Leading in the Future of Work

By Jane Counsel, Unit Coordinator, Managing People and Organisations, The University of Sydney Business School MBA program

_MG_5889finalwebEvery time I walk into a coffee shop, I observe how technology is transforming the way people work. Once the sanctuary of the coffee snobs and the brunch brigade, Australian Cafes are the new bastions of work, where you can order a latte with a hot desk to go.

Australians enjoy some of the most reliable network coverage in the world and are among the world’s largest users of mobile devices, enabling them to work pretty much anywhere, anytime. Much of the office space consolidation now occurring in corporate Australia is driven by the fact that employees are no-longer desk-bound, with work increasingly defined as what people do, not where they spend their working day.

Technology is just one of the major global megatrends currently disrupting modern workplaces and triggering a re-imagination of how and where work is done. But what does this mean for our future leaders, and how well equipped are they to lead in the future of work?

Lynda Gratton, author of “The Shift, The Future of Work is Already Here” and a globally-recognised authority on future of work trends, says the changes workplaces are currently experiencing are as significant as the Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

In fact, Gratton and her International Future of Work Consortium, have identified five key Future of Work trends – disruptive technology, globalisation, demographic change and longevity, societal expectations and scarcity of natural resources.

By 2025, Gratton predicts these trends will generate five generations in the workforce, 5 billion people connected by hand-held devices, India and China as Global powerhouses, workplace flexibility and non-traditional career paths as the norm, while a scarcity of natural resources will be firmly at the centre of the workplace agenda.

So what qualities are critical for leaders in the future of work?

In a globally connected world there is nowhere to hide, so authentic leadership becomes critical as leaders are judged on their ability to be inclusive of difference as they increasing manage diverse and global teams.

Leaders will also be judged on their ability to lead through influence and inspiration as traditional leadership status symbols, such as hierarchy and a command and control management style, become less relevant.

An agile management style with the ability to navigate complexity and ambiguity will also be important to manage the unprecedented rate of change and disruption predicted. Leaders will also need to be connected and not just via their social media groups as globalisation drives a global war for talent and resources.

In the new world of work, knowledge will also be a crucial commodity where the truly great leaders will be defined by their ability to conceptualise knowledge by turning complex issues into innovative solutions.

So how ready are Australian leaders for this new world of work?

In my opinion, I think many leaders are at risk of failing to capitalise on the future of work megatrends due to a historical culture of presenteeism in Australian workplaces and a prospensity to hire in their shadow, which often limits innovation and productivity.

Australia’s next major economic boom will be driven by the services industry and our ability to reap the rewards of this will largely depend upon the degree of progressive change occurring in our society and more broadly in the culture and fabric of our organisations.

However, it is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario.  Critical mass creates momentum for diversity but the critical mass must be given the chance to form in the first place.

The more progressive organisations are those that are aware of the megatrends and understand the business imperative for change and are proactively addressing the gaps in their workforce when it comes to women in leadership, culturally diverse leaders, flexible workers, LGBTI inclusion and intergenerational teams.

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