Winning at leadership in the 4th Industrial Revolution

The future landscape of business remains highly unpredictable as the rules have changed so much in the last two decades.

High school dropouts and software nerds are running multi-billion dollar companies while mobile phone apps and highly intuitive websites are disrupting 100 year old Fortune 500 firms.

Former CEO of IBM Sam Palmisano epitomises the old school of management thinking that even in 2014 still did not realise the incredible shifts in his own industry.

In an interview with Harvard Business Review he predicts the need for an “act 2” for the exponential organisations such as Google and Facebook but doesn’t recognise the real value these types of firms have delivered.

“Don’t give a speech as CEO if you just got out of Stanford and you came up with an iconic interface and you called yourself a piece of fruit.”

In 2016 the piece of fruit became the most valuable firm in the world and the rest of the top 5 were all technology firms including Microsoft, which although it is much older than the others, has now entered its “act 2” with a strategic, digital reinvention.

Microsoft has recognised the enormous pressure to innovate and is a good example of how traditionally minded, vertically managed firms are re-inventing themselves – a common challenge for all large organisations needing to defend and regain market share and customers.

At the GIBS Digital Conference in 2016, Microsoft South Africa’s Marketing and Operations Lead, Nir Tenzer spoke about his company’s global culture shift and new investments into cloud and artificial intelligence.

He reminded delegates that the Third Industrial Revolution which started in 1960 with the advent of the computer was a transformation that Microsoft helped to pioneer.

Although they invented the PC, Apple made it a customer obsession and now Microsoft aims to help drive the 4th industrial revolution with a global aspiration to “empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more”.

Microsoft’s turnaround strategy appears to be working and although new lines of business, cultural shifts and re-organisation are key elements, there is an unsurprising core driver: new leadership.

Satya Nadella started at the firm in 1992 as a software programmer but in the top spot since 2014, he has moved quickly to change course, from his predecessor’s goal of controlling the PC market to a global and long term, inspirational purpose.

In responding to enormous pressure to innovate and re-energise their firms in a VUCA world, business leaders are recognising the power of purpose and people in the way they run their firms, shifting their strategies from scientific management to purpose-driven, values-based leadership.

Industrialisation and globalisation have left employees and citizens feeling detatched and disempowered but humanist management and bottom-up agile thinking are new principles that successful leaders are embracing to drive their firms through radical innovation, digitisation and brave investments into the future.

Business leaders have a unique opportunity to embrace and inspire their teams through this period of disruption and exponential growth driven by renewed customer centricity and enabled by a 4th industrial revolution in technology and how we use it.

Whether you are leading this change in any industry in a high-growth start-up or defending and adapting to such threats in a traditional or large corporate environment it is imperative that you stay ahead and on top of this change.

Steven Kotler, American bestselling author, journalist and entrepreneur, posits that business leaders need to grasp six critical steps of achieving exponential growth in an age of radically new technologies.

Leading thinkers have recently added an additional two elements to his framework which provide a checklist of key topics that guide whether you are running teams and investing resources appropriately; Deception, Disruption, Digitization, Dematerialization, Democratization, Decentralization, Demonetization and Disintermediation.

There is no consistently successful formula for achieving sustainable, profitable growth through building or leading a successful business that inspires and uplifts its people.

There are principles and frameworks that have worked in other businesses but which you will need to adapt and embrace through an authentic application to your specific leadership imperative.

Digital is likely to be an important, disruptive factor of business models in most industries for at least the next decade and as you grapple with your area of interest, consider the hard lessons from the winners and losers of your industry, recognising also that past achievement is not always a predictor of future success.

Perhaps the greatest, most enduring lesson to apply is the importance of self-mastery and a journey of personal growth that is defined by your life mission rather than chasing trends hoping for meaning and purpose.

Apply the right business and technology principles in your leadership context in pursuit of a meaningful purpose and you will inspire the people and teams you need to help change the world.

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