat that trend in how they reskill and use size to command. No company is without its challenges. As PwC recently announced, as an advisory company, they too must ensure their workforce is upskilled.

As the 4IR unfolds, the nature of working life is changing how people wish to learn and how to learn effectively to embrace the 4IR. On the one hand, employees are time-short and have shorter attention spans, and organisations want learning to have an impact tomorrow, if not today. This stance leads to bite-sized learning that is relevant and contextualised to today’s business needs.

On the other hand, as the 4IR beckons and sustainable competitive advantage becomes more elusive, it is unlikely that any learning that is not deep and is lacking in time and distance from work to stand back will have sufficient impact.

Suggestions for organisations facing disruption​

The paper provides suggestions for organisations facing disruption as part of a leadership training agenda:

  • Absorptive capacity through building technology literacy of different forms for non-techs and techs

  • Aligning strategy to everyday leadership, including more complex and distributed decision-making with innovative partners

  • Ideas management across big landscapes within the business

  • Project management, including agile, with agile having limitations and interfaces that need attending to

  • Every-day people management

  • Diversity within people management

  • Generational gap coaching, mentoring and reverse mentoring

  • Using memetic strategies to make learning easier

  • Systemic forms of learning that join up levels of the company

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